Monday, July 19, 2010

Directors Chorus

I've been out of the office for three weeks, and there are a few stories from that absence. But right in the middle of this vacation I attended the IL-ACDA Summer Re-Treat. One of the highlights of our annual summer conference is the Directors Chorus, conducted by a guest of national/international stature, and always a stimulating few days of music-making.

The Chorus is comprised of all the choir directors attending the conference. The days also include reading sessions (by interest area), other plenary sessions (on topics of choral musicianship, conducting technique, etc.), gatherings around interest areas (for example, Music in Worship), and some really fun social time. There are people I look forward to seeing at each Re-Treat, whom I never see at any other time of the year. And always new people to meet and enjoy.

This year's guest conductor was Charles Bruffy. Mr. Bruffy is the artistic director of the Phoenix Chorale, the Kansas City Chorale and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus. Oh, and he has a church gig. In the first 30 seconds of our first rehearsal, I knew I was going to enjoy this! Over the course of two days, we had seven rehearsals with Mr. Bruffy, ranging in length from 60 minutes (the standard was 50) to 20 minutes (just before 'curtain'). The second evening of Re-Treat we performed a program of 8 pieces. None of them were perfect, but most of them were sung well and meaningfully. The others were .. fun, at least.

There was not a lot of music in this program that I could use in worship at College Church. And, to be completely honest, there was a lot said in rehearsal that I probably won't be repeating in my own church choir rehearsals! Nothing inappropriate, mind you, but maybe just a tad outrageous for the folks I stand in front of each week. Apt, and instructive, and with good results obtained. And loads of fun.

The big take-away for me, for my work, was Bruffy's intense concentration on the clear articulation of individual words. The texts really jumped off the page. I am eager to get going in our own rehearsals and implement especially the diction lessons. As a choir in worship, what we are privileged to sing is so important - I really want us to improve in the way that comes across each time we sing. I have a feeling it will be a tough go at first. We will sing things we already know, and slip into our comfortable habits with them. When we learn new pieces, working diction will feel like learning slower. But I hope that we can establish the concepts quickly, and learn to apply them consistently to music familiar and new. It will take some time! And patience on both sides of the podium. And consistency on my side of the podium.

I think I laughed a lot in these rehearsals. It's always fun to be a chorister, and a Directors Chorus is every bit as intractable as a church choir. But I resonated so much with Charles's personality and approach. To my own choir, I often apologize for sarcasm (it is my besetting sin). But I have to admit, in the right hands it is an effective communications tool. I only wish mine were as easy to take as we got in these rehearsals. (And, though I never felt they were called for, Mr. Bruffy did often stop to apologize. In my view, he needn't have bothered.)

A few quick quotes that my choir will no doubt hear early in the next season. As Charles said right up front, "plagiarize ... and interpret ideas as if they are your own." So, who knows where some of the following originated. But here are a few from this summer's Directors Chorus:
  • "Get a return on your investment." In other words, if you worked so hard to get this thing right, here, why squander that time and energy by not applying it everywhere?
  • "Make it a game, to get things right the first time." Why are singers apparently so content to muddle through in sight-reading?
  • "Listen louder than you sing." This I've heard any number of times, and I always can use it.   
  • "Vibrato is a beautiful thing, until it draws attention to itself. And/or causes intonation problems. D - all of the above." Enough said.
I only wish the Directors Chorus experience could somehow be held about a day and a half before my first rehearsal in the fall!