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Magic Choral Trick #323 Directing – A Tightrope Act

Being a Chorus Director is a job like few others. The chorus is your boss, but during rehearsal it’s your job to lead, to call the shots and to inspire your bosses to do better.

You need enough ego to take charge, and enough street smarts and Spidey senses to pick up the cues that mean that you need to lighten up or loosen the grip a little.

If you don’t take charge, one of the stronger (and not necessarily more tactful) members from the chorus will pick up that slack, and everyone will be unhappy with the rehearsal dynamic.

If you run a rehearsal with a My Way or the Highway style, it’ll be perceived as adversarial, and once again we end up with a room full of grumpy people. And grumpy people don’t sing well.

The fix:

While some sort of choir music team is always necessary – for rehearsal feedback and planning suggestions – it is absolutely essential if you were not blessed with strong social Spidey senses. If your telepathic powers are less than stellar, you absolutely need a trusted few people from the chorus who will be completely honest about what’s working, what’s not working and what they’re hearing from other chorus members.

A happy chorus is one in which the members feel that it’s not only their singing voices that are heard. In any group we need to feel that our input is valued, and at least considered.

When there’s a team behind you, supporting you and coaching you, you also tend to self monitor more. In other words, you think and plan more carefully – and as a result, fewer and fewer negative things leak out of your mouth during rehearsal. In fact, the more kind coaching and monitoring you receive from your trusted team, the more you are reminded of why you started Directing in the first place.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I began all this as creative social art – the rehearsal itself as a work of art, during which we all collaborate to experience something transcendent.


Magic Choral Trick #311 Shifting the Chorus Culture

As we Northern Hemisphere folks head back to our chorus and choir rehearsals this week we are given an opportunity to review our dreams and aspirations for our groups – and to consider what would make our weekly experience even more fun.

However, even though the group’s leadership – the director or music team – may have a shift they’d like to make, nothing will happen until the chorus decides as a unit that this is something they’d like to do.

It’s useful to have the music team sit down and talk about which Cultural Shifts we’d like to see this season. And by Cultural Shifts, I mean anything at all to do with chorus life that will make the experience more joyful and positive. The shift can be something technical, like perfecting the group’s staggered breathing, so that no one ever, ever again snatches a breath between words or syllables – or it can be some off-riser cultural agreement, like deciding to complain only to those with the authority to solve a particular musical, or social problem. It might even be the decision to incorporate more of a certain type of repertoire – and to become the chorus that’s really good at it.

All change requires agreement. In my experience, the top down demanding of change never works in a group where people gather to escape all the other ‘top down demanding’ in their lives.

This is one of the beauties of competition. When we look over and see that the chorus that just placed ahead of us has enacted a particular change that won them their spot – there’s no problem with motivating our own chorus to shift a specific behaviour.

As a director I prefer to just calmly keep presenting and presenting (and presenting and presenting) the opportunity that a specific shift would create, and sooner or later somebody jumps on board. When that first person jumps on board, they inspire all the others. And sooner or later, even those who might originally have argued against the change notice the fun that’s being had and want to be a part of it all.

Directors – all you need is the guts to be the Lone Nut, and the patience to wait for your First Follower….

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