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Observations

Rehearsal Observation: Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus
I had a great time when I went to observe the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. I thought it was really neat to see such a quality, non-professional choir. Everyone was really welcoming, friendly and willing to answer any of my questions. I also learned some good techniques and some bad ones.
I was first impressed with their warm-up. There was a lot of talking going on as usual in a pre-rehearsal, choral environment. The director just sat at the piano and started playing an accompaniment. I was surprised at how fast everyone took their seats and started singing. It turns out that this accompaniment was for their warm-up and their cue to get started. The whole warm-up was standard for them. Not only did they do all of the warm-ups accompanied, but also they split harmony and had no one directing them to do so. I guess this comes from working with grown-ups, but impressive nonetheless.
You could tell that the assistant conductor, whom I observed first, was experienced, but he still did a few things that we were told not to do. He did not have a fluid rebound and showed a subdivision as a result. His gesture was very rigid, even in the very legato sections. Sometimes he would do the floppy wrist thing to try to smooth things out.
There were a few things that I will never take into my own career, but they definitely worked for him. He yelled the words if the choir got behind, in order for them to catch up. He would snap very loudly in order to maintain a tempo as well. He would demonstrate how to do something instead of helping them figure it out. (I know this has its time, but knowing the difference between right and wrong is also needed. Here, it was just, “Stop. Like this. Sing again.?) Surprisingly, if something was not working, he just told them what to do instead of changing his gesture. Although I was just observing, I did not think the choir was the only one in the wrong the whole time.
Despite all of the negatives, the choir did sound great. There was a good community, which made everyone have a good time and I am sure made it easier to sing with the other members. They had great intonation and unity in sound. I liked his suggestion that a “w? is just an “oo? sound to start. The conductor gave a story and/or put a meaning behind every song. They had a purpose other than to just sing which made things more “touchy-feely.?-Matt
The head conductor had a similar conducting style to the assistant conductor, but had some other pros and cons. I liked that he worked a lot on vowel unity. I thought they did a great job to begin with, but he was a perfectionist when it came to the vowel sounds. He did a lot of listening. Once he got the choir started, he often stopped conducting, closed his eyes and just listened. However, I did not like the fact that he sat most of the time (there may have been a good physical reason, but I was not going to ask). He also did not always give a clear pick-up, especially on an eighth-note. It almost looked like convulsions.
I was there to be a critic. Although I mentioned a lot of negatives, I enjoyed seeing a rehearsal that was well run. The disruptions were minimal. I know that the choir is already successful and will continue to be so. I am sure it would be a fun choir to sing in.


Concert Observation: Metropolitan Boy’s Choir
I had been waiting for this concert for months. I was so excited to involve my son in this choir in the near future, especially after our cooperation in Carmina Burana. However, The concert left me very disappointed.
I dragged my poor girlfriend along to this concert. We ended up having to leave early because of another meeting. However, this early departure was after 2 ½ hours with 8 songs left to be sung! First lesson learned (even though I already know, but indeed confirmed), take the length of the program into consideration. People lose interest after that long. I love music just as much, if not more than most other people, but I too was looking at my watch toward the end of the show.
Aside from the length, I enjoyed their program setup. There were 3 boy’s choirs, 1 men’s choir, 2 girl’s choirs and Dorothy Benham as a guest soloist. No choir did too much music, there was just a lot in general.
I was impressed with all three boy’s choirs. It looks like their feeding system between the three choirs is very good. It was also neat to see the progression in the different age groups (almost like a live time-lapse). They sang a blend of classical and popular choral literature and did both well. At times, they had some well prepared and executed choreography, which added to the music.
The girl’s choirs were on the same level as the boys’. I was impressed again with the feed. As in the boys’ their intonation and musicality was awesome. However, the choreography was too much with the girls. I noticed, especially in the high school group, that the quality of music dropped considerably when they added choreography. Despite the fact they were singing a gospel song, I think they would have been much better keeping the motions smaller and focusing more on the music.
With all of the young choirs, I noticed a slightly more childish version of conducting. Each of these groups had a different conductor, but there were many similarities among them. I noticed a lot of conducting from the body. They would make cutesy motions and be overly dramatic about dynamics and mood changes within the lyrics. I, by no means think this is bad, but never realized that the difference in age affected the conducting style that much.
I do not know what it is like to conduct children, but there were a few things I would not do. Sometimes, the conductors’ motions took attention away from the choir since they were so exaggerated. One conductor was singing with her kids in order to keep them together. I understand that they are really young, but the parents did not come to see and hear her. Also, I would never discipline a child on stage, in the microphone, at a concert, in front of a few hundred people. I do not think that is good for the child or your reputation as a conductor.
I was mostly disappointed with the men’s choir. This is the reason that I am not sure about my own son being a part of this group anymore. This would be the choir that the boys move into after their voice changes. However, the group was made up of approximately 20 men ranging in ages from around 15 to 65. I could rant for a long time on this part of the concert…and I have, but I will keep it minimal. Their intonation was off. There was not a unity in their sound. Their music was not prepared well and the preparation that was done was not adequate. One thing that makes the Lacrymosa from Mozart’s Requiem so amazing is the dynamic contrasts. There were none at this concert. Tempos were off, dynamic contrasts were not there or in the wrong place and it was flat out boring.
Again, I was there to be a critic. I left really disappointed and could go on about this concert for hours. Even so, I learned things that I will keep and things I will shun. However, that is the reason we were to do this I imagine.

Comments

Nice story about the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus warming-up. And I think you're right: singing in a choir IS fun.
Some times it's also fun to watch at the director's facial expressions ;).
Regards,
Gabriel - Argentina.

hey I really like your posts and observations about choral conducting. I am from Singapore, and direct my church choir on sundays. I have attended westminster choir college summer sessions on conducting and really am into conducting. I look forward to more posts from you!


1gBsDJ