A Note to Frustrated Choral Conductors
Thursday, May 26, 2011
What does a choral conductor do -- or indeed the music director of any ensemble do -- if he or she feels frustrated at the standard of the amateur chorus he or she is leading?
Should she (OK, I'm switching to 'she' now to avoid using that cumbersome 'he or she' thing throughout this blogpost) get angry at every rehearsal and lecture the choir about how they're not delivering the goods?
Should she institute more rigorous rules about things like attendance and pre-rehearsal preparation and threaten the chorus members with tortures like forcing them to "re-audition" if they miss more than two rehearsals?
Or should she consider a move into the world of 'professional' choruses where financial support supposedly dictates a higher level of focus, commitment and talent?
Theoretically, I actually think that the third option may be best for the conductor who refuses to accept the allowances that have to be made for a choir consisting of people who sing primarily for fun (albeit often to a very high level of musical excellence).
The fact is that no matter how devoted the members of amateur choruses are to their choral organizations, putting in many hours of rehearsal and time on their own preparing their music, they have other obligations like paying jobs that sometimes get in the way of choral activities.
So if a chorus director has been stamping her feet on the podium like an impetuous child one too many times, she should probably consider seeing how she fares in the professional choral world.
If she's really good, she might be lucky enough to land one of the very few paying chorus gigs available.
And at that point, I'm guessing, the reality check will set in.
The truth is that unless you're leading a group like Chanticleer, which rehearses every day and whose members do nothing for a living besides singing full-time in that ensemble, issues to do with intonation, blend and other aspects of musical refinement will always be there. Everyone deals with these problems, actually, even the top professional groups.
And let's not forget that the best volunteer choruses manage, in spite of the competing obligations in their lives, to deliver the musical goods admirably well.
So I'd like to suggest a fourth option for chorus directors who feel they're at a crossroads and spend too much time in rehearsals haranguing their singers:
Suck it up, smile and work to the best of your abilities with the happy, talented amateurs that you've got standing in front of you.