This happens pretty much every year. After one really warm day (the promise of warmth, summer, all good things), April strikes back. What follows is a standstill of a couple of weeks during which we all lose hope that spring will ever arrive. Today is a day like that. Drizzle and six degrees. How delightful.
Two events today: one mentoring meeting and the first half of the choral conducting entrance examinations of the Sibelius Academy.
I really enjoy the mentoring, especially because the mentee (I just picked up a new word) is so keen to develop and grateful for the possibility to discuss her work. It feels incredibly rewarding to share one’s experiences and get fresh insights through the discussions. I would do more of this if I just had the time for it.
I won’t go into any details regarding the entrance exam, but I can reflect a little on a subject that it touches upon. Namely, what makes a good choral conductor? What characteristics do you look for in those that apply to study to be one?
To be honest, I don’t know. I look at my successful colleagues and they seem so incredibly different. I’d say having something to say and being a good musician are the non sine qua. But after that, the skill sets and especially their balance vary dramatically from one conductor to the other. Where one has an incredibly acute ear, the next can teach people to sing in a lovely way; where one is an inspirational leader, the next is a brilliant pedagogue. And so on.
My gut feeling is that what in the end, to succeed, a choral conductor must be, is a good musician. Music must speak to you and you must have the means to convey your vision. Everything else can be compensated, but musicianship is the non sine qua.
Perhaps this picture makes my thought clearer. As leaders, we build everything we do on our personality and life-experience. As pedagogues, we are dependent on our education and specific musical skills. In addition, there are special conductors’ skills (c.s. in the pyramid). As you see, these skills are only a small part of what we need to have, but without them, we are compromised as artists.
If this is accurate, what we should be looking for in aspiring conductors is above all musicianship (be it instrumental or vocal ability) and sufficient skills specific to conducting to get through their studies (sight-reading, music theory, a good ear, keyboard skills and an understanding of the choir as an instrument). The lower part of the pyramid varies from one individual to another that it is hard to make specific demands on this front. I do not think that there is any certain type of personality or background that is superior to another.
I hope this pyramid feels liberating instead of causing anxiety. Our most important tool in our work is our personality, The c.s. skills are really intricate and we all have them in different measures – and I actually think these varying balances of skills are what make us all different, individual and interesting.