by Stuart Hunt
Choral conductors are agents of change and adaptation. It IS our DNA. Our students and their families depend on the joy, satisfaction, connection, and growth we offer to those who share our passion.
MOVING AHEAD WITH PURPOSE
My personal definition of intelligence is not what or how much you know how to do, but what you do when you don’t know what to do. In order to continue to grow and come out the other side on our feet, we must consciously prioritize and plan for the time we have with learners . . . of all ages, abilities, and skill levels. Let’s take a look at specific tools and skills that speak directly to that. The distance is challenging. We need clarity and tools.
One effective tool is concept repetition, aka drill. Not just repeating the same thing over and over, but creatively presenting the same concept in different ways / scenarios / contexts.
This blog will focus on one particular tool and three concepts we must keep before us at all times. As you read, consider your rehearsals and short- and long-term goals that you believe will create and grow choral experiences for all learners.
CHORAL LITERACY and SKILLS RUBRIC (CLaS) – https://www.clasresources.com/
As we conceived, discussed, and created the first-ever Choral Literacy and Skills rubric, Dr. Geoffrey Boers (Choral Chair, University of Washington) and I sought out those who already possessed or were actively pursuing the skills we all need to grow and equip great singers and choirs. It required new thinking and rethinking of what we have been taught and practiced, but are willing to reconsider. Dr. Boers states on the website:
“The Choral Literacies and Skills Rubric is a groundbreaking document for choral music educators. Grade-based rubrics such as these have been foundational elements in the development of bands and orchestras for decades, but heretofore were non-existent in the choral world.
“Choirs differ from instrumental groups in that singers come and go from ensembles, do not start “on their instrument” at the same time, and for the most part do not take lessons, so it was necessary to develop a Level-Based, rather than a grade-based, Rubric.
“The Rubric consists of twelve areas of literacy, only two of which deal with the traditional elements of music literacy, that is music reading. The descriptors on the rubric are written as Mileposts and Markers of development, and describe what literacy looks and sounds like for ideal choir at every level of development.
“This site will direct you to information and resources to bring your choir and your teaching to the leading edge of the choral art.
“CLaS is supported by an ACDA Fund for Tomorrow Grant, NAfME, NATS, and Choral Canada for use in all choral classrooms.”
Imagine having a clear, concise, outcome-based approach and method to steadily, skillfully grow great choirs that seeks student input, uses and inspires them to monitor and guide their own developmental planning, and rewards skill acquisition intrinsically.
Above all, is incredibly fun planning and achieving collectively. Take a moment right now and click on the link above. Explore the website and download the FREE tools available to you, both in your rehearsals and festivals.
THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT SKILLS
With four minutes or less each day, musicians can and do learn to count, see, and hear intervals before they sing them, and sing in parts.
SKILL #1 – Rhythmic counting and MASTERY
Eyes ahead to identify and prepare rhythmic “packages.”
To effectively read and learn music, our eyes must always be ahead of our mouth. That includes reading rhythms, text, dynamics, entrances/exits, watching the conductor, et al.
Ask and answer yourself before planning and presenting concepts:
- When and how do you present the components of rhythm?
- What ARE those components?
- How do you prove that learners have MASTERED the tools? If they are not mastered early, plan to return later, as a less convenient time, to revisit and re-learn them. It eats holes in rehearsal growth.
For example, how do you (plan to) build in the ability to establish and build internal timekeeping? Conductors, eventually, should not be the timekeeper. We are interpreters of a composer / arranger’s intent. Beating time subtracts from artistry.
SKILL #2 – Audiation of intervals
Audiation is a term Edwin Gordon coined in 1975 to refer to “comprehension and internal realization of music, or the sensation of an individual hearing or feeling sound when it is not physically present.” Another way of thinking of it is pre-hearing – combining seeing and accurately hearing an interval before singing. It is a coached and acquired skill of milliseconds, but it most certainly can be learned, and, it is how we sing accurately. Combined with eyes ahead of rhythm, singers LOVE being able to do this themselves.
SKILL #3 – Part-singing
Unless you only coach soloists, you will be dealing with parts. Let’s think:
- When replacing old processes of teaching part-learning by rote, as we restart, we can build new habits with our students.
- Part-independence is the goal.
- Time-investment is a serious consideration.
- How to assess actual progress?
A critical component of learning to sing and hold your own part is selective listening, being able to hear but not be distracted by other parts. That requires selective focus. Skill mastery requires that we conductors must set aside our urgency to prepare for concerts or sing in parts too soon. Become intentional. Unmastered skills will present themselves at the least opportune time, and you will wish you stayed with your mastery plan learning and rehearsing. It will prove itself. Consider:
- Daily sight-reading
- Presenting new material
- Utilizing sight-reading skills to learn new material more effectively
- Don’t bite off more than they can chew
- Use mastery skills to adjust pacing
- Develop and transfer mastery protocols to new material – that is your game plan
As we pay closer attention to needed changes and the processes built into all of our lessons, ToolsforConductors.com addresses these issues and leads to mastery in all three skills on one page that can be emailed / texted to students and used as a rehearsal sight-reading entrance activity. Our “You Won’t Miss a Beat” assessments from MusicFirst coordinate with the lessons and are digitally assessed. Visit the website, look at the sample lessons, and plan how best to implement best-practices.
Conclusion: Whatever happens in September, plan to teach your students to READ!
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. DO IT NOW.”
– Pablo Coelho