Everyone will have an image of one - usually in a tailcoat waving around a stick. But what is the reality of being a choir director, especially for a community choir?
The job of a choir director is a complex and multifaceted one, juggling music, people, emotions, travel and venue arrangements, and much more! We break down some of the main tasks a choir director may come across from our experience of running a range of choirs at Starling Arts.
The conductor’s posture should act as a mirror for the choir, showing how to stand, breathe and how to tell the story with your face. The conductor’s body becomes a vessel for storytelling and sharing the essence of the music with the choir who can then communicate this to the audience. By leading by example, the conductor’s approach will subtly yet powerfully influence how the choir and audience react to the piece of music!
More than simply imparting the right notes to the group, a choir director will take on the roles of mentor, leader, and coach to ensure that the group learn the music in the best way for them, absorbing, and creating something beautiful to leap from the notes of the page.
To keep time, entrances and exits
A conductor or director sets and maintains the time of the piece, often keeping a group of singers and a band together. Solo singers have a little more freedom about how they shape their vocal lines, but choirs must sing together, and one of the most important displays of this unity is coming in and out of musical phrases together. So as not to hear a broken or disjointed ‘bbbbb-bring’ the conductor will signal to the group to get one perfectly co-ordinated ‘b’. Similarly, words must end at the same time.
The choir director might be the one responsible for choosing the musical repertoire, and perhaps even the putting together the exact vocal arrangement of the songs performed by the choir. They must make sure the music is a good reflection of the choirs' abilities, vocal distribution and interests, whilst also allowing the opportunity for the choir to be challenged so they can improve.
Choirs don’t just run themselves. Anything involving lots of people will require certain levels of organisation and communication. When and where is the rehearsal? What do choir members need to prepare or bring? What dates will the choir rehearse next term and who has booked the venue? And that concert won’t plan itself… Choir directors, alongside other team members, will be responsible for co-ordinating a range of information and arrangements on an ongoing basis.
Working so closely with a group of people, and using music as a method, can bring up lots of emotions in people. Often whatever is happening in the day will reflect the atmosphere of a rehearsal and a choir director will want to look after the well-being of all their members. As well as the more obvious techniques such as leading warm ups geared towards tackling specific issues (such as stress or anxiety), a leader will also throw in lots of subtle techniques throughout a rehearsal to make sure everyone feels at ease, happy and focussed.
A group of people, especially a community choir who come together especially for an activity but may not already have existing bonds, will be a fragile and potentially fractious group. It’s the director’s job to bring the group together, inspire them and get them working together collaboratively to achieve the best possible results. This may mean bringing in team building or confidence exercises to the rehearsal, and using positive, inspiring language at all times to encourage a great atmosphere!
Of course there are many more hats that a choir director will wear - let us know any other important factors from your own experience of running or being in a choir!