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Magic Choral Trick #119 Directors’ Fruitless Flailing

My goal as a director is to become superfluous. Actually superfluous, and not just regarded as such by the group singing in front of me. If I’ve run intense, productive rehearsals, by the time we get to the gig they should need only the occasional cue.

I was thinking about this the other night during my Med School choir’s performance. We have a terrific accompanist – so there’s no need to beat time. We use music for songs that the singers now know really well. And they all know ‘the plan’ for each song. I was revelling in the fact that I felt like a third wheel. All I had to do was look encouragingly at them, should they happen to look up – oh yes, and do the odd director-like thing for the sake of impressing the audience.

At least, this is what it felt like. Videos have a habit of showing us far more flailing than we ever thought we were doing.

Whenever I see myself on video, even if it’s improved since the last time, I always think Yikes! Why would anyone bother watching that?

When I over direct it’s a little like chatter. Sooner or later even the important stuff will be ignored by people I was hoping to communicate with. (Sort of like living with only menfolk, now that my daughters have moved out. Everything I say had better be vital if I’m not going to be tuned out. The house is much quieter now.)

As an exercise in humility during rehearsal I’ll often go and sit down to listen to my women’s Barbershop chorus. Because we’ve done such intensive synchronization work, they really don’t need me at all for about 85% of each song we sing. Just a small cue here and there for timing, or reminders about vocal technique or colour.

So I guess the moral of this story is that rehearsal technique is everything – and that given the opportunity, a chorus will happily take on the responsibility for what happens at the performance. And as for the Fruitless Flailing – I should just cut that out.

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