Choral Conducting: Philosophy and Practice.
A Handbook for Beginning Choral Educators. By Walter Lamble. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. [ix, 145 p. ISBN 0-253-34434-4. $39.95.] Appendices.
In his two-part book, Choral Conducting: Philosophy and Practice, Colin Durrant presents his philosophy and approach to choral conducting by citing numerous studies and books on the subject. By dividing the book into two sections titled "Philosophy" and "Practice," the author provides a logical sequence for the reader. In the first section, consisting of six chapters, Durrant cites several philosophers that he has found relevant to conducting and singing. After a thorough examination of the concepts, the second section of the book, consisting of five chapters, provides suggestions for putting these ideas into practice. Durrant does not focus on a particular type of choir or age of singer; rather he suggests that these concepts are applicable to all types of choral groups.
In chapter 1, Durrant explains the purpose of the book as a support for courses in conducting, but not as a how-to text that isolates theory from people. He states that "conductors help us to connect the creations of composers to our own lives" (p. 7). Durrant introduces the idea that learning to swim and learning to sing have common elements. He encourages the reader to "start swimming with effective and efficient strokes" (p. 10) by reading the text in its entirety to facilitate reflection and consideration.
Chapter 2, "Human Learning and Behavior," begins with a look at the brain and its potential. Durrant emphasizes that the brain does not exist without the body; thus the term "bodymind" is introduced as the basis for the holistic approach to conducting that is prevalent throughout the book. This chapter also presents conditions for learning, comparing human-compatible and human-antagonistic approaches. The common negative approach of spotting only the mistakes in the singing as a sign of the conductor's ability is an example that most choral conductors can understand. Durrant believes that the activity of singing should be pleasant and non-threatening, and it is the responsibility of the conductor or teacher to create that environment.
Chapter 3 attempts to answer the question "Why do people sing?" (p. 36). Research studies cited in the chapter indicate that the social benefits and the bonding with a group are as important to the singer as the actual experience of singing. Therefore, in chapter 4 Durrant expands on the idea that the role of the conductor is to connect. This chapter provides an historical perspective on conducting to show that personality and behavioral traits have influenced the evolution of conducting into what it is today.
The last two chapters of the philosophical section of the book bring all the theories to a conclusion with the author's own model for an effective choral conductor. Durrant's model includes philosophical principles, musical-technical skills, and interpersonal skills. An extensive chart defines the skills and abilities required for each category.
The second section of the book covers the practical aspects of conducting, such as rehearsing, conducting gestures, and the development and health of the voice in all ages. In chapter 7, Durrant offers his own eight-part model of effective choir rehearsing and conducting, while chapter 8 includes a description of conducting gestures with photographs and journal entries by Durrant's own students on their observations of the conducting styles of various conductors.
In chapter 9 Durrant cites research on the changing voice, both male and female, including range charts and characteristics of the voices. He also includes the aging voice in this chapter, and his understanding of this group is insightful and shows compassion and kindness. In chapter 10, Durrant presents course outlines for both initial and advanced conducting courses.
The last chapter, appropriately titled "Last Movement," returns to the swimming metaphor introduced in chapter 1. Durrant summarizes his personal belief that conductors influence the musical and emotional lives of students and choir members and must always pay attention to the whole person. "And that makes the difference between conducting and swimming. In essence, choral conducting is about love" (p. 185).
Choral Conducting: Philosophy and Practice is a difficult book to read and absorb but worthwhile for conducting students and teachers. This book could serve as a textbook for an advanced conducting class, or a reference source for those who teach choral conducting. There are perhaps too many references to the research of others in philosophy, education, and music, but the reader may find a theory or concept that is worth further study.
Walter Lamble, author of A Handbook for Beginning Choral Educators, the second book under consideration, spent thirty years as a public school choir director, and has provided a practical, informative collection of facts and opinions to assist the new choral educator. The preface makes it clear that Lamble enjoyed his years as a choir director, and he has written this guide for beginning choral educators as encouragement and assistance.
This book has seven chapters, an epilogue, and five appendices, and includes very valuable information and encouragement for the beginning choral director. Chapter 1, "Getting Started," deals with the basics of building a choral program, choosing and purchasing music, and preparing for the new school year. Lamble's suggestions for sources for the selection of music and audition techniques are excellent and give common-sense directions for a newcomer to the profession. The exercises at the end of the chapter could be used in a class setting, or by the newly hired, beginning choral educator preparing for the first choir season.
Chapter 2 includes advice on warm-ups and vocal production. The section on unison sound is excellent, and an area of concern for any new choral director. Lamble suggests that warm-ups should be geared toward the work of that rehearsal and its vocal demands. In addition to an explanation of vowels, diphthongs, and consonants with regard to singing, he includes a question and answer section on choral sound and vocal production. Lamble queried some of his colleagues for their opinions and includes excerpts of their answers. He offers no opinion on their answers, and encourages the reader to read and form an opinion. The exercises at the end of the chapter are excellently designed and educational.
Lamble stresses the importance of teaching students to read music using sight-singing. Chapter 3 offers an explanation of solfege with a complete chart, a sample sight-singing lesson, and a discussion of other music skills the author believes should be included in the choir rehearsal.
Beginning with chapter 4, this book contains a wealth of information covering musical concepts such as the changing voice and practical duties such as parent support groups and budget issues. The section on singing in foreign languages can serve as a reference guide for all choral directors. It includes a pronunciation guide for Latin, German, and French, as well as suggestions for pronunciation when singing popular music.
Lamble begins chapter 5 with words that every new choir director fears: "So you are going to do a musical" (p. 64). The author provides a clear, concise method for planning and presenting a musical. This chapter also offers advice on travel, parent support groups and competitions.
The non-choral concepts presented in chapter 6 are always a part of the choir director's duties: preparing a budget, preparing a student for college music study, and defending the choir curriculum. Lamble quotes the online article, "Why is Music Basic: The Value of Music Education" that lists twenty-one reasons why music should be a part of a basic curriculum (http://www.childrensmusicworkshop.com/musicisbasic.html [accessed 23 February 2005]). Many choral educators will be asked to justify their programs, and these cited reasons can help form the argument for the music program.
One of the most valuable chapters in the book is chapter 7, titled "Fifty Things No One Ever Told Me," in which Lamble covers an amazing volume of information on contracts, salary, administrative problems, acoustical setups, etc. Since Lamble has written from his own experience in a large, middle-class suburban high school, he offers an epilogue featuring the opinions of other high school choral directors working in different environments. These selections provide different perspectives on the subjects covered in previous chapters. Additionally, the five appendices are a treasure for the new choral educator. Sample forms and letters, warm-up exercises, a list of lending libraries, a timeline for a musical, and a budget template are useful tools to aid the beginning choral director.
A Handbook for Beginning Choral Educators is a valuable resource for students in choral conducting or secondary vocal music education and academic libraries that support these courses. Since several chapters conclude with exercises to reinforce the concepts, this book would be good supplementary material for a choral conducting class or methods class in music education.
MARY ROSE ADKINS