I often use the metaphor of reins to describe parenting; I believe that it is the job of parents to consistently, and intentionally, let out reins for our children – allowing them ever-larger chances to learn, to succeed, to grow, and, indeed, to fail. Holding too tight to the reins can feel right in the midst of a situation, but by not letting it out, parents do their children a long-term disservice. Without that freedom, children never learn self-efficacy.
But what about our choral ensembles? Of course the conductor must maintain at least some control over the vision, repertoire, direction, interpretation of the music. But more and more, I feel that it is a choral educator’s job to empower choral students to make musical decisions, large and small, for themselves.
It can start small – should we breathe here or sing through the phrase? How should this word properly be pronounced? What is the right articulation? Over the course of a year of music-making, the singers can, and should, be responsible for ever larger decisions. They require guidance from the conductor: build a framework for how decisions are made; make space in the rehearsal for evaluation of options; know which decisions can be successfully made by students at various points in the year, and don’t ask them to make decisions they aren’t able to make.
Letting out the reins to enable students decision-making: not only does it empower students and give them an ownership stake in the ensemble’s achievement, but it prepares students to continue to make music after they leave your ensemble.
Do you want more of your students to sing after they graduate? Then empower them to be musical leaders.