A series looking at the art of the choral conductor.
One of the aspects of singing with an ensemble that less experienced performers can sometimes forget is actually being responsible for making your individual contribution to the ensemble.
Each member of the choir has to contribute to a collective responsibility for delivering the musical line, and not just wait to follow rest of their section as, by definition, they will then be behind the beat.
Where quaver up-beats are used to begin a phrase, this is especially important; think of the opening of I Saw Three Ships; in 6/8, the conductor gives the first and fourth beats, leaving the fifth and sixth undirected – the choir enter on the sixth, the upbeat. That’s two undirected beats to leave up to a group of singers to count and then come in, in the right place.
What members of the choir need to grasp is the fact that they each need to be responsible for entering in the right place; this means everyone counting the rests and coming in confidently on the sixth quaver, the up-beat with which the phrase begins. Rather than waiting for everyone else to enter and then follow them, which means they will necessarily be fractionally late, they need to sing as though they are taking the lead, or indeed are singing on their own – everyone will then sing together, and the ensemble sound will begin at the start of the phrase rather than emerging a few notes into the phrase when everyone else joins in.
The overall effect is to improve the ensemble throughout; if the phrase starts confidently and with everyone together, the rest of the phrase will similarly be strong. Less experienced choir-members can tend to wait for stronger members of the section to lead, and then follow slightly after; this means the overall togetherness of the ensemble never quite comes, and entries can be ragged and lacking in confidence.
Make sure, as a conductor, that you rehearse the beginnings of phrases such that everyone is confident enough to come in for themselves, and the overall ensemble will be much more positive as a result.
Read the other articles in the series here.