Why You Need to be Able to Demonstrate All the Parts

This is an addendum to my post on preparing music to direct. I had a response from a director saying that his section leaders are charged with demonstrating their parts in rehearsal, and that he thought his time would be better spent doing various analytical tasks such as harmonic or voicing analysis. Now, I’m not one to discourage harmonic or any other kind of analysis, so please do continue doing this. But his comment made me articulate to myself why you still need to be familiar enough with all the parts to be able to demonstrate them in rehearsal.

When I’ve asserted this before, it has been in the context of why you need to know all the parts, and the ability to demonstrate them has been the measure of when you know them well enough. But this comment focuses the attention on why you also need to be able to demonstrate anything your singers might have to sing as a distinct desideratum in its own right.

Guidance Notes on Preparing Music to Direct

I wrote these notes for delegates at the Directors Weekend I am working on for Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers. Those delegates will all have a session of hands-on coaching with a chorus, and I wanted to give them the best chance to go into that session well-prepared and therefore able to get the most out of it. But once I’d written the notes, I thought I may as well share them here, since they are valid - and I hope useful - for general music-making, not just for this event.

This is a description of what experienced directors typically do on meeting new music, although they may do a lot of it intuitively without laying it out on a checklist. I am listing it out systematically as an aid particularly for newer directors, but it’s also good for the more experienced to review what they do from time to time.

There are two main types of preparation you need, the first to inform your practical work of supporting the singers in learning and performing the song, and the second to inform your artistic work of making and communicating interpretive decisions.

On Bullies, Power, and Politicians

bullying_catSome years ago I was walking in the park and met a group of children from a local nursery. One of them looked me in the eye and said, ‘You are wee-wee and poo-poo’. I confess I did not have an adequate reply to this; I was struck dumb by a combination of surprise to be so accosted, and the dawning revelations that followed on the nature of insults and their function in human relationships. The impasse was broken by one of the nursery staff who remarked, accurately, ‘That’s not very nice, Leon,’ and led him away.

Forgive me if I write a post that looks rather political, and therefore off-topic. Though it’s really about trying to understand human beings, and to process some things I’ve learned through the process of the UK’s recent general election. Helping us harmonise in the wider sense, so to speak.

Expressive Gesture, Part 4: Directing with Your Ears

earHow to hear your choir more perceptively is a theme I have explored before, both in its own right and in relation to elements of conducting technique such as stillness and mouthing the words. And my recent visit to the White Rosettes, with its opportunity to observe how a director can listen the music into tune, came at just the right moment for me to try and frame how these thoughts fit together as part of a practical guide to expressive gesture.

The issue is one of attention. If you’re entirely focused on your projection of the musical soundtrack inside your head, that will be too loud for you to really hear or respond to much of what is coming back to you from the choir. (You get the same issue with instrumentalists of course - often the issue going on behind a spirited but technially splashy and/or sketchy performance.)

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