Is the music rewarding to sing? Challenging but not overwhelming? Fun, interesting, engaging to listen to and think about? Rhythmic and melodic hooks on occasion? Humor? Is there variety of sound and substance, both musically and textually?
The Performing Group's Expressivity
Are performers connected to music and text? Are they moving in relation to their mental/emotional/musical impulses, or are they standing relatively still. Are their faces authentically alive with the specific meaning and poignancy of the text and its musical setting, or the interpretation they have assigned the piece? (For more, visit the Philosophy & Feedback, Movement & Warm-Ups, and Barbershop pages.)
Or is their focus more on perfection, singing well, or making the audience believe they're authentically engaged? Are they having a powerful, poignant, and truly joyful experience in front of their potential new members in the audience? Or are they looking like a bunch of relatively bored or intense people singing or playing together? And do they all smile humbly and gratefully during applause, as they look at the audience members and silently send the message, "Thank you so much! I had a blast singing that for you, and I'm so glad you liked it."
The Singers' Physicality
Are their feet hip or shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly in front? (If their feet are close together, they will reduce their mind/body connection substantially.) Is their weight tipped ever-so-slightly forward? Are their hands and arms relaxed but energized, or are they passively resting on their legs or thighs? Are their bodies aligned vertically, so that the sternum is elevated, the head is comfortably held, and they feel a vibrant sense of aliveness and flexibility rather than stiffness or tension? (For more, see the Movement & Warm-Ups page.)
The Director's Facial Expression
Is the director truthfully engaged with the soul of the music, allowing their face to do whatever it wants to do as they engage with music and choir? Or is their face modeling what they want the singers to do vis a vis expression?
The former is the face of a director who has given the power and responsibility for expression to the singers. The latter is the face of a director who believes the singers can't do it by themselves, and need the mirror. One is empowering with high expectations, and the other is somewhat disrespectful (albeit not intentionally), with low expectations. Each face and approach will impact both singers and audience members differently. (For more about this subject, see the Director's Face page.)
The Rehearsal/Performance Environment
Is it a positive, supportive, and safe place – consciously created and maintained by the director – where each member knows that they will not be teased or shamed by anyone? Or do members gossip or insult each other, with no meaningful response from the director? Does the director shame and intimidate, even throwing tantrums or rages on occasion? Does the director have good boundaries and time management, always respecting the singers by doing their best but not taking themselves too seriously? (For more, see the Safety First page.)
The Director's Best Practices
Does the director maintain an excitement and interest in learning state-of-the-art conducting and teaching techniques, or is 'What You See In Their First Year of Teaching What You Get for the Rest of Their Career'? (With a nod to Rod Eichenberger's seminal "What They See is What You Get" conducting DVD ... it's just one example of great tools that can inspire directors.) Along with that huge world of Lifelong Learning, a basic question: Is the director organized and efficient, running rehearsals with a minimum of talking, and a maximum of singing?
Do they look at the overall process, celebrating progress and constantly working toward a shared goal? Or do they incur tension and a stultifying atmosphere of perfectionism in which they constantly seek out and fix "mistakes"?
Perfectionism with a focus on mistakes might sound something like this: "Alright. Some good stuff there. [But...] Altos, you're flat on the G natural. Tenors, your tone is reedy – warm it up. Sopranos, elongate your phrasing. Basses, you're flat on measure 45. You can sing much better, folks. Again."
Celebrating progress and working toward a shared goal can sound like this: "Wow, folks, your phrasing just gets stronger and more fluid – especially on the first two pages. Now, think of those pure vowels as a way to help you affect your Other, and raise the stakes. What will happen if you don't get what you want? Think about it ... and here we go!"
While I'm not suggesting that directors never address technical issues, I am suggesting that many of those issues resolve themselves once the singers connect more specifically to the Story elements. And if the director is going to "fix" technical imperfections through talking rather than conducting, I would suggest they give honest feedback about the choir's progress at the front end of their comments ... so the singers can validate and keep track of their own growth, and so that their focus doesn't become fixated on pleasing the director, singing "perfectly," or avoiding mistakes. Giving healthy feedback on the purely technical might sound like this: "Wow, folks, your 'ah' vowel was so uniform that time. Now, can you do the same thing with the vowels in measure 34? And away we go!"
The Director's Overall Approach
Does the director see all humans in the room as valued co-creators working toward a shared artistic goal? Or is it more about the director doing this, that, and the other as they strive to craft a certain sound from these human 'organ pipes'? Is "control" their inner mantra and outer affect as they work towards "perfection," or are they empowering the singers to be co-equal artists in the process, everyone tapping into the same well of shared humanity which inspired the words and music in the first place?
Do they see themselves as a "Good Director" or a "God Director"? A guide or a guru?
Opportunities for Performance
Are they plentiful? Does the director support lots of different sorts of performance opportunities, or do they stick primarily with two or three seasonal concerts per year? Other performances might include singing for seniors, service organizations, festivals, other schools (who might do a joint concert), private parties, academic functions, sports banquets...
The director can also create a tradition around some of these – a bi/annual tour, for example, or a Madrigal Dinner, or even an 'Evening with the Chamber Choir,' during which the choir performs the year's rep along with various solo and small ensemble acts (lighter/comedic fare included) that they put together ... while the audience enjoys dinner or desserts, perhaps. Even going to private/organizational holiday parties and singing traditional holiday music can be a great thing for the group to look forward to on a yearly basis. It can also really help to pay for that tour!
T h i n k i n g O u t s i d e - th e - B o X
Does the director look for interesting ways to stage the choir, or are the singers almost always standing on the risers...? So much is possible – from opera or musical theatre staging, to avant garde, to incorporating dance elements to using stage lighting and projections.... One of the most exciting thing about the ACDA National Convention in 2009 was that the vast majority of choirs stepped out of the box. And when they did so, the audiences absolutely loved it!
The Final Product
choral concert adj. + n, 1. a passionate celebration of shared humanity.
Does everything come together well at the concert – with neither the technical nor expressive elements pulling negative focus? Are there momentary thoughts of "Wow, they're good!" before the audience is swept away to the land of shared human connection ... to something much more powerful than "perfection"?
Does the choir memorize the music, or are they holding folders much of the time? The latter will prevent their full personal engagement, and will affect the audience accordingly. Memorizing whenever possible, on the other hand, will allow for much richer connection between singers and music, singers and director, and most importantly, between singers and audience.