On Baseball and Building Talent in Youth Choirs

I’m always amazed at the patience of baseball fans. They not only sit through all the stoppage that occurs, but they are willing to do it for hours!

Which is why I’m impressed with my brothers-in-law. They are avid baseball fans (the only ones in the family). They’ll attend games by their favorite teams, watch it on tv, etc. Seriously, isn’t there something with lots of explosions on?

I once talked with my brother-in-law about talent development in baseball. He made a statement that caused me to pause. He said that there if a player in the major leagues demonstrates that he is not ready but they think he will be with time, then they will move him back down to the minor leagues. This is not considered a punishment, but a willingness on baseball team’s part to grow his skills and get him more experience. There is no stigma attached.

Just like with baseball, the long view is crucial for building talent in youth choirs. You do not create an strong program overnight. Several things need to happen, and they all happen with time.

  • The singers need to be trained.
  • The director needs to find his/her rhythm.
  • The singers and the director need to grow together.

The singers need to be trained

Those who know me know that I passionately advocate the teaching of musical skills. Spoon-feeding notes to choral singers might be relatively quick and easy, but is detrimental to them down the road. You might build a choir that sounds purdy. You won’t build a choir of excellent music-readers.

There are three elements to training the choir needs to become solid musicians. 1) They should be given music-reading training and theory training. 2) They should get vocal training, sometimes one on one. 3) They should get part-singing training. All three of these need to happen, and they will all take several years to nail down.

The director needs to find his/her rhythm.

Yes, the singers need to learn. However, the director needs to find his rhythm, his groove. When should the director teach certain skills? What is the pedagogical order? Pedagogy is going to take a slightly different shape for different directors at different times with different groups. It will take a while for directors to figure out their pedagogical framework.

The singers and the director need to grow together.

Directors teach singers, true, but singers also teach directors. Singers teach directors by cooperating or not cooperating, understanding or not understanding. Directors adapt how and what they teach to their particular ensembles.

Youth ensembles change their make-up from year to year. Their strengths and weaknesses also change. A choir with a strong soprano section one year might require the director to rebuild them the next.

A good choir director will necessarily change the order of information and the tempo of rehearsals to strengthen the choir. If they don’t have the knowledge to make the choir stronger, they need to get that knowledge from more experienced directors. Choral directors, like everyone else, need to be life-long students themselves.

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