“The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.” George Bernard Shaw
I read some interesting parenting advice a few days ago that got me thinking. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was how I raised my own children. What was this nugget of wisdom that had me thinking about how I raised my kids? It was a cleverly worded version of the The Golden Rule: “do unto your children as you wish your parents had done unto you.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was not only the way I chose to raise my children but also how I choose to direct my choirs. There was PLENTY my own teachers, directors and conductors did that was right and helpful as well as much I knew I would do differently. In fact, my Choral Ethics Project is based on, in part, what some of my teachers did or did not do. I’d like to share a bit of what I mean about “doing unto my singers, what I wish my directors had done unto me.”
I try new things, but I don’t change what works. I sang in a church’s children’s choir from the age of 6 or 7 until I was about 14 or 15. During that time, we had three directors; one who was excellent and two who were so-so. Those two, supposedly, had much more experience with children, but we were the first children’s choir of the excellent director. All were men and were directors of ALL the church’s choirs. Two believed it was a come down to be directing children (one was a virtuosic organist and the other was a composer) and the third was a tenor who loved to teach. The organist and composer changed our warm-ups every single rehearsal and as a result, got different vocal results every time. The tenor asked us, at our first rehearsal, what our favorite warm-ups were. He added a few of his own and we kept the same basic warm-ups the whole time he was with us. He too, occasionally tried new things, but didn’t change our warm-ups because not only were they fun to do but taught basic vocal technique. We were ready for him every rehearsal and would start them ourselves if he were a smidge late.
I am organized. I had a director in high school who was not organized AT ALL, but he was a fabulous musician and director. We sang some great music, we sounded great, and our concerts were wonderful. I had so much fun with him, I never thought his disorganization could have had a negative impact on us. Later I often wondered how much better we would have been if he had spent some time getting folders together before we walked into his classroom. Or if he had given us all the dates of our concerts, shows and school assemblies at the beginning of every semester or something like that. He was always scrambling so WE were always scrambling, and it wasn’t necessary.
I’m prepared for rehearsal; with a list of items I’d like to accomplish. I loved my undergrad conducting professor. He was a wonderful director, conducting pedagogue and a kind man. I noticed almost from the first rehearsal I had with him he had a yellow legal pad next to his score on the podium. He would check things off as rehearsal progressed. One day I asked him about his pad of paper, and he told me it was his rehearsal plan. When I took my first conducting course with him, he told our class he got a great deal of satisfaction from checking things off his list. There were times he didn’t accomplish everything on that list but said he thought it was still a good rehearsal if he accomplished at least 75% of them. I’ve carried that thought with me; you don’t have to get everything done you’d like but if you do most of them, it’s still a good rehearsal.
I never call anyone nasty names to their face. When I was an undergrad, I participated in a master class with a famous-ish choral conductor/composer. When it was my turn to conduct, he stopped me and called me a “no talent witch” (wink-wink). Thirty minutes later, he said my ictus was “elegant.” What I did in the first place to have him call me a “witch,” I’ll never know but I was totally petrified by the time he complimented me. I’ve never forgotten how I felt when he called me that name. And I still don’t know what he meant by an elegant ictus!
What did your directors, teachers and conductors do or NOT do that has shaped how you teach, direct and conduct? What do you wish they had done differently? Please share in the comments below.
Until next week, be well and be safe!
I am taking my Choral Ethics Blogs to my chamber choir’s Facebook page for the foreseeable future. Please join me there this morning! https://www.facebook.com/themidwestmotetsociety/