It was brilliant that Jo McNally was able to accept my invitation to give a session on choral conducting at the start of this week. It was refreshing to have some reminders of the training the ABCD conducting course had given me several years ago, and to rejuvenate my practice as a director.
I particularly enjoyed the reinforcement of “what you see is what you get”; Jo reminding us that our choirs mimic our posture and “use” when it comes to singing and performing. Shifting the focus to yourself puts a better slant on the role of the school music department conductor. Often directors blame their choirs when they should be focusing on themselves as being the creator of the sound. Jo demonstrated how an appropriate gesture vocabulary was indeed a personal thing but also an essential one in moulding the desired sound.
Watching Jo work with a class was extremely useful. Approaching singing as a natural thing and bringing the girls’ voices into singing through the encouragement of a less attractive sound. This “casualness” – albeit one underpinned by a careful process of progression and assessment – meant the girls were immediate to respond.
Choral conducting seems distinctly different in that we need to take care of our own use first. We need to embody the desired use that we want from our choir.