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Here's one thing you can do today to improve our choir-leading skills

Here’s one thing you can do today to improve our choir-leading skills

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.

Unconscious actions

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.

6 Responses to Here’s one thing you can do today to improve our choir-leading skills

  1. Bernie Bracha 31 March 2017 at 7:20 am #

    Hi Victoria. I remember this well from our ABCD experience in London! I still don’t like watching myself on video but see it as a necessary evil. I’m continuing to develop my skills by attending courses from time to time, both ABCD and others. I’m also investing in two of my Community choir members who occasionally step in to cover for me by taking them to a Sing for Pleasure conducting weekend which I’m really looking forward to.
    It’s great to see how well Total Choir Resources has taken off. I love reading your blogs and articles and have recommended your company to all of our Tuneless Choir leaders. Long may it continue!!

    • Victoria Hopkins 31 March 2017 at 8:35 am #

      Thanks Bernie! I’m glad to hear you’re doing well.

  2. Alice 31 March 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    I remember being videoed (several times) when I was studying choral conducting, then having to write an analysis — very hard, but very worthwhile.

    • Christine Mulgrew 6 April 2017 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks Alice.

  3. Caroline 1 April 2017 at 8:03 pm #

    Do you know of any conductor courses please. I am setting up a popular music choir and though I have a lot of experience teaching and performing, my conducting needs improving!

    • Victoria Hopkins 6 April 2017 at 5:26 pm #

      Hi Caroline. We offer our own online conducting course called Basic Conducting Technique. As you progress, you might want to look into some one-to-one coaching, but our course is designed to give you the basic knowledge and skills you need to get started.

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