In a less-common-than-I’d-care-to-admit moment of following my own advice, I sang in a choir last week. It was the first time I have sung in a choir purely for fun with no leadership responsibilities whatsoever since 1997.
I have my students conduct regularly, and I sit in the choir and sing for them. And I love that. Sometimes I sang for my husband’s church choir. I sang in grad school choirs a lot. But in all those cases, I’m also there are the only professional in the room, with the expectation of being a helpful guide and leader, even if only from a secondary position.
Last week I sang with a bunch of pros. I did end up contributing some helpful suggestions, but no more than my own singers offer to me and their colleagues when I’m conducting — like, “hey, it’s easier to find the pitch if we listen to the tenors.” But I was definitely among equals, so it felt like diving into a pool that was just the right temperature: challenging, safe for risk-taking, and fun. And I admit I am highly critical (not to say judgmental) when it comes to observing other conductors, so it was not only a pleasure, but an enormous relief to sing for a conductor I could respect and trust, and to feel the same respect and trust in return. Like having the world’s greatest life guard at the pool.
It was AMAZING.
I loved every minute.
It was better than going to the beach or the spa.
And I learned things, which made it even better.
I was reminded how little my singers need from me: a clear beat, a reminder of why the work matters, and a cascading shower of perpetual compliments.
I was reminded of what singers definitely don’t want: purely mechanical instructions devoid of expressive intention.
It will certainly make me a better conductor to have spent a week looking at a conductor from a singer’s eyes. And it makes me excited to get back on a podium to give a new group the best experience possible. Hurray, new school year!