During a performance it’s the choir who are ultimately on stage to shine, however as conductors we are an imporatant part of this process and how we conduct ourselves during a performance reflects on our own professionalism and ultimately that of the choir. In a way each time we step out in front of our choirs or an audience we are performing. So how do we represent ourselves with calm and confidence when sometimes we may feel quite the opposite? Here are some tried and tested tips.
Feel and look your best
It goes without saying that ample rest, lots of hydration and a good diet will help you to feel good in the run up to a performance. Eating heavy meals right before you go on stage is never a good idea as it can make you feel bloated and sluggish. Similarly, dressing to feel your best will help boost your confidence. Choose an outfit that you like and that will give you the flexibility you need to conduct your choir comfortably. Remember, never has the back of your outfit been so important. For the majority of the performance, your audience will see you from the back so make sure you are happy with this also so that you can feel as relaxed as possible. Also ensure that your outfit doesn’t clash with what your choir is wearing and is suitable for the event.
Take a deep breath
When we’re nervous it’s very easy to launch into things at lightning speed. If you’re going to make introductions in a performance, take a deep breath, turn to your audience and speak slowly. This will not only help them to understand you, it will also help you to feel calmer than if you were racing along. Think carefully beforehand, not necessarily about what you will say (scripted speech often sounds unnatural) but how much you want to say. I always prefer starting the first piece without introduction, both for impact and also so we have one song under our belt and some of those initial nerves out the way. I will then thank the audience, say what the piece was and introduce the next. A little background story can also assist people’s enjoyment, particularly if there are no programmes for them to refer to. Be careful to keep your remarks as brief as possible. The main reason people are there is to hear your choir sing. You don’t want to make your singers really nervous by having to stand through long speeches. Above all, do as little or as much as you are confident with. Remember that your main focus needs to be the choir.
Bring confidence to your choir and you will feel it too
I remember my first ever big performance with my choir. I was unbelieveably nervous, but then I met the singers for a warm-up and saw how nervous they all were and how much it mattered to them. In an instant I found my strength by helping them to feel more confident. I assured them everything would be fine, the performance would be great and people would love us. In doing that, I began to believe it myself and rose to the challenge.
It’s absolutely cruial to learn not to panic if mistakes occur. Don’t draw attention to them with worried facial expressions as you may unnerve your singers. Instead, try to correct the problem as quickly as possible and carry on. If there is no way back from the mistake and things are going seriously wrong, honesty is sometimes the best policy. Stop, take a moment and then begin again. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate to say something to the audience. Encourage your singers to carry on through individual mistakes, chances are no one will notice, whereas if they gasp and put their hand over their mouth they will be the centre of attention!
Acknowledge your audience
Remember that your audience is there to see your choir perform and as part of that will want to show their gratitude by way of applause. Always acknowledge this applause, however nervous you feel or however keen you are to push on with the performance. Otherwise, it can seem to them that their opinion doesn’t matter. Face them, smile and enjoy the moment. At the end of the performance, thank your audience, if appropriate, and acknowledge your choir and musicians. Don’t rush the moment – your choir has earned it.
Put these tips into practice and you can appear to be as cool as a cucumber even if you’re not. With more practice, you’ll find it easier to manage your nerves and experience excitement at the prospect of a wonderful performance.