Jan 202005

Well, good morning. It’s too early to think rationally, but there’s more to fill my hours today than there are hours to fill, so I’m starting around 4:30. Ah, for the good old days when I was a young adult and thought I was the busiest person on earth… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Today I’m culling suggestions from a book called “Beyond the Downbeat” by Sandra Willetts.

  • Breath control and capacity can be improved with good physical conditioning. Singing is a physical activity much like an athletic event.
  • Better diction will produce a better sound quality.
  • If your choir needs to improve rhythmic unity, work to intensify consonants.
  • “diphthong” is pronounced “diff-thong” not “dip-thong.” (Perhaps this doesn’t make much practical difference, but you don’t want to offend your English majors.)
  • Always voice an “r” when it begins a word or appears between two vowels (unless the second is silent as in “here”). Never voice an “r” when it appears at the end of a word, comes before another consonant or appears before a silent vowel. Never roll an “r” except for extreme dramatic effect.
  • When singing legato, words should be “linked” (that is, the end consonants abut the following syllable) unless doing so causes new words to be formed that obscure the text. Example: “Gladly the cross I’d bear” should not become “Gladly the cross-eyed bear.”
  • Many words begin with “be” or “de” (as in “believe” and “deliver”) but these are often correctly pronounced using a “bih” or “dih” sound. If unsure, look it up in a dictionary.
  • Singers tend to be flat when they are insecure on notes or rythms.
  • Singers tend to be flat when repeating a note three or more times. Watch for it and make the singers aware if they’re flatting repeated notes.

These are all the suggestions I’m going to distill for now. There are plenty more in these and other books, but I’m using these as a handout for the choir directors I work with and I wanted to keep things short and basic–and not overload them with too much information at once!

One book I picked up at Amazon that I really like is called “Conducting Technique for Beginners and Professionals” by Brock McElheran. It’s hard to find these days, but it’s worth looking. This book is a bit too technical to offer much in the way of one-liners, but it’s one of the best short works I’ve found for improving conducting technique. He’s clear, concise, and everything he says just makes sense. Good stuff.

Jan 172005

I’m still going through choral conducting books to find short snippets of good advice for my handouts. Here’s the next batch–notes taken from “The Wednesday Workout” by Richard Devinney:

  • You should spend a great deal of time studying the text of a hymn or anthem, as the text is usually what gives it a place in the worship service.
  • As you study your score, mark it up… but use a pencil so you can change your mind!
  • The size of your arm movements should indicate dynamics, but should also be proportional to the size of your group. Larger arm movements will be required for a congregation than for a 16-voice choir.
  • Good sound starts with good posture. The choir is likely to emulate the director’s posture.
  • A major element of effective conducting is eye contact. Learn your score, and look at your choir. You can’t expect them to look at you if you’re not looking at them.
  • Do not sing while conducting. Listen instead.
  • We talk too much and sing too little.
  • Humor will be one of your best tools. Laughter relaxes the singer, which makes the sound better.
  • When the choir needs to work on learning notes for extended periods of time, break into sections. You’ll get twice as much accomplished and avoid boring the idle sections to tears.
  • It’s impossible to blend voices unless the vowel sounds are sung uniformly by everyone in the group.
  • Words should be sung as they are spoken, but we don’t all speak them correctly in the first place. The authority on pronunciation is the dictionary.
  • Choose music that you love. You will be more successful in directing music you love because you will have more enthusiasm for it.
  • Ask choir members to rate their enjoyment of a song after they have presented it. Find out if it is a selection they feel is worth repeating in the future. Note the response for reference.
  • To recruit new choir members, an announcement in the bulletin or newsletter will do little more than to let a few people know that you would welcome new members. Personal contact by the director is the best option for recruiting.

Some of these may be duplicates of previous (or future!) entries. I’ll weed out duplicates as I combine them for my handouts, but it’s too much work to do here. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, I’m lazy.

Jan 142005

Since I’m preparing information for a stake music workshop and I have to consolidate several books worth of information, I might as well do it here. The following tips are from an old conducting textbook I had on the shelf… the author wasn’t specified and it was in so well-loved a state that there was no publication date to be found. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • One pitfall for new conductors is using a beat pattern that is too rounded… or not definite enough. Too much motion.
  • Use of a baton is largely a matter of personal taste.
  • Conducting in front of a mirror will help you develop better conducting skills. (I do this quite often… it’s amazing the bad habits you can pick up without knowing it.)
  • In addition to metronome markings, a thorough study of the mood of the text will help determine an appropriate tempo for each selection.
  • Overuse of the left hand (i.e., keeping the beat with both hands) makes it relatively ineffective for special situations (i.e., attacks, releases, crescendos, etc.).
  • When singing, “Mary” should still be pronounced “Meh-ree,” not “May-ree.” “Angel” is “ayn-jehl” not “ayn-juhl.” There’s quite a long list of similar mispronunciations.
  • Spoken instructions, remarks, etc., should be kept to a minimum during a rehearsal. Sing, sing, sing.
  • Choir members need to be reminded (perhaps repeatedly) never to sing so loudly that they cannot hear the individuals and parts around them.
  • To avoid too much dependence on the piano (or other accompaniment) passages should occasionally be rehearsed a cappella.
  • Simply saying “Let’s sing it again,” doesn’t accomplish much. There should be a purpose for the repetition, and the choir members should know and understand the goal of the repetition.
  • Singers become fatigued by singing too long in a sitting position. Occasionally have the choir stand to rehearse.
  • If the singers have their “noses in their books” (and are therefore not watching for cues), instead of telling them verbally to watch you, try conducting the passage erratically–speed up or slow down at will, and use fermatas where none are noted. It becomes a sort of game, and teaches them to watch the conductor.

That’s probably all I’ll use from this volume. I have four more in the to-be-read stack…