Part 2 of a 3-Part Series
By Stuart Hunt
Music educators do not really have time to waste; typically do not know what the inside of a faculty room looks like; and are constantly creating and adjusting instruction with intentional outcomes.
During school closures and distance learning, it is a propitious time to consider our rehearsals and programs when we resume live contact. That includes investing (not spending) the time you would not normally have due to program / concert / tour planning, as well as asking yourself reflective questions, with an eye to making needed adjustments to your conducting skills or practices.
Actor, director, and performer Tom Carter, begins his book Choral Charisma – Singing with Expression with a self-test. Here are some questions worth considering. Rate yourself:
1 (Never) – 2 – 3 (Sometimes) – 4 – 5 (Always)
- Do singers talk to each other while you are trying to address an individual, a section, or the whole group?
- Do you continue to address the group, even though some people are talking or clearly not paying attention?
- Have you found rationalizations for the choir’s lack of expression: they’re too much this or that; too little this or that; not enough . . . all this or all that?
- Do individual singers’ faces look the same, regardless of the music being sung?
- Do their faces or bodies communicate one thing while the music communicates another?
- Do you look at the choir and wish they could be more expressive?
- Do your audiences have unexpressive faces as they experience the choir?
- After a performance, do your audience members talk mostly about the sound of the group, as opposed to the experience they had when the group was singing?
There are myriad topics that we, as conductors, must address and balance, but during this “hiatus” – until we can rehearse tutti again – perhaps it is really worth considering three critical aspects of the choral experience:
Investing time to discover and practice becoming a true voice coach.
If we can agree that a major product of our time with students is to help them discover and expand their vocal capabilities, when combined with other singers, we are coaching and managing a tone that is mostly resident in our minds: an ideal, a rich and recognizable improvement of “just singing together.” We coach improvements.
I would argue that when you think of your favorite pop or classic singers / choirs, what you think about isn’t just the energy, excitement or pyrotechnics, but – be it rock, barbershop, pop, or expressive choirs – it is their unique, perhaps even signature, tone.
Careers are made and maintained on demonstrating, marketing, and teaching the elements and pedagogy of great tone. Online resources responding to “vocal tone” or “vocal technique” typed in a search bar yield a plethora of approaches, most targeted at the general population.
A deeper dive into reliable textbooks, articles, and videos of many varieties do, in fact, produce single ideas and approaches worth considering. We have many resources available to us. Explore them! Then, ask and answer the following: Might you be willing to modify, adapt, or even change your approach to tone?
Real music education provides heuristic tools.
Educate, then ask before your choirs read new music:
- What is the time signature?
- What is the tempo? How is it marked?
- What key are you in?
- What note is DO?
- What is your starting pitch?
- What are the beginning dynamics – the dynamic shape of the song?
- Are there split or combined parts? Unisons?
- Are there any key changes?
- The last page usually has some kind of change.
- What is the mood of the text?
Some helpful tips, again from Tom Carter.
The choral art can be quite complex, balancing aspects such as
- tempo / rhythm
- sectional balance
- pitch accuracy
- time of day
- venue / acoustics
- text and best interpretation
Ask the following questions:
- What is the main subject matter?
- Is the meaning clear throughout the entire piece? Does every word and passage make total sense?
- What about figurative language? (Great discussion starter)
- Does the text support the title?
- Who is the speaker / voice?
- In what social, cultural, personal, or historical context were the lyrics written?
I purposely kept these topics short and hope that some of the questions are ones you may want or need to address. Perhaps Anthony Robbin’s admonition is appropriate as potential changes present themselves:
Don’t be afraid of new ideas. Be afraid of old ideas. They keep you where you are and stop you from growing and moving forward. Concentrate on where you want to go, not on what you fear.
For 75 FREE rhythmic exercises – click here.
Stuart Hunt is founder of ToolsforConductors.com, which publishes vocal / choral sight-reading lessons targeted to ages from kindergarten through university, and assessments for band, choir, elementary, and rhythm. Contact: .