- August 17, 2018 at 6:49 pm #574511
I’m not sure I want to hear the answer to this, but here goes…I’ve been a professional CC for many years, conservatory trained. I was never an outstanding soloist myself, but I had a strong, pleasant, in-tune voice and have sung in good choirs since I learned to talk. I had sound training in vocal ped, and was taught at my institution that any conductor worthy of the title is able to decently model vocal technique in rehearsal. A few years back, I had my thyroid entirely removed, due to pre-cancerous nodes; it probably saved my life. Thyroidectomies can have an iffy prognosis in regard to laryngeal nerve damage, and though a good number of people come out okay, I evidently got the short end of the stick. After struggling with vocal recovery since then, I pretty much have to say that I can no longer sing, and aside from the pure grief of not being able to, I have difficulty calling myself a conductor these days. I do my best (when I do sing) to try to make sure my choristers don’t “imitate” me or pick up my tension; on occasion I bring in a good friend (teacher and pedagogue) to work with voice production. I have sung in the past with high-level conductors who don’t model sound in rehearsal, but they were working with trained voices, whereas I work with amateurs and young voice students. So, I am curious as to what my colleagues think…..does anyone believe a conductor can train a choir well and not be able to sing? This job means so much to me, and I cannot imagine not doing it. Any thoughts are welcome.August 18, 2018 at 10:16 pm #574612
Michael A. GrayParticipant
A little under forty years ago, I had the great good fortune to work under Dr. Howard Swan from Occidental College here in California. He was the most amazing teacher I ever had. A historian, he understood the cultures and societies that had influenced the creations of the music we sang. An artist, he taught us the critical importance of maintaining a balance of all the forces that go into performing music. A conscience of our profession, he knew we all thirst for honesty and gave us a measure for respecting it. A performer, he invited everyone to embrace this beautiful sound. A pioneer, he was conducting a cappella music before most people knew how to spell it.
Forty years before I met him, Swan had lost his voice. For most of that time, he could not produce anything beyond a whisper. He became a great choirmaster because he worked very hard at understanding music and musicians. He was forever reading up on psychology, sociology, pedagogy, and spiritual values. He turned us into musicians by getting inside our heads with just the perfect word at the perfect time. He often spoke almost not at all and I can remember very little of what he actually said but, more than anything, I still remember his ideas, his energy, his authenticity, and his huge smile.
If Swan were your advisor, I know he would encourage you to return to your “first love”, would give you some other perfect Biblical quote, and leave you with two words: Love & Persevere.
Hope that helps!
Michael A. Gray
http://www.graymichael.comAugust 20, 2018 at 1:03 pm #574813
Beautiful response, Michael, and I say, “Absolutely continue !!!” Your title is conductor, not soloist or even chorister, so DO it!! Your ideas, physical movements and passion are much more important for teaching than your singing voice, in my opinion. GOOD LUCK! 🙂August 29, 2018 at 5:22 pm #576207
Dear Friends (Michael and Kathryn): Not sure you’ll see this as I’m delayed replying (was blessedly dis-connected for a week), but thank you both, and Michael, that was indeed an extraordinary, eloquent response. I grew up in Los Angeles, and Dr. Swan was legendary–I had forgotten about his voice, and I would have a long ways to go before I considered myself to be anything close to as inspiring as he was. But you’ve given me some specifics to mull over–especially the emphasis on deep, lifelong learning, and the enthusiasm that comes from mastery of so many things besides vocal technique. Thanks again to both of you for your encouragement–I feel much lighter (and inspired)
going into my new year!
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