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Andrew Motyka is the Archdiocesan Director of Liturgical Music and Cathedral Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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“We wish therefore and prescribe, that all observe the law of the Church, and that at home or in the church they shall always wear the cassock, which is proper to the clergy. When they go out for duty or relaxation or on a journey, they may use a shorter [coat] which is to be black in color, and which reaches to the knees, so as to distinguish it from the dress of the laity. They should reject the more elegant and worldly styles of garments, which are found today. We enjoin upon our priests as a matter of strict precept that, both at home and abroad, and whether they are residing in their own diocese or outside of it, they shall wear the Roman collar.”
— Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884)

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Following the Leader
published 24 April 2013 by Andrew R. Motyka

NE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT things a director can do to promote good singing in the choir is to be a good singer and model for the group to follow. If the director cannot demonstrate competence with every aspect of a piece of music, he or she will not be able to inspire confidence on the part of the choir. How do you achieve this?

1) Use your choir warm-up as a springboard for the rest of your rehearsal.


Demonstrating good vocal technique begins with your warm-up. If your choir is improperly or insufficiently prepared to sing, the entire rest of the rehearsal will suffer. Don’t be afraid to spend a considerable amount of time getting your choir to transition from their speaking voices to their singing voices. It will save you rehearsal time in the long run, as it will affect pitch, breathing, and intonation. You can use a thousand words to explain to your choir how good breath support works, but showing them is much more effective.


2) Be able to sing every part of the music your choir is singing.


When you are teaching your choir a new piece of music, take the time to familiarize yourself ahead of time with each line of music. Not only will this save time when your choir asks for a reminder about notes or rhythms, but it will also offer proof of “singability” to your choir. If you’re a tenor and can sing the soprano line (even in falsetto), it will help your sopranos realize that they can do it, too. Even more importantly, intimacy with each voice’s part will help you to identify potential problems before you even begin the rehearsal.


3) If singing is not your strength, practice.


Most of us have a strength as a musician. It could be conducting, playing the organ or piano, composing, or singing. Last week, I wrote about the importance of practicing your composition skills. Singing is no different. You may be a great liturgist, a great organist, and a really nice guy or gal, but if you don’t view being a good singer as just important of a priority, you’re going to have a hard time inspiring your choir to make it their priority as well.


4) Demand responsibility from your choir.


In my experience, competence in 1-3 is very effective in leading a rehearsal. I would like to caution against a pitfall, though, and that is taking responsibility for good sound upon yourself. The choir needs to know that it is responsible for every sound that is coming out of it, and they cannot be lazy about their responsibility just because they have a good model. The trick is to use your demonstration to pass on good technique and musicianship.


We’ve all heard the statement, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Yet we all know that this makes no sense. Any teacher needs to be primarily an example for their students. When it comes to singing, if you want them to follow you, you need to be a leader.