Why every choir is different

Posted: October 19, 2014 in choral, Conducting
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I’ve been re-evaluating some of my rehearsal strategies this week. Four and sometimes five nights each week I run rehearsals with different choirs and vocal harmony groups, but it’s quite important for me to remember that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ type thing. Far from it. Every ensemble has its own culture and work ethic, and of course some of the groups I work with are professional and some non-professional.  The Gospel Project is a group comprised of professional singers, and I’m accustomed to being able to walk in to rehearsal, throw some complex harmonies at them and have the singers reproduce them pretty quickly. Another group I work with are highly committed amateurs and again are able to learn parts relatively quickly, or at least put in a lot of private practise time outside of weekly rehearsals. I have to be careful that this doesn’t lead to unrealistic expectations on my part when it comes to some of the other groups I work with; one is a group of complete beginners for whom the world of singing harmony is quite new and naturally they learn more slowly. Another group again is happy to show up and sing whatever can be managed in rehearsals but there is no culture there of individual practise outside that time. This is further complicated by the fact that many people regard singing as something you can either do or you can’t, and consequently don’t respect the idea of practising it.

It leads to some interesting questions regarding the role of the musical director; should you always attempt to push an ensemble to newer and more ambitious goals? In a recreational – as opposed to professional – singing environment is the optimal goal always a great performance, or is the process of learning and rehearsing just as important? If the choir are quite happy with things the way they are, do I have the right to insist that they should be doing better? Reaching for  higher standards enhances the experience for some singers and has the very opposite effect as far as some others are concerned, so this is not an easy thing to get right. There’s also the matter of how I fit into it as a professional musician with high standards  – the choir’s standard is a reflection on me, but they are my employers, so shouldn’t I serve their needs rather than my ambition? Who am I really doing it for when I demand more of the choir?

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