If you know me, this statement is not a surprise: I get intense about making music with technical excellence. In rehearsals I really push ensembles to reach farther artistically than they ever thought they could. I've never psychoanalyzed it, but I suppose it has something to do with the idea that if we dig deeper and find more of ourselves to put into our artistic creation, then the product has more meaning. I don't know if I can look at myself in the mirror and honestly say that has always been the case. This blog is not a confessional, but I can admit some of the times I really pushed an ensemble for technical mastery it has been more about what I wanted and less about what I wanted singers to experience. In hindsight, those moments left me feeling really shallow and unfulfilled. Now I can recognize quicker if I am traveling down that dark path. If so, I try to employ a few of these strategies:
1. Share an experience about myself and how the music we're learning helps me understand that experience. It may be about family, or life, or thoughts on death. But if I can't articulate in a vulnerable way to my singers how I feel while making music, how can they be invited to engage their feelings? I don't often ask for singers to share those feelings, but I always welcome them when they share with me. If it is after a rehearsal when someone emails me or tells me a story personally, I really stay in the moment with that singer. I may ask them if I can share their testimony with the choir, even if anonymously. And I always respect their answer!
2. Try to share an insight from the composer's perspective. Sometimes this is easy, like a newer work when I just call or write the composer and ask for some information. With classic works where the composer has been dead for 100s of years... that's more difficult. Sometimes I share what life was like then for people, or for musicians. We try to understand the environment from where the music came, and then try to make connections.
3. Sometimes I just keep pushing, but not because of me. I remind the singers that we're vessels for the music, and it is our job to create the most accurate representation of the artistic product in order to make powerful moments for people. That might be an audience, or it might be a fellow singer who has an emptiness that our music can fill. Every moment, in concert and rehearsal, is a way to let others experience love through our music.
4. I remind the choir that when we can honestly say we have done EVERYTHING we possibly could technically and share that with hearts of sincerity, then we have used the gifts we were given to make our part of the world a little better. This should not allow us to draft excuses, but to reflect on our own goals as singers in ensemble. It tends to unify the mission by allowing each singer to bring his or her own reasons for singing into the final product. And that's our power: the sum of the whole, greater than the sum of its parts.