It’s three years now since I undertook my choral conducting course. Living on the south coast of England, I was lucky enough to be in easy travelling distance of London, which meant that I could undertake the Association of British Choral Directors’ intermediate course.
I was just starting out with my choir and although I was a competent enough musician, I only had a tiny amount of experience as a conductor. I wasn’t scared of leading a group or speaking in public (fifteen years in the legal profession had taken care of that) but I was worried about how I should conduct the choir. I didn’t have the physical vocabulary to convert my vision for the music into gestures that communicated that vision to my choir.
Ironing out bad habits
At my first training session, I quickly realised that I’d already got into some bad habits. The tutors spent the first couple of sessions simply paring our conducting styles back to the barest minimum so that we could focus on nothing more than showing a beat. Only when we could cleanly show tempo and metre were we encouraged to introduce expression and character into our conducting.
Work, work, work
In monthly practical sessions, the group conducted for each other while the rest formed a (not at all bad!) choir. The tutors gave us feedback and criticism – always very positive and helpful. In between practical sessions we were given ‘homework’ – gestures and pieces to practise, score preparation, programme planning and even a bit of composition.
We were videoed in the practicals and encouraged to review the recordings at home. While it was excruciating at first to see myself as the choir saw me, I learned a tremendous amount from the exercise.
One of the great joys of going through my training course was that I was able to translate what I was learning into real improvements for my choir on a weekly basis. My confidence grew exponentially as I started to feel that I had real, workable knowledge that I could rely on at rehearsals and performances. I was less rushed, less flustered, and more able to enjoy working with my choir. The choir, in return, upped their game significantly as I was able to more clearly show them what I wanted from them.