Choral Directors as Mentors
Date: August 3, 2010
Continuing to think of the American Choral Directors Association imperative of mentoring the choral profession, I began my blog last week with the statement that mentoring had more to do with the why of what we do than the when, what, where, or even the significant how of our work. When we explore the question of why, we explore the philosophical, psychological, and moral realms of values, motivation, ethics, and fundamental reasons for being. The what and how of the choral art will undoubtedly be a part of the mentoring experience, and on many occasions, the tools and skills of the trade will form the vocabulary and conversation of the relationship. The why is the shared experience between protégé and mentor that drives the lifelong pursuit of dedication to choral music performance.
There is no question that the answers and skills needed in the quest of what we do, how we do our work, when we do it, and where we do it are incredibly significant as a person seeks to build a successful career. As musicians, we work with a highly codified and even scientific language that must be mastered in order to convey musical ideas and to learn, interpret, and perform the ideas of others. Time and context demonstrate over and over that there are best practices, better ways, and better times, to do our work as performers. The refined skills and expertise it takes teach and perform are added to a desire, passion, and innate talent, and become a lifelong pursuit for any person choosing to make a vocation in the musical arts.
However, it is the why we do what we do that will become the pursuit that may be most perplexing to us, and to those we work with and work to influence. Talent and hard work produce amazing results in all fields of inquiry, but the why question is deeply personal, and will continue to be adjusted in every individual throughout life. It is the question of why that best brings the protégé and mentor relationship into sharp focus.
Ensemble members look to the conductor for a variety of leadership questions. In the very practical areas of performance, ensemble members watch the conductor to know the meter and tempo of a musical composition. Singers and players look to the conductor for entrances and cut offs within a score. Further, performers look to the conductor for interpretive cues such as musical dynamics, tempo variations, and the character of the music being performed. These are the pragmatic functions of the conductor in the rehearsal and performance arena. The decisions a conductor makes in these particular areas will be made by years of study of formal disciplines such as musical theory, musical form, historical performance practice, music psychology, acoustics, vocal, keyboard, and instrumental technique, as well as the gamut of intellectual and emotional reflections that bring music to life.
With all of that said, there is yet another area that the protégé may be looking to the mentor for lessons, and that the mentor may wish to convey to a protégé. This area is embodied in the question of why: Why I chose this music?; Why I choose this profession?; Why I chose this program?; Why I conceived this tour?; Why this tempo for this piece of music?; and the why's? for protégé go on and on.
For the mentor, the desire to pass information and life experiences is a part of generativity--contributing to the good of the profession and to the good of another individual. For the protégé, the desire to learn from a skilled, insightful, and experienced individual is a natural part of maturation.
Many of us are only days away from resuming our work in an ensemble environment. I want to add reflection on the why of my art to my preparation as I anticipate the coming season, and, the coming protégé.