As the start of my first rehearsal approaches, I am filled with thoughts about the upcoming choral season and what I have in store for myself. Although it is not the start of the new year, it feels like a fresh year as I brace myself for a new school and choir season.
I start to think about anything and everything related to music and one thing I have been contemplating is conductor styles within a choir. Throughout the years, I have had the experience to work with a variety of conductors, everyone with their own particular style and expectations, but it made me wonder... what am I looking for in a conductor? My first conductor in Junior Choir had a nurturing and motherly nature, which was excellent for easing myself into this new musical artform; however, my demands in a conductor began to change as my skill level progressed.
Following that conductor, my Intermediate choir conductor was extremely artistic and expressive. She would always walk about the room freely vocalizing and encouraging you to do so as well in order to explore the flexibility of your own vocal cords and sound. This exploratory stage allowed me to start figuring out what works and what doesn't, oh yes, and make a fool out of myself vocally :)
After intermediate choir, I entered Chamber Choir and this, by far, was my first intense choral group. Suddenly, I was placed with singers who had undergone a slightly more selective screening process and I was filled with a sense of prestige. However, this is soon cut down as I began to realize that my conductor had high demands for herself as well as her choir. I do not want to make her into some dictatorial entity but, at times, that was what she was like to me... and I absolutely thrived upon it! I wanted somebody telling me when things did not sound correct and her furrowed brow and slightly killer glare would scare even the most passive chorister. This, in turn, caused me to become extremely impatient and intolerant of choristers who did not have the same high standards I had for myself and the choir. These choristers are everywhere, perhaps singers who were forced into choir by their parents or choristers who are only singing for easy credit. I have no patience for these types of singers. They bring down the energy of the choral group! There is so much potential in every single singer that it is frustrating to hear them not utilizing their talents. One of the things that makes any ensemble succeed is the determination and commitment of every single member. This is even more of challenge within a choir since you are often working with a large group of people. Coordinating 5 members to commit is one thing but making 35 singers commit is another challenge entirely. A demanding conductor ensures that every chorister is giving their very best. If singers are not committed to the choir, it does not make sense that the other choristers in the group should suffer as well. I think my pleasure in having somebody demand so much from me is also due in part to my upbringing. My childhood was filled with critique rather than praise. I always knew that if my parents were quiet, I was doing something correctly; however, if I ever stepped out of line, I would experience, how I like to put it, the "Asian smack-down," whether that be verbal or physical :) Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way bitter about my upbringing, it is actually quite funny to me now as I understand the love behind all the actions, but this transferred to choir since I was happy with critique.
My conductor's high demands allowed us to win numerous awards and that reinforcement only increased my competitive nature. Of course, as I grew older, priorities in my life changed as well and life changes also caused my choir conductor slacken her iron fist as well. The thing I enjoy most about Belle Canto right now is that all the women in it are extremely dedicated to singing but they also have other lives as well. We try as much as we can to coordinate all our schedules and, while it is frustrating at times, there are climatic musical moments that I have felt while singing with them. When I was younger, I had so much more time to dedicate to my obsessive need for choral perfection; however, this has changed. As much as I love choir... it is not my career. It is my hobby. I find I enjoy it more this way because I do not rely on choral singing to support me financially. I also find that once money is added into an equation, my feelings towards something change. While I still secretly thrive for the need for a conductor to be demanding and somewhat dictatorial, I am glad that my conductor is able to cater her style to suit the style of each particular group. I think that's what's most important: adaptation. Every group has different needs; thus, different approaches must be used. For younger groups, a more exploratory strategy for musical learning is suitable, and as you have a more concentrated group of skilled singers, it is appropriate to have higher musical demands.
I encourage you to evaluate what musical teaching style you respond most to. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!