Monthly Archives: July 2012

Magic Choral Trick #165 The Director’s Coterie

Directors – this one’s mostly for you, and yes, it’s not really a magic trick. It is worth thinking about though.

Leadership is an interesting game filled with many wonderful experiences, but with a few pitfalls that are worth knowing about. One of these is the Director’s Coterie.

The Director’s Coterie could be described as either a small sub-section of the choir that for some reason thinks that you, the director, can do no wrong; or else it’s a group of people to whom you pay attention, to the exclusion of everyone else.

Both of these types of groupings come with the potential to cause nasty schisms within the choir – and to distract you from your main purpose, which is to serve the entire ensemble. And the really weird thing about the first type of group is that just as you have no idea why they think you’re so special, you also won’t see it coming when they suddenly completely change their minds. I’ve seen this happen too many times not to mention it.

As a leader, it’s important to be accessible – but if there are no boundaries, it’s possible to get embroiled in many different choir members’ personal situations. If this happens you can become emotionally exhausted trying to help everyone solve their life problems.

Over the 35 or more years I’ve been directing, I’ve occasionally fallen into this trap.

Once you realize that you’ve allowed yourself to be led astray, it’ll take every bit of ingenuity and tact to extricate yourself without causing hurt feelings and uncomfortable group dynamics.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have conversations with individual choir members – of course we will. But I find that it’s useful to remind myself that I’m the director for the entire group, not just a sub-section. I’ve also found that this role has the potential to be much more than my personality. I don’t need adoration. In order to work magic, I need a gentle respect.

And I find respect easier to attain with just a little bit of distance.

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Magic Choral Trick #164 Visual Cue for a Tall ee Vowel

This one is so simple, and really effective. It came to us from Barry Towner, a Barbershop Harmony Society presentation judge.

When some of your group are singing a wide ‘ee’ or ‘ay’ vowel this simple director’s movement will fix it.

To get to the starting position:

Left arm straight out, palm down. Bend elbow to 90 degrees – so that the arm is in the position it would be in if you were standing with your forearm resting on a counter or bar.

With the arm in this position, have the choir sing a sustained pitch on an ‘ee’ vowel.

Now, with the elbow still bent to 90 degrees, trace a quarter of a circle upwards with the finger tips of the left hand. The left palm will end up facing to the right and the finger tips will be pointing upwards. The movement will remind you of a speedometer going from zero to sixty. (Actually – this analogy would work better if you were using your right arm)

Anyway – as the forearm begins to move, and the fingertips begin to point upwards, the choir’s ‘ee’ vowel will become taller and more matched. They can’t seem to resist!

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