Wednesday, September 04, 2013


I am serving as the Music Chair and Choir Director in our ward.  I was called to be the Music Chair just after moving into the ward a year ago, and had a really hard time diving in and scheduling musical numbers for sacrament meeting when I didn't know anyone, much less their musical talents and abilities.  I have since become more acquainted with people, and I have a bit of a system with scheduling, and I have been able to iron out some of the initial kinks I found when just starting in the calling.

I volunteered for the Choir Director position because it seemed easier than finding someone else to fill the job.  After doing both for a while now, I have realized that the two jobs are quite complementary, and I like being able to control the musical number schedule and change it at will.  I like the behind-the-scenes aspect of the music chair, and being in charge of choir has been good for me.  It's nice to have a creative outlet.

The down sides of the choir job are the normal obvious ones.  I am working with amateur musicians.  I don't have enough time to rehearse them in our short sessions.  There is not a whole lot of great hymn arrangements that are beautiful and accessible to a choir of limited experience.  My accompanist has very little experience accompanying a choir, and she doesn't sightread.

With all of that, the very hardest thing for me is dragging my kids along to choir rehearsal while Spiff is at work.  It's super stressful having them running amok while I am leading 25 people in a rehearsal.  The choir members say they don't mind, and I am grateful for that, but it is stressful for me nonetheless.

I am very aware of how lucky I am in my choir.  I have ward members who support the choir.  I have people who come!!!  Anyone who has been in a ward choir before can relate to how important and amazing this small fact is.  I have not done any huge recruiting.  I haven't held any lasagna dinners.  I haven't baked cookies. I haven't called everyone on the ward list.  But I have 20-30 people who come to choir on a regular basis.  I am so blessed.

On the other hand, most of these people have little to no musical experience.  I am slowly learning the truth of this statement.  I have a tendency to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to musical knowledge, and it is difficult for me to take the ten steps back that I need to take and give them actual musical instruction.  I have two people just this last Sunday who requested that I do more teaching.  A quote from one guy, "Somewhere along the way, someone taught you the tricks to make you sound good when you sing.  I'd like you to teach us those tricks."

It's very true.  I had excellent choir directors in high school and college.  Some of the best in the business.  My college choir director was amazing.  He could take a bunch of kids with limited talent and turn them into a fabulous instrument.  He always taught singing tricks, starting with a daily warm-up that would directly relate to the technique of a section of a piece he wanted to work on that day.  He was constantly tweaking the sound and shaping it to the exact sound he was looking for.  He was so very talented at teaching choir.

My problem is that I don't know how to do what he did.  I am a choral singer, not a choir director.  I am a piano teacher and accompanist.  I have observed my teachers, I have learned some things from them, but I never took an effective choral conducting class, and my choral directing experience and vocal teaching experiences are very limited.  It has been over ten years since I have been in a great choir.  It is so hard for me to remember the things he taught me, much less be able to pass them on to the people I am responsible for now.

I know that I musical knowledge far surpasses anyone in the room.  I know I have things to contribute.  I have previously felt like I am making a pleasant experience for people.  I feel like they can tell they are learning and improving, and that they can hear when they sound good.  I feel like they must be enjoying something about my style because they keep coming back.

But now I feel inadequate.  How do I step back and start with technical basics for those who honestly don't know anything about music in our very limited time frame, while giving the rest of the choir an interesting experience they will enjoy?  Do I just assume that no one there knows anything about singing and music?!  Do I continue to give them the benefit of the doubt?  How do I channel my inner choral director (my inner Scott Anderson) when I have done nothing but be with my babies for the past five years?


cfg said...

Last night was the first rehearsal of Eu. Concert choir. We are doing Messiah and Faure Requiem, and other pieces I have sung, but the woman next to me knew none of them.Nonetheless, the sound of 100 was so wonderful. We all benefit from standing, learning to breathe, to warm up, sing arpeggios, etc. to change vowel sounds. It is hard to sit up in church choir seats, but sometimes I put my bag behind me.
I think breath support is never emphasized in church choir. Kellie Hooker is 3rd ward director, she finds music on the internet and emails it to all of us, so we could practice or at least read it before.

Mhana said...

Maybe there is a used textbook online that would give you teaching ideas?

Also I think teaching people to be musicians would be more valuable over the long term than preparing a musical number, even though the pressure to do the latter is stronger. The musical callings in the church are the only ones for which you need professional training and generally have to pay to acquire the skill set. Isn't that sort of amazing? As a choir director or pianist, your skill set is indispensable, and there are few people who could take your place. Think of what a boon to future choirs it would be if everyone learned how to make a vowel that sounds nice, not just sing as you would read it. What if people learned not to sing in their throats, or to enunciate clearly?

cfg said...

A young childless couple was called to watch the kids during choir, it really helped last year. When G and E were little, they played with the older Hendrickson children in the gym during choir.

Maggie said...

I have learned during charlotte's introduction to violin that it always helps to start over and re-learn the basics. The basics can help make everyone better.

Mindy said...

cfg, where does Kellie find her online music? I have found some, but I'm wondering what you have used and liked.

Mindy said...

And also, what do you all think of Sister DeFord?!?!