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May 13, 2008

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.

May 5, 2008

Britten

I think that part of the reason I rushed the piece so much on Friday was due to the fact that I practiced it that fast. I know that is not that quick, but when it is ingrained in your mind at that temp, it is hard to switch. I will just need to work on keeping it slower and consistent.
Another reason for rushing is the quarter notes. Since most of the piece moves on eighth and sixteenth notes, I feel like the quarter notes are too long. I will have to work on pulsing the eighth note when I am conducting.
I feel like I have the piece technically worked out. I know all of my beat patterns pretty well, but I do not know what to do with the dynamics. i did talk with Matt and Andrew after class about changing the plain of the gesture. I think this will work well, but it is not something I am used to. I like making the soft gesture small and the loud gesture big. I will just need to develop a larger level of comfort with the planar adjustment.
I was thinking about things and am really disappointed this is almost over. I feel like I am just now starting to get comfortable with conducting. I wish we had one more class to improve even more. I know I still need to work on things like my big gestures, keeping myself grounded and my cutoffs. I know I can do this on my own, but it would be nice to be able to work on these things for another semester and especially with a choir...sort of. I have a fairly open semester next fall. Is there anything we can take?

April 29, 2008

Wood River

For the first time, I actually felt comfortable conducting on Friday. I felt like most things went my way. I know that Matt had other ideas for the solo section, but I was sticking to my guns. I wanted to conduct all of the beats because of the way I heard it in my head. I know that the soloist has some liberties and decisions, but I also think that in a high school environment, you as the director, have a lot of direction too. I felt very comfortable doing it this way.
However, I did still struggle with my forte gesture. I know that I made it bigger than in the past, but I do not think it was big enough. I did not get the response I was hoping for. I thought I was very clear on my crescendo/decrescendo gesture at the end, but I did not get the swell I was expecting. I do not know what to do except try it again next time. I just didn't have enough time to try it until I got it right.
Anyway, I felt very comfortable and pleased this week. I am excited to go out to the school for our final and start doing this regularly fairly soon.

March 14, 2008

Cross the Wide Missouri

I really liked the fact that I got to conduct this before our class today. Having that experience at Champlain helped me realize and think about things ahead of time that I may not have thought of. I mentioned cut-offs today. I need to work on them. I feel like a little tap of my finger is enough for our class, but it may not be enough for a middle or high school choir.
I have never conducted at the beginning of class before. After watching everyone else, I feel like I gave too many beats. We briefly talked about the subtle beats that you don't need, but I feel like I could have done more with the longer notes. I think about this every time, but it is something I just need to practice more. I spend most of my practice time making sure I "get it right," instead of style issues.
Dynamics is another issue of mine. I know I do not show enough. I can tell I am still at the point where my mind is limited to a couple of things to think about while conducting. Usually, dynamics is not there. i just need to get more comfortable with the piece. I also think that as I get more experience, I will be able to put the whole package together at the same time instead of thinking about it piece by piece.
I may have more to say after watching my video, but it is break, and I want to relieve my mind of assignments for a while. Until then...

March 4, 2008

General

I have been thinking and briefly talking with others about our structure for conducting. I don't know what we can do about this, or if others have the same opinion, but I would like to have multiple times on the same piece. I was thinking the other day that I would feel more comfortable conducting one of the pieces we were singing in choir than some of the ones we are conducting. I can only attribute this to the extra experience with the piece. I just figured if we were given a second chance that maybe we could learn and accomplish more on a piece. I would feel more comfortable and have more liberty trying new things with the extra experience. Just a thought. Like I said, I don't know if there is anything we can do about this or if others feel the same, but I wanted to throw it out there.

December 19, 2007

Concert and rehearsal review

I wanted to experience a church choir a little bit for this assignment. So, when I went back home, I went to church with my parents. I have sung in church choir and have attended many as well, but now that I have a new perspective on conducting, wanted to see what they had to offer.
First of all it was really simple. I noticed that most of the conducting was just straight beat patterns. Every once and a while there was a left hand gesture. This seemed mainly to keep the choir sustained on long notes. I have a feeling this may be due to the lack of musicianship of many people in the choir. However, The beat pattern did keep them together, which is better than stumbling through a piece. This also is good to know in case I have my own church choir some day.
Secondly, the director sang with the choir. Again, maybe this was due to the musicianship, but it was a little weird. They may have needed and extra voice in the choir. Maybe they couldn't read music that well. Whatever it was, I found myself paying attention to the director more than the choir. It was a little distracting to me.
On the positive side, the director never gave in to the choir or the accompanist. I noticed bot the choir and the accompanist dragging a little. She kept her composure and beat pattern the same. Both the choir and the accompanist got back on momentarily. I would imagine this has nothing do do with musicianship. It seems as though we just react to a lot of motions without even knowing.
It was nice to attend a church choir. It seemed similar to a middle school choir or less. I think it would almost be harder at times to conduct a church choir. They seem less responsive. However, they have an equal if not greater passion for music as did the conductor. It was nice to see them really appreciate and enjoy singing; especially after our middle school teaching experience where a lot of the kids looked bored and annoyed.

12/7/2007

I know I have a problem moving. This is funny because I am not a dancer in the least bit. For some reason I really like to move while conducting. I know however, that it has its moments and I need to limit movement for those moments. I feel like I was off with the piano a little bit. I didn't while I was conducting, but after watching it looked like I was behind. I think because this piece is technically harder than the others we have done, it will come better with time. Again, look up and use the left hand more. Hopefully I can do this on the exam.

