By Musikgarten Educator Michele Collins
It has been many years since I sat in a college classroom, listening to lectures, highlighting textbooks and learning new concepts. With early childhood classes on summer hiatus, it seemed a good time to dust off the cobwebs in my brain and broaden my musical horizons. Having sung in choirs since middle school, I’ve always wanted to try conducting. Easy enough, right? Wave your hands around, smile at the singers and tell them when to start and stop. Nope. Not easy at all.
I enrolled in a week-long "Beginning Choral Conducting” class at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ. I knew I was in trouble when the professors informed us that “there are no bad choirs – only bad conductors.” All my pre-conceived notions were dashed as I learned to keep time with my hand, listen attentively to my singers and let them know with every subtle movement of my face and body what sounds they should be making. We were asked to sit on large rubber exercise balls while practicing, in order to perfect our sense of balance. We learned that if the body is not properly aligned, the signals to the choir will not be clear. I must say, a room full of adults on big bouncy balls was something to see! Try as I might, it was nearly impossible to listen, to balance, to align my body and to conduct, all at the same time. On a brighter “note” (no pun intended), our practice sessions were pure joy. We spent hours singing beautiful melodies so our classmates could hone their conducting skills and we could learn from the professor’s critiques. We started each day singing vocal warm-ups with an expert choral conductor who taught us how to breathe better, move more and sing with tones that go straight to heaven. She demonstrated how a conductor’s deliberate direction could change the quality of a choir’s sound. Apparently, raising one’s eyebrows makes a choir’s pitch go higher. Who knew? It was great fun to sing with a group who could pick up a melody after one hearing and turn it into a beautiful round. It was like singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
So now it’s back to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for real. I look forward to seeing my young Musikgarten students in September with their lovely, natural voices and their innate ability to move, and dance and learn. Even though I am back from college, Ms. Michele’s musical education continues…