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Rehearsal and concert observations

Rehearsal

On May 11 I attended a church choir rehearsal at my parents’ church in Minnetonka called Ridgewood Church. I noticed several things about the conductor that would have been difficult to follow had I been a member of his choir. First, his beat pattern was rather circular, maybe to a fault. It was hard to tell where the downbeat was because his “scooping? motion was almost constant. This “upward? beat pattern made the ictus appear to be placed somewhere around the conductor’s eye-level. Such a highly placed release of energy made it difficult for the choir to breathe deeply and produce a supported sound.

Even his cutoffs were rather difficult to follow. He seemed to make a jerking motion with his hand when he wanted a cutoff. Instead of releasing energy on the lowest point of his cutoff, he released energy at the highest point. This of course created confusion among the choir and resulted in a consistently messy cutoff.

The final thing I learned about rehearsing with a volunteer choir is the need to start the rehearsal period on time. Starting on time is the first step to creating a successful choral experience. This particular choir has a history of starting fifteen minutes or even a half-hour late. I’ve even heard the director tell certain members (who always show up on time) to go ahead and come later than usual because people won’t actually show up until twenty minutes after the official start time anyway. Such habits severely undermine one’s authority as the choral director and should never be allowed to take root. As my high school choir director used to say: “To be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late.?

Concert

On April 5 I attended a concert by the Commodores, an acapella men’s group of 75+ members ranging from college students to retired veterans. The theme was a tribute to Disney, and several barbershop groups were included as well. Since the group was so large the director had to use rather large gestures to communicate dynamics and cutoffs. I learned that it’s okay to use extreme motions for important cutoffs, especially if you are working with a relatively untrained group. Anything you can do to make important transitions, dynamic changes, and articulation obvious is good!

Another thing I learned was the importance of having fun as a conductor. If the group sees you smiling and enjoying yourself then they will loosen up as well and get into the music. This was obvious throughout the evening as the entire choir was quite animated and unafraid to incorporate some choral-movement into their pieces. It is really true that your choir often reflects the amount of energy you give it.

I would say the third thing that I learned was subtle ways to encouraging a particular tone from the group during a concert. Although the group was mostly untrained singers they were incredibly responsive to the conductor’s motions for fuller tone and pitch unification. To get a fuller tone, the director opened his own mouth in a round “oh?, raised his eyebrows, and made an “expansive? motion with his hands by pulling them away from each other. The change in quality and richness of sound was phenomenal! To remind the choir members to match one anothers’ pitch he tipped his ear toward the choir, raised his eyebrows, and looked intently at the group. This signified that something wasn’t quite right and that the group needed to fix it.