11/30/2007

I like the lilt a lot. For some reason I feel like I have more fun conducting in compound meter. I hate to admit it, but I may not have been as prepared for this as I should have. I feel like a lot of the problems Matt was talking about could have been fixed purely by knowing the piece better. I thought I was prepare, but I was proven wrong. This may help me to look up more as well. I noticed that I did look up more the second time through as compared to the first. Maybe this is because I know I am being watched and do not want to screw up the first time through.

10/26/2007

I notice that I do the scooping motion a lot. I also know that I have seen Matt do it as well. I don't know if that is where I got it, but it has become subconcious to me. Since this is a late blog, I can say that in fixing this problem, I have noticed my hand has become stiff at times. I think it is just overcompensation and I need to find the happy medium. I hate the fact that I have such a problem using my left hand. Hopefully this will just become more comfortable and natural as time goes on. I need to look up more as well. I feel like I am in the score a lot.

October 24, 2007

10/19/2007

Well, no matter what I do, I cannot get last weeks conducting video to work. So, hopefully this one can sum up both weeks. I did much better this week than last week in keeping my conducting pattern. Although I took the musicality out of my had and arm waving, it seemed to go to my legs. I could not believe how different, and better I looked when I was grounded. It was something I had been told before, but I never realized it until I saw it first hand.
One thing I have yet to fix is my "little man" complex. For those of you who do not see me every week, this is complex is me holding my hands too high in order to look bigger. I looked so much more comfortable when I dropped my hands down a bit. It also helped keep my plane in place as Matt said it would. I will not lie. I looked like a punk kid getting by to get a grade before I temporarily fixed these things. It is unbelievable how much of a difference it made. I sat at my computer laughing to myself about how I looked. It is pretty goofy. I am glad that I finally made those connections. It feels better and looks better from the choir or onlookers point of view.
I feel like this song could use some percussion. In my head I can hear a drum section going, "1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2". I blame this thought on my angular beat pattern. Even in the slower section where we want a legato motion, I feel the micro beat. Getting away from that and using the egg really made me feel the macro beat. It was much easier to keep a fluid motion. (This percussion also had a little to do with keeping the beat in my legs)
This week something clicked. Whatever it was definitely helped. now if I could only figure out how to actually do something effective with my left hand...

October 3, 2007

9/28

A little late this week. I totally spaced after the amazing Packer win and Brett Favre milestone touchdown. Anyway...
I had a good time conducting this week. I didn't feel like it was too overwhelming or nerve-racking. As has been the story of my conducting career, I had two major flaws.
The first flaw was my extremely fluid (floppy) wrist. I don't know if I do it because of all of the fluid conductors I have worked with over the past or not, but this fluidity is deeply ingrained inside me. I would think it is safe to say that my musicality is portrayed a lot better than my beat pattern. Although this could be a good thing and provide very useful in the future, I need to learn how to show musicality without floppiness.
My second flaw was keeping my beat pattern too high. Through short deductive reasoning, we realized that I really paid attention in basic conducting. I have been keeping my beat pattern uncomfortably high, but it is where I was told to keep it in my basic conducting class. Needless to say when I tried conducting my patter a little lower, it felt great.
I need to work on these two things right away. After I get them down, I think conducting will be much easier for me.

September 26, 2007

9/21/2007

I felt fairly good about conducting on Friday. One of my major problems in the past dealt with me moving from my shoulder instead of my collar bone. I think this was fairly successful for me. I did not get tired and felt I could move around very well.
One of my biggest issues in Friday's lab was staying with the beat pattern. I know that the beat pattern is not always set in stone, but I felt I could have stayed with it a little better. I try to do more creative things with my left hand which sometimes takes my focus away from the pattern. This shows me the pattern is not fully ingrained yet. Also, I try to do expressive motions with my right hand which distracts me, sometimes, to the point of getting lost.
I noticed fairly often that my motions were not big enough or influential enough. I need to get more comfortable just throwing myself out there. This holds true to some of the teaching exercises I have done as well. It seems as though since I know what I want that everyone else will automatically get it. However, when you are in front of the class conducting, or teaching, the response is great instant feedback. I will definitely try to be more clear with my gestures for the next lab.

September 24, 2007

Conducting Soprano Line

I enjoyed the format of conducting on Friday. I have not had conducting in about 5 years, so I was initially intimidated by this class. I really enjoyed Andrew's help with my section. He was excellent at both encouraging us to comment on our peers and sharing very insightful tips and observations. I also feel like class members really do want to help each other become better conductors. What a wonderful learning environment!

As far as my conducting went, I think it went as well as it can right now. I am considering Friday a baseline for my improvement. My biggest challenges right now are encouraging an easy breath and preparation for singing and also harnessing my energy. When I get in front of a crowd, I have this desire to please people and make them excited about life. As a conductor, I want to make them excited about music. I am going to try to pull in this energy a little so that people are easily welcomed into my conducting/teaching without feeling overpowered by my energy. This way, I will be able to use this energy more strategically.

Now about the blog...I would love to read other people's entire comments, but I can only read a compact version. (The first few sentences.) If someone thinks of this and I forget to mention it, could you please tell me how I can read other's comments. They seem very interesting.

-Amy