Monday, April 21, 2014

Teacher of songs or song polisher – which kind of choir leader are you?

A while back I went to a singing workshop led by an internationally acclaimed workshop leader. I was very disappointed at the lack of teaching skills on display. But in the end the sound we made was amazing.

choir leader
photo by Allan Harris

I realised that some singing leaders are great teachers of songs and some are great polishers of songs, but not everyone has both skills.

I pride myself on my ability to teach songs to people with a wide range of singing backgrounds. Over the years I have honed my teaching by ear skills and get consistently great feedback on my work.

Once a song is up and running I love to see people’s joy as they sing their hearts out. I might tweak the balance between harmony parts a little, but on the whole I’m not that bothered about fine-tuning the ‘performance’.

There are other choir and workshop leaders who are pretty awful at teaching and leave it to the singers to stumble along and find their own way. Some choir leaders even ask their singers to learn their parts at home on their own. These leaders are far more interested in the polishing and fine-tuning of a song once it’s been learnt. They are focused on dynamics, blend, balance, expression, performance, etc.

It is very rare – in my opinion – to find someone who has both skills in equal measure. Most of us have a leaning one way or the other. If I have to choose between the two, I always go for teaching the song well. For me the people come first and the music second. Which is not to say that my singers don’t end up sounding great!

I am much more moved by a song sung honestly, with expression and passion than I am by a song that has been polished to a high shine but which lacks any depth or humanity.

Of course, in an ideal world we would have both — a song well-taught and excellently performed — but if we focus too much on the quality of the end product we can forget that singers can develop and grow through the experience of learning a song and not just by singing it.

Which kind of choir or workshop leader are you? Are you aware that your strengths lie with one aspect and not the other? Which is most important to you? How might you go about improving the skill that is weaker?

I’d love to hear from you, do drop by and leave a comment.

Chris Rowbury