Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Choral Director......Again!

Earlene Conducting...Years Ago

Well...I'm "at it" again. So...how does it feel? It feels great...different...but great. "How so?" you ask. Well...most of the "How is it?" begins with questions...my own. Here are some of the questions I entertained before and during the "stint":

1) Will I still be able to "do it?" Answer: Yes. That "bicycle thing" is real.
2) Will I still "have it?" (in regard to the pacing of a rehearsal, etc.). Answer: I improved.
3) Do the materials I have touted over the recent years really do as I thought? Answer: Yes!
4) Am I still able to inspire singers? Answer: I think so.
5) Is it enjoyable for me? Answer: Oh, yeah.
6) Is it enjoyable for the singers? Answer: So they say.
7) Where is it going? Answer: Who knows?
8) How long? Answer: Who knows?

Okay....maybe more thoughts will come to my head as I go along, but here's what I know so far (through the experience).

I'm not sure how I wound up with this gig. It is a gig at South Main Baptist Church, the church I regularly attend and sing in the Sanctuary Choir. You know how that goes...once in church ministry, always in church ministry (if you enjoy it). At any rate, I wound up saying "yes," with the promise that I would have assistance in music selection (so time consuming!). They came through...so appreciative.

So...in church work, we work for the enhancement of worship. We don't just say, "I really like this octavo." We ultimately say, "I really like this octavo, and it fits the worship theme 'here'." There is always a greater purpose other than the music. What can we say musically through music that helps others to "get it?" It takes some doing, so we do it.

I generally have 15-20 singers in Agape, South Main's women's ensemble. It has been a challenge to find our "direction" for this group. I am still not absolutely certain, but I think I am nearing the goal. This group loves "folk" arrangements. Of course, we also sing other things, but they and the church really enjoy the folk aspect of women's choral music. They really "bring it home" in such a way that others are drawn into their presentation, being blessed in a way that brings many responses and affirmations. One such Sunday performance occurred a few weeks ago when we sang "Morning Has Broken" and "Down in the River to Pray." The "folksy, earthy, down home" feelings that emerged really appealed to many in our congregation. It was a good thing.

Eyes were aglow as we all enjoyed doing well and others enjoyed listening. One story: I was recruiting for the group after Christmas, and mentioned that we would be reading music. One member wrote to tell me she couldn't be in the choir, because she couldn't read music. I was stunned. I wrote her back to explain that she could read music! She was reading music every week during the previous semester. The Rehearsal Preparation Sheets that I provide through my business were used weekly, teaching singers rhythms, melodies, harmonies, etc., to make certain that in this non-auditioned group, arrived at the same place together. Yes!! She could read music. She just thought she couldn't do so, because that is her history....saying "I don't read music." Knowing what I knew to be true, it was a compliment, because anything that was easy for her (Rehearsal Preparation Sheets) couldn't possibly be that thing she couldn't do....read music!

The good news is that music reading can be easy, if it is approached sequentially, using successive approximations. In other words, we don't move ahead to more difficult notes and rhythms until we perform the desired example and "reach the standard." When is it good enough? As choral directors, we get to choose the standard, and that is terrific. We determine what we can live with it, because that's usually as good as it is going to get. So...we do not need to mislead students as to when we reach it. I was also reminded of this facet of teaching in one Agape rehearsal. A choir member asked, "Did we get those two measures as good as you wanted?" The answer was "no," but I didn't want to discourage the singers, so we moved ahead. That was not a good move by me. My heart was in the right place, but once a standard is set for excellence, singers know when they fall short. That was a lesson for me. Church choir? Music reading limited? It does not matter...excellence is the goal! Reach that standard!