“No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters.” Edgar Degas
This is a Choral Ethics Blog post repeat from several years ago. I need to slow down and plotting out the rest of the summer now seems like a smart idea. I try to be here, one way or another, every week because I know many of you look forward to this blog and I don’t want to disappoint you. Hope you’ll enjoy one of our Oldies but Goodies! New Choral Ethics Blogs begin next Thursday. See you then!
“That was lovely! So effortless and fun.”
“What beautiful singing. They just opened their mouths and out it came!”
“Your choir sings so well. Do they ever practice together?”
How many times have you and your choirs received a compliment, but it didn’t seem like a compliment? People mean well, but many *civilians*do not understand singing well together, takes practice. It doesn’t just fall out of our mouths when we call it to. I suppose that is what we are all striving for; beautiful music happening with seemingly no effort. Our audiences only see the finished product, so that’s what they believe music to be, all perfection and ease. If they only knew!
Many think (some of our choral brethren) it should fall out of our mouths whenever we call it to and can’t possibly take time and talent and hard work to happen. Some get frustrated when it doesn’t happen that way. We then have choral ethics issues to deal with. The truth is performing music takes hard work and practice in addition to talent and training. And if anyone tells you something different, don’t believe them!
I hate to practice. And I love to practice. In fact, you could say practicing and I have a love/hate relationship. Always have. When I was a child, I always wondered what my younger or non-musical siblings (non-musical is all relative here; everyone at least sang and several of the six of us also studied instruments other than piano or voice) were doing while I was practicing. I was jealous they didn’t have to practice. Turns out, they were jealous I got to perform in front of a “non-related-to-us” audience!
Practicing isn’t exciting, really. It can be, when we first begin to learn a piece but then it becomes routine. We do something over and over, and OVER again to perfect a passage or keep that perfection in our fingers and voices. And we keep doing it. My late mother was a coloratura soprano and worked on the runs from the arias of one of her signature roles, the Queen of the Night, almost every day since the day she learned the role. She would sing them while doing the dishes or folding laundry. She told me she was afraid if she did NOT practice those runs every day, she would lose her high F. And into her late 60s, she still had that note because she practiced. Every day. Whether she wanted to or not. And there were days I’m sure she did not want to.
That “practice work ethic” has been passed down to me and I, in turn, have passed it down to my keyboard (piano, organ and harpsichord) playing son. We practice as a matter of fact. We practice as part of our everyday lives. We practice because we need to do so to maintain a certain level of musicianship and technique. We practice because we don’t know any differently. We practice and it looks and sounds easy, but it is not.
As choral conductors (directors), I would also include score study under the practicing category. I practice the motions of conducting but I also study why I make those particular motions. When I have to sight read something in front of a choir (for whatever reason), it terrifies me because I don’t feel prepared. I can go through the motions of conducting, but if I don’t feel like I know why I am making those motions, I feel I am giving less than my best to a choir. Fortunately, most of my score study happens before I ever step into my rehearsal space, so it is rare I don’t feel prepared.
As we begin this new academic and choir year, I wish you wonderful rehearsals, great choristers, with an effortless concert at the end. And enough practice time to make it happen!