Understand the Music

I think it’s too easy in a choral rehearsal to skip talk about how the music works.

We want to train smart musicians, but in the moment, we’re solving problems to improve the piece we’re working on. Most of us are far more likely to reach for vocal technique to solve the problem at hand.

But pausing to talk about a structural element, a tiny theoretical concept, a harmonic or melodic idea, can  only help your students become better musicians and more adept at future music.

Yesterday I took 30 seconds to explain what a quartal voicing is (in Alice Parker’s Cindy) and another 45 to discuss an incomplete voicing that worked because of the voice leading into the next chord. I actively encourage curiosity and questions about how music works.

Of course, as a composer and arranger, I’m well-adapted to this challenge. But we all need to acknowledge this as part of our duty as music educators. We need to go beyond our dedicated theory/ear training time to show how music works in the music we are singing.

At the ACDA Michigan conference last fall, Joe Miller reminded us that for most students, we choir conductors are the only voice teacher they will ever have. But that’s not all.

For the vast majority of singers, all they will ever learn about how music works comes from their choir teacher.

How are you handling that responsibility?