Conducting Your Choir: From Novice to Know-how

As conductors, we want to inspire our singers. To do that, we need to ensure that we are communicating effectively with them.  Without experience or training this can be a daunting task. I know this because it was exactly the position I was in when I began my first choir.  I passionately believed in what I was doing, had a clear vision of the choir I wanted to create and the style of music they would sing.  I had good people skills, but my conducting really was just me waving my arms around in the hope that I could convey meaning about the songs.  As a little time passed, strangely, my choir began to learn how to interpret me but this was not a foolproof method and often resulted in misunderstanding, ragged ensemble and me appearing very overemphatic!  In short, it was exhausting.

When I joined forces with Victoria, we decided that it would be hugely beneficial to us to gain some more knowledge and improve our conducting talents so we enrolled on choral conducting courses with ABCD (the Association of British Choral Directors).  I chose the beginners' course (for reasons stated above) while Victoria, who had more formal musical training, opted for the intermediate course.

The sessions took place in London and proved to be a great opportunity to meet other choir leaders and music professionals, many of whom we are still in touch with two years down the line.

The beginners' course covered a great mix of skills required to be a good choir leader and conductor.  We learnt warm-up techniques for choirs and discussed elements of good practice: how to keep singers enagaged, how to command the attention of the room, how to deal with queries during rehearsals etc.  On the conducting side, we learnt beat patterns (who knew what a revelation these would be and how they would change the sound of my choir), body language and manner.  I absolutely loved these sessions and each time felt I had learnt so much.  Putting this all into practice during my rehearsals I found so many elements coming together.  The choir were able to understand me much better, the beat patterns made the sound more unified and the skills for choir management were invaluable.

As the sessions went by we were given pieces to work on and had to conduct them for our fellow classmates, who became the choir.  This was all filmed, which may sound like a nightmare to some, but actually it was extremely helpful as you were able to go away, watch and see for yourself the corrections needed on body language and facial expression as well as the movement of your beat patterns.  Also, sitting through each others’ tuition you were able to learn from mistakes being made and find things you like but hadn’t thought of yourself.

Victoria’s course was along the same lines but was formed of a larger group of people.  There was also an element of written work involved such as score preparation, programme notes and creating simple arrangements.  Like me she had to conduct the rest of her classmates but the assessment criteria and level expected were at a more advanced level.  She also had to take part in an assessed final performance.  The course is accredited by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and is accepted as a substitute for the DipABRSM (Music Direction) which allows students who have successfully completed the course to proceed to the LRSM (Music Direction).

ABCD also offer an advanced conducting course, a young conductors' course and courses for teachers leading singing in schools.
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4 comments

Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Jenny. Thanks for getting in touch. We don't run any training courses at the moment, although it's something we're hoping to develop in the future. Check out the 'conducting technique' category to find lots of articles and podcasts about developing your skills as a choir leader. Good luck, and keep in touch.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Harvie. What a great a story - your choir sounds like a fantastic resource for your community. We'd be delighted and honoured if you decide to join Choir Leader Academy. You can find all the information you need at this link. Best wishes.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Shawn. Since this article was first published, we have launched Choir Leader Academy, which provides online training for choir leaders. You can check it out at choirleaderacademy.com.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Russell. It's a few years since we did our training now, so the ABCD courses might have changed, but all the sessions were at weekends when we did them. You can find out more from ABCD, or you could consider the online courses we run at Choir Leader Academy, which will be re-launched on 1 June.
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