The October and November 2015 issue of Choral Journal included a two-part article titled “Ten Keys to Unlocking Artistic Choral Performance” by Frank Eychaner. Following are short excerpts from Keys 7-10. You can read it in its entirety online at acda.org/choraljournal. Click “Search Archives” and choose October 2015 (part 1) or November 2015 (part 2) from the dropdown menu.
The gap between an uninspired reading of the notes on the page and an artful performance is monumental. The following ten keys can help us bridge that gap, “unlocking” the expressive powers of our singers through the music we make with them. These “keys,” a compilation of the best practices of some of the finest minds in the music world, have served me well in my quest for choral artistry, and it is my hope they can serve you.
Key 7: Movement and Artistry in Sound
A variety of movement exercises can powerfully impact the artistry of a choral performance, and the applications of movement in the choral rehearsal are nearly endless. Much of vocal technique can be aided through the liberal use of movement in the rehearsal, both ours and our singers’. Our gestural choices are limited only by our imagination and our artistic aims. As the work of Rodney Eichenberger reveals, what our singers see is what we get. Allowing the unspoken laws of nonverbal communication to inform our conducting will immediately improve the ensemble’s unity, tonal flexibility, and our ability to clearly communicate our artistic intent.
Key 8: Phrase Shapes and Song Architecture
Artistry is often seen in the gestalt of a performance. While a choir can sing an individual chord beautifully, this does not ensure that a succession of chords performed beautifully will lead to an artistically beautiful performance. Artistry is the victim when we become enamored with the vertical sound of a chord at the expense of musical line, phrasing, and the structure of the entire composition.
Key 9: Nurturing the Artist in You
We cannot effectively lead the ensemble to artistic vistas we have not visited: we must develop our own artistry. Discover and grow your own artistry by being an artist! Perform as a soloist; join an exceptional community or church choir or audition for a role in a musical. Develop your own aesthetic sensibilities by becoming more aware and deliberate in your own music making.
Key 10: A Safe Place
Artistic performances are nearly impossible to achieve in an atmosphere of tension, anger, distrust, fear, and hurt. An atmosphere of respect, trust, and safety is prerequisite to creating a place where honesty and emotional risk-taking are the norm; it is the fertile soil from which artistic performances grow. Safeguarding the environment so singers know they are cared about as individuals is a foundation that opens the wellspring of humanity that lives in our singers—humanity that is longing to come out into the light of day.
Frank Eychaner is the director of choral and vocal studies at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is active as a clinician, guest conductor, and author.
Read the rest of this article (and more!) in the October and November 2015 issues of Choral Journal, available online at acda.org.