Vocal Directors- the freight train keeps rolling

Vocal Directors- the freight train keeps rolling! 

The season is over, time for a new season. We love it or hate it, but that’s our job, right?

As choir directors we are all much too familiar with the ongoing freight-train responsibility of finding new works for the next season. As each concert comes to a close many of us halfway dread the looming task of finding new and interesting, yet enjoyable and musically satisfying works. Do you really want to program pieces every other director is considering or do you want to innovate and take your choir and audience to a higher level? That is the point of what we do, isn’t it? We want to increase the skill, tone, and connection of our ensemble more and more every concert, right?

Well, if we all choose from the same 5 publishers packs every season the result is the same as it ever was. How many of us go to the choral conference reading sessions and find that we toss aside more works than we really want? Again, the room is filled with other directors who are combing through the same options. While not every director has the vision to keep the genre fresh and exciting for your singers and audience as well- as years go on the directors are younger, the singers are more culturally savvy, and our audiences are more interested in hearing those gems we all seek every single season. But how do we find those works?

As supposedly convenient as browsing through the online catalogs of mainstream choral publishers it is still daunting if not for the sheer volume of options. I always look for pieces that challenge my choir, yet are not so esoteric or complicated as to leave the audience wondering if that was the emperor’s new clothes or if they have lost touch with even their own tastes. Trust me, you don’t want your audience walking out thinking “was I supposed to like that, because I didn’t”.

For Directors the temptation is especially strong at Christmas time to program all the old chestnuts and be done with it. If a piece worked before, surely it would work again, right? Maybe that was true in the 60’s or the 90’s but the 21st century concert goer is more educated, more evolved, more aware than ever before. What do you do to keep the interest of all concerned?

I was always reluctant to plough through individual composers’ webstores. UG. There are literally THOUSANDS of new composers surfacing every year. The thought occurs to one “well, if they were gifted composers they would be signed by a mainstream publisher, right? These folks are obscure for a reason, right?”

WRONG. The recording industry is not the only previously successful model which is being transformed in the 21st century. The choral market is poised for a rebirth as well. I do not have to expound on the benefits of group singing. We all get that, and it is exciting to see all the choir growth in the world. And not every choir has gone to exclusively singing 2 part arrangements of pop music. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but believe me- even that trend will grow old fast especially as your choir increases skill. The singers are learning, getting better, and are hungry for music that satisfies the challenges of performing a difficult piece, but also the desire for audiences who are bombarded with highly produced music via television. And internet. And social media.

So, the point remains. Do we pick challenging, easy, standard, go-to, mind-numbing selections or do we risk it and look for more innovative repertoire? Possibly one of the biggest fears of many choir directors (ok, maybe it is just me, but I don’t think so) is to have just successfully performed a most challenging piece only to hear half hearted applause if only because the audience did not seem to enjoy listening as much as the choir did perfecting it. As director, you are not only the conductor, teacher, producer, and manager of the choir- you are also curator for the discerning listener as well. The choir and the audience count on YOU to disseminate the volumes of possible music and bring only the best. Think of yourself as a radio DJ with the inside track on new, previously undiscovered music. The best radio curators/hosts are trusted, respected, and knowledgable. They bring music to our attention that we would have maybe missed in the swirling maelstrom of repertoire. Consider that you are most likely the most important resource your choir or audience has in terms of what is worthwhile. That is a weighty responsibility… But we love it, yes?

What you perform must satisfy not only the desire  and requirement for the immaculate standard repertoire and educational value of choral music, but also to present the new, the exciting, the innovative. The future of your program depends on you! The pool of patrons and concert-goers alike is dwindling. And you KNOW it. So, what to perform to energize your singers and your listeners?

I have spent quite a bit of time researching websites of independent vocal composers, community choirs, and choral organizations all over the world. I must say there are many really exciting composers who have decided to remain unattached to a particular publisher where amazing writers go to get in line behind the standard, well known names. But famous is not always better. Modern big name publishers are a huge online warehouse where even search engines don’t always give you the keywords and results you need. Rather, the new independent composers are building their own websites, connections, resources, and relationships one choir at a time. I say give them a chance. 

Listen and move on- or send an email and make a new connection. There are plenty of independent composers you have yet to hear of. I guarantee it is worth your time to explore. You can always go back to the same mainstream publishers, the same listening sessions, the same repertoire that has audiences and benefactors losing interest. The voice is a powerful instrument of connection, maybe THE most powerful. Your voice, your choir, your group can and should be making a difference in people’s lives. Make YOUR voice count!

Please feel free to visit my website to audition new works by viewing perusal videos of the recordings and sheet music at www.stephenbigger.com

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