Muse-Sings: Love in the time of chorus
2014.09.02 13:50:51

September 2nd, 2014

MaryRoot landscapeMary Evelyn Root As I prepare for a new concert and rehearsal season, I have devoted a great deal of time to the choral warm-up. Throughout my career, I targeted the warm-up time to three distinct purposes: some warm-ups are to teach and enhance musical skills such as intonation, vowel production, and rhythmic accuracy; another subset of warm-ups were devised to target specific anticipated challenges in the repertoire to be rehearsed; and the final set of warm-ups attempted to teach basic vocal skills.   At 7:30 pm, there aren’t many who think voices need warming up. Many choral directors stay far from any real vocal technique either because they feared stepping on the toes of private voice instructors or they just didn’t really know very much about the vocal apparatus. Basically, the premise is often that the choral conductor should do no harm, and in that limiting spirit, basically the choral director did no good, either. And precious rehearsal time gets wasted on useless and sometimes even damaging vocal exercises.


This summer I have spent a significant amount of time reading a textbook on the choral warm-up by esteemed choral director and pedagogue James Jordan. After getting beyond the horror of devoting most of my cherished reading time to a textbook, I hunkered down and read and re-read the text. I have found much with which to retool my tired old warm-ups. In fact, I would say that I have experienced a significant shift in my approach to and philosophy of the warm-up. I am excited to have tools and techniques that I believe will have a significant effect on how the chorus sings together and how I can quite specifically and succinctly communicate with them about their sound.   More on that another time.

Beyond technique and tools and vocal exercises, there is something that recurs regularly in Dr. Jordan’s text that made me shake my head in disbelief and made me actually exclaim aloud, “oy!” at every encounter. Jordan writes about the most important element in the choral rehearsal: love. I do not recall ever seeing the word “love” used in a textbook. And Jordan is unabashed in his use of “love” and his deeply held belief that love and caring are the most important elements in the rehearsal room. IN A TEXTBOOK!?! Oy! Confession time: I skipped over every section of the book that used the word “love;” I really just wanted to learn some new exercises and techniques.  


But it nagged at me. Why did he put those woo-woo, touchy-feely things in his text? I resented having to read around those parts to get the real information. More importantly, why was I having such a strong reaction?   Well, yes, we all expect textbooks to be knowledge enhancing and practical. Tina Turner was screeching away in my head with her incessant refrain, “what’s love got to do with it?” I wonder how much pushback James Jordan felt from his editor and publisher; and yet there it was in the table of contents, in the text: love and awe and wonder must be present for truly good choral sound.  And then it dawned on me: He’s right. He is spot-on right.   I will spare you the self-examinations that ensued; I will merely say that I have fully embraced in my own life, in all that I do, that love is the means and the ends, the reason and the way. My focused attention on each moment has suffused my life in love. Yet I shrunk from Jordan saying that love is of preeminent importance in the choral rehearsal. Because I am afraid of that. There is a vulnerability and a surrender to love, and I have felt quite safe and cocooned in the love of family and close friends. To love the size of a chorus . . . well, that’s a lot of loving.


I am sure that there are loving, enlightened choral groups who do not make the best choral music. And, the most technically perfect choruses will be nothing more than exact if love is lacking. But think of the possibilities of a chorus that comes to rehearsal ready to learn and apply great technique with full willingness to be changed and improved because they trust that love will be the foundation. We love making music together, we each love ourselves, we love others, we love so much that we are willing to grow and improve and be beacons of love. In fact, why else would we do this? Of course our textbooks should declare from every page that love is the most important thing.





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