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First Time Conducting, No Experience - Need Help!

I am a junior in high school and recently I was put in charge of the music for my church's teen mass.  I'm really excited because I love music and helping others, but my problem is that I have zero expierence.  Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing.  I play the violin in my school orchestra (have been playing since I was 4) and personally, I don't think that I'm a good singer.  I can read music and understand what sounds good/what sounds bad.  My main duties with this job include: running rehearsals, conducting the choir during mass, choosing music, and helping the instruments with their music.  I'm super nervous and don't really know what to expect.  I have my church's youth leader & adult choir conductor help if I need it....but if anyone has any tips/advice they could give me, that would be absolutley fantastic. 
Thank you! 
Replies (4): Threaded | Chronological
on September 15, 2013 12:11pm
Hi, Becky--First, congratulations!  Obviously you and your talents are well regarded in your congregation.  As they say, God may not call the equipped, but He equips the called.  Yes, do consult with your youth leader and adult choir director.  Also, Oliver Douberly's book, "Choir Director Basics," might be helpful:
Best wishes!
Applauded by an audience of 3
on September 16, 2013 5:12am
Congratulations, Becky.  This may be the first step to a wonderful life as a music professional.  If the group you will be working with is already up and running, then maybe you might want to begin by using your musical skills to help them "review" some music they already know. That will buy you some time to get comfortable up in front. Mixing the "new" with the "known" is always a good educational practice, both for the teens and the congregation.
When you say "mass" I assume you're speaking of a Catholic worship service?  If so, a good place to start might be with the various responses sung during the mass.  Perhaps you can select one or two new responses to insert for ones the congregation knows well.  Prepare the group in rehearsal (meaning: learn it well yourself either singing or on the violin; prepare music for ensemble; teach melody by rote and/or using music [break up the response into short phrases, use call-response to teach them]; take at least 2 rehearsals on the music before bringing it into the mass.)  Present the new response to the congregation prior to the start of the mass in which it will be sung.
You will find your own way, develop your own personal style and approach to teaching based on what the teens need and you are able to bring to them.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Break a leg!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on September 16, 2013 5:55am
Hi, Becky,
Congratulations! What a wonderful adventure you're embarking upon! One of the most important things you can do when working with a new choir is to choose music that you know for sure they can be successful with...Let your first few masses be done completely with music they would enjoy and would easily master. Take your time finding out where their limits are. Are you directing teens, or is this an adult choir which sings at a teen-focused mass? Be sure to learn what type of lyrics are needed for each "slot" in which the choir sings. I'm sure you'll do very well. Talent is talent. I agree with the earlier suggestion to purchase a book on conducting. Will your choir sing in parts, or if it is a teen choir at a youth service, will they sing in unison, accompanied by guitars? If singing in parts, be aware that the tenor line is often transposed down an octave lower than written for singing when singing from an "open-score" format in thd sheet music (each vocal line receiving its own music staff). If they will be singing from music written in open-score format, be sure to ask for a pianist who can play from open-score. It's definitely a skill that takes time to acquire, and not wll pianists can do it.

Above all, enjoy! You will be a blessing to the singers, and they, to you.


Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 27, 2013 3:08pm
I realize you posted your original question a couple months ago, but when I read it I got excited remembering my beginnings in conducting so I had to respond. If all goes well you are in for the ride of your life. If all does not go well, welcome to the club, learn what you can and keep at it. You're still in for the ride of your life! I teach private voice on the amateur and collegiate levels and direct a small church choir. My favorite time of the week is Wednesday night at choir practice!
If I were you I would not worry about being unprepared. From your post I see that you already have more musical experience than MANY beginning conductors. You're a step ahead there. And I assume you already have the most important thing - a good ear from your string playing. Also, you do not need to be a great singer to be a great conductor. One of the best conductors I ever sang