Monday, March 19, 2018

Should conductors mouth the words for their choirs?

I’ve often mouthed the words for my choirs. I’d rather singers don’t use lyric sheets when performing, so it’s a kind of security blanket for them.

monkey mouth

But it can be considered patronising or even a way of letting singers off the hook. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

When I first started leading choirs I would always mouth the words when we performed.

I now realise that it was a way of maintaining control. I was basically singing for them in case anything went wrong.

I was demonstrating that I didn’t trust my singers. I was worried that they would make mistakes and then I’d look bad.

Even when I’d got over this ego trip and learnt to trust my singers, I continued to mouth the words. I thought that I was helping the singers remember the tricky foreign lyrics that I’d asked them to learn.

But one day a singer came up to my and said they felt patronised. It was as if I still didn’t trust them to know what they were doing.

Fair point. Also it might mean that some of the lazier choir members wouldn’t bother to learn the words that well because they knew I would always be there as a safety net.

I’m not a participant in a choir that often, but occasionally I do attend a singing workshop where I’m one of a large group of singers. I must admit that I too have felt patronised by the conductor mouthing the words.

The upshot is that I tend not to mouth the words any more.

What I sometimes do instead is to mouth the first few words of each verse to give a cue to the singers to help them recall what they’ve learnt. I don’t always do it, so I keep the singers on their toes!

What is your experience? Are you a choir leader who mouths the words? Are you a singer who finds it helpful? Or maybe you feel it’s patronising? Do leave a comment and let us hear about your own experiences.

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Chris Rowbury



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