Thursday, February 25, 2010

Working with the fine choirs of Illinois State University

Final rehearsal

The final rehearsal I attended was Sarah Graham’s Women’s Glee Club. This is an unauditioned women’s choir numbering about sixty singers I would guess. They had just finished a concert recently and revisited audience comments and so on. Wow, were they pumped by their own performance and the feedback. In fact, I have never seen an unauditioned choir with so much enthusiasm and confidence! The energy in the room was electric. I was asked to observe two undergrad student conductors and give them a little feedback on theirconducting and rehearsal skills.

First up was Krista Chmiel, who made sure to tell me she is an “old undergrad”. Very funny, Krista- but age matters little to me, maybe being an “old” undergrad could be a good thing! Krista started right in working on a folk song. I loved her energy and communication skills and told her that it was obvious the choir loves and respects her; this sometimes is all you need- a choir that loves you will work their hiney off for you. My only real criticism was that she went to the piano too much to play notes for them- I challenged her to get away from the piano both now as a student conductor and also wherever she winds up teaching. Step away from the piano, I say!

The next student conductor was Megan Miller, another very energetic, strong communicator. Megan was introducing a piece with a bit of what I guess we could call “avant garde" graphic notation. Megan decided to not have them get all tied up in knots about the notation, and simplified things by teaching them part of it by rote, which was very effective (we could use a lot more rote teaching and learning in the choral world, methinks). Megan is also is loved by this choir, an enormous plus. The only constructive criticisms I shared were two little things-- try talking less and have the choir singing more (and save your voice) and 2) use a lower arm position and perhaps work on some more expansive arm gestures (something I saw Joe Flummerfelt do repeatedly in some undergrad conducting coaching lessons) centered in her own body. Little criticisms aside, I thought that both of these young ladies were already very skilled conductors and communicators who are going to be great leaders as they make their way out into the choral world and share their obvious love of music with others. Sarah, Karyl Carlson, and Tim Fredstrom should all be very proud of the work they are doing in training young conductors at Illinois State.

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