1. Your own singing.
When you improve your own tuning, placement, phrasing, legato, vocal and emotional range, you will inspire your singers to do the same. You will be able to demonstrate more clearly exactly what you expect from them, and you will reinforce the ideal that change and improvement can become the cultural norm for your chorus. Evolution requires stepping up your own game. The status quo leads only to deterioration (like those long series of repeated notes in a bass line that without refreshed thinking go flatter and flatter.)
2. Know the music better than your singers.
Being really prepared to rehearse a song feels terrific. When you’ve already worked out how to solve the technical and emotional challenges – and you know exactly where the action of the song is going, it’s exhilarating for your singers. Not a minute of rehearsal time gets wasted – and the night’s work sends everyone home feeling like it was an evening well spent.
3. Back off the directing
I keep needing to learn this lesson over and over and over. When I’m out in front doing it all for them, some part of the chorus’ collective mind believes that they’re the ones emoting, crescendoing, diminuendoing and energizing the phrases right to the end.
I find that once the notes and interpretation have been learned, the more I back off, and show only what they need (starts, stops, diphthong resolutions…) the more responsibility the singers take for performing the songs as we’ve rehearsed them. They think more, remember more and ultimately are much more invested in the performance.
This doesn’t happen overnight. Choirs need to be weaned off our overdirecting – but it will lead to a richer experience for both director and chorus. And if they’re not used to seeing too much from us, then when we really need to get their attention during a performance, it’s much easier.
4. Nipping social problems in the bud.
Social problems within the chorus all have the same root – mismatched sets of behavioural expectations.
When groups of people with very different backgrounds – not to mention inhabiting different places along the autism spectrum – get together, the range of social expectations can be huge. Some people expect continuous social interaction, some expect none – at least, on the risers. Some people expect that I want to have private conversations with them before, during and after every rehearsal. Some people have a highly developed sense of tact, and out of respect, almost never start a conversation with me. Some people feel that it’s ok to correct people all around them – and some would never dream of criticizing another singer.
In almost any group, there are bound to be enough different sorts of behaviours to drive everyone nuts.
Two things help. First – reminding the chorus that sooner or later, we’re all jerks, and every one of us needs people to cut us some slack. And second – keeping everyone so incredibly challenged and busy that they have no time to get on one another’s nerves (which hearkens back to being prepared to run a very tight rehearsal)
Be coachable. Be prepared to try new things.