No matter how skilled or experienced we are, we can always seek to improve and give our choirs our very best.
There’s a single thing you can do right now to be a better choir leader, but you’re not going to like it! I’m going to try to persuade you to video yourself. I know, I know, most of us hate seeing and hearing ourselves, but the benefits far out way the temporary discomfort, I promise.
Bad habits creep in
One of the most obvious things about conducting a choir is that you can’t see yourself doing it. You can think you’re showing one thing to the choir, but they might see something very different. Even if you’ve gone through very thorough training, it’s really easy to accumulate some bad habits and idiosyncrasies. What you think is very clear might look confusing to your choir.
When I was training, I was forced to view myself conducting on video. It was pretty excruciating to start with, but it taught me a lot. One thing that emerged very early on was that I had a weird tendency to show the ‘off-beat’ with the elbow of my beating arm! I’d give the beat, and then do a little flick of the elbow. I had no idea I was doing it. It wasn’t a terrible conducting crime, but it was affecting the clarity of my gestures.
When we’re conducting, we’re doing a lot of things unconsciously that we’ll only pick up when we see ourselves. You might be mouthing the words too much, singing along, ignoring sections of the choir, standing with poor posture – all sorts of things that won’t come to light unless you can watch yourself.
You might also be pleasantly surprised about some things, so don’t forget to notice when you give clear upbeats and endings, or when you communicate dynamics effectively.
Get set up
The ideal way to video your conducting performance is to set up a camera during rehearsal, if your choir doesn’t mind. You can assure them that the camera will be on you, not them. Ideally, put the camera straight in front of you (behind the choir on a tall tripod works very well), but if that’s not possible, set it up somewhere so that your face and gestures are captured.
You can also video yourself conducting in the privacy of your own home if the rehearsal option is too much. It won’t be the same ‘live’ experience because you won’t be leading real music, but you can still get a good idea of how your posture, facial expressions and gestures look to your choir.
Don’t be despondent – it’s all about learning
If you review a recording of yourself and loathe what you see, try not to let yourself get down about it. Remind yourself that this is an exercise in improving your skills and that whatever isn’t working can be changed.
Don’t try to change a lot of things at once, though. Pick one aspect that you’d like to improve and work on that for a few weeks before tackling anything else.
I’ve found that watching my conducting on video is really beneficial, so I hope you’ll consider giving it a try.