Preparing to be Coached in Conducting

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This post was written as guidance notes for delegates to the LABBS/BABS Directors Weekend coming up in January. I’m sharing it via my blog because it has a wider applicability that goes beyond that one event. And if you’re not coming to the event, now you know what you’ll be missing!

Directing somebody else’s chorus is, as Sally McLean puts it, like wearing somebody else’s shoes. However experienced you are as conductor, it always feels weird at first. So, don’t worry, everybody feels like this, but we still do it because you can learn a lot from it, and it’s always lovely to have people singing with you, even in slightly unnerving circumstances. Bear in mind that your coaches at the weekend are also receiving coaching themselves, so will know exactly what it feels like!

These notes are to help you prepare for the experience. Both in terms of things you can do ahead of time to make the most of the coaching session, and in terms of letting you know what to expect.

Before the Weekend

The key thing is to prepare your music thoroughly. There are some guidance notes from a previous directors weekend here to help:
Guidance Notes on Preparing Music to Direct

The sound of the chorus you direct in person will of course be very different from the sound of the voices in your head as you prepare. But the more clearly and vividly you have imagined those voices, the easier it is to connect with the sound there in the room with you. (We’ll be talking about why this is in one of our Core classes during the weekend.)

For a 15-minute coaching session, you probably won’t find yourself conducting more than 2-3 pages of a song, so focus on preparing the first half of it more deeply rather than trying to cover the whole piece.

At the Weekend

Coaching will take place in ‘pods’ of 4 delegates and one faculty member with a group of 14 -18 singers. Each pod will have an hour together, so each delegate gets to be coached for 15 mins or so while the others watch and listen. Both sides of the experience – the doing and the watching - are great learning opportunities. Careful observation of other conductors while listening to their singers is always instructive, and even more so when they are focused on making changes to what they do, as you get to hear the difference these changes make.

Think of the coaching session as a process of guided discovery. As our theme for the weekend is ‘The Listening Director’, our aim in coaching is to help you hear the difference that changes to your conducting make to the sound, to enable you to continue the process back with your own chorus. We may, depending on your needs at your particular moment in your journey, make suggestions for specific adjustments to your technique, but always in the context of helping you hear the difference they make. We may also encourage you to experiment to see what kind of adjustments your ears lead you to.

Implicit in this approach is the expectation that things will probably go wrong at some point, possibly quite often. Indeed, if they don’t, we’re probably missing some learning opportunities. So don’t worry about messing up, that’s normal. A useful phrase to have to hand is, ‘Shall we try that again?

After the Weekend

You are welcome, indeed encouraged, to give your phone/tablet to another member of the pod or a member of the chorus to video your coaching session, so you can look back and continue learning from it after the event.

It can be challenging watching these videos back, and it is easy to be overly critical of yourself. Please be as kind to yourself as you were to the other members of your pod. A good way to approach this review process is actually to pretend you are watching someone else. It helps you be analytical rather than self-conscious, and to frame your observations in terms of practical advice rather than just beating yourself up about your mistakes.

And remember, only you will have this recording, and so nobody else will see all the things you are tempted to criticise. You will probably find that when you look back at it six months later, it is surprisingly rather better than you had remembered!

Thanks Liz - this is all really useful!

Good to hear - that was the intention :-)

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