More on Mouthing Words (and why not to)
The subject of why directors so often feel the urge to mouth the words as they conduct, and why it is a good idea to overcome this urge is a subject I have visited before. And I don’t need to say very much more than I did last time, so this will be a rather short post. But there was a communal penny-drop moment at the LABBS Directors Weekend back in July on this topic which I thought it worth sharing with you.
It was in one of the coaching sessions - three directors, half a chorus and a coach working together for 45 mins on helping the directors develop more effective technique. Often the directors wanted to work on how to become more expressive and communicative in their gestures, and often the answer was to do less at a full-body level so that the nuances of finger and facial expression weren’t constantly competing with other body parts for attention.
And into this mix, one of the wonderful singers from the White Rosettes gave the feedback that she found she had more freedom to contribute to the music when the director stopped mouthing the words. She felt more personally involved in the music at both an emotional and a vocal level.
This was a very motivating bit of information for the director. It can be hard (!!) to change our habits, especially when those habits are rooted in our own deep commitments to feeling the music. But to learn that those habits are actually making our singers feel inhibited - well, that gives a good reason to work on that bit of technique. To stop mouthing the words thus becomes an expression of trust in the chorus to use their own hearts and brains, a recognition that the director doesn’t have to do everything.
And possibly that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard - it’s not just about the mouth, it’s about the relationship. But if we relinquish some of that control, we are rewarded with a more genuinely communicative interaction between director and singers, and a freer, more resonant, and more meaningful choral sound.