The September issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Who’s a Good Director? Dog-Training Strategies for Better Rehearsing” by Eliza Rubenstein. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
“Your goal for yourself and your students,” a veteran of my profession once said to me, “is meaningful work, joyfully done.”
She wasn’t a choral conductor; she was a dog trainer, one of dozens I knew during the nearly twenty years I spent as a dog trainer and an animal-shelter administrator.
Balancing two careers—one about music, one chiefly about mutts—gave me more than just a unique spin on my professional bio (“Eliza Rubenstein is, to her knowledge, the only choral conductor in the nation who is also licensed to perform euthanasia”); it also afforded me an intriguing perspective on the choral art form. In the past quarter-century, the field of dog training has undergone a renaissance of sorts, moving away from coercive, dominance-based methods and toward positive, reinforcement-based strategies. Thanks to an improved understanding of how and why animals learn, today’s dogs are being educated more quickly and more happily than ever before—and, luckily for choral conductors, much of the science underlying this shift applies as neatly to singers as to spaniels. This article explores some of the principles of positive behavior modification that can make our choral learning process more efficient and more successful.
I do not, of course, mean to suggest that dogs and choral singers are equivalent or interchangeable, no matter how flattered either species might be by the analogy. I do, however, fi nd the lens of dog training an irresistible and invaluable one through which to see anew the craft of choral conducting. Dogs and people are distinctly different creatures, but the scientific language of learning applies to both, and the fundamental principles of educating bright, complex, creative beings are virtually universal.
Read the full article in the September 2021 issue of Choral Journal at acda.org/choraljournal