I like to think that most choral conductors at some point communicate with their singers outside of rehearsal. Probably the most famous examples of this come from Robert Shaw, who wrote prolifically and whose letters are an inspiration to all of us (you can read them in The Robert Shaw Reader by Dean Robert Blocker). One of my favorite Shaw quotes is this: “As soon as we find each other, we invite the miracle to begin.” And then there’s this one:”This is going to be a fine choir…once I swear at you a few times!”
With the very strong disclaimer that I am no Robert Shaw, below is one of my posts to the Nashoba Valley Chorale from the blog nvcsingsbach.wordpress.com (December 2013); the work referred to is Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Perhaps some of you would be willing to share your communiqués as well -? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I find the rehearsal process to be always fascinating, occasionally frustrating, and incredibly rewarding. In a choir, we all learn together, and in these three months, all of us have become better musicians together. This was evident at our Messiah Sing a few weeks back. Handelian runs that we had found difficult in Dec 2012 were navigated with a new degree of assurance. The final “Amen” chorus rolled along comfortably. In other words, we have learned to navigate melismatic passages without flipping out, and we have learned how a fugue works. These are major accomplishments and you are, I hope, proud of yourselves.
But what I love the most in this process is the community we are building – each week we all meet in the Baptist sanctuary to sing, joke, laugh and tear our hair out together. We have made amazing progress precisely because we have been the same group each week, taking the harmonies, rhythms, articulations and dynamics apart and putting them back together. Even though we have singers who read music and who are experienced paired with less-experienced singers (several of whom don’t read music), we have all encountered the same trials and joys in the Mass. Bach is a democratically difficult composer – and equally rewarding to all of us as we really get cooking.
This continuity results in an ensemble that can take ownership of a piece. I am learning how you as a group work – when to push ahead, when to take it down a notch, when to drill, when to laugh, etc. Many of you know exactly what I’m going to say before I stop you, and very often help me by pointing out mark I’ve forgotten, or by reminding the group how a phrase should be articulated. This knowing of each other makes each rehearsal not only enjoyable, but, dare I say, a profound use of our time. And we will make better music together on February 9th because of the personal connections we have made. So thank you for your devoted attendance at rehearsal and for all of the work you have put in outside of rehearsal.