R – I watched last night as a wonderful friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Sandra Howard of Keene State College, warmed up her own Chamber Singers along side those of York and Brunswick High Schools. She is on tour with them this week and did a 2 hour workshop with the three choirs at YHS. As she was warming them up, I noted that about 32.7 seconds into it she had them completely in the palm of her hand. Completely.
There are several things that jumped out at me. First, she connected with the singers as people. No stuffiness, no head games, no self concerned “agenda”, no baggage, no timidness, she simply got up there and engaged them as young adults. This establishes a trust factor that can’t be duplicated any other way. It’s a conviction that the people in front of you are exceedingly valuable, and you have the ability to transmit to them that you feel that way.
Second, she was real. It was evident from the start she was being herself… and herself is a pretty amazing person. She is gregarious and energetic, but it is an extension of her personality. I know Sandi. I know she can be extraordinarily reflective and thoughtful. She is a great listener. But she possesses the capacity to love the process of creating music to a very high degree. And she shows it. And it’s real.
Third, she knows her stuff. Right away she was engaging the students in unique, creative exercises which were developing immediate results… and the students could hear it. I saw them looking around and thinking to themselves, “wow, this is weird, but wow do we sound good!” As the warmup progressed the satisfaction on the singers faces only grew and their sound developed into something really special.
How should we engage our singers? Sandi reflected three starting points that serve as a pretty great foundation for any conductor. It’s not enough to be good at your craft (you’ve got to be great… and that requires continuous study). It’s not enough to be enthusiastic (it has to be natural; it has to be you). And it’s not good enough to simply relate to your singers as people (although it’s the essential foundation). You need a wonderful conglomeration of all three. And I’d submit that establishing just one of those qualities – any one of those qualities – is a full time job. Establishing two or, in Sandi’s case, all three? That’s a work of art. It’s something for all of us to strive for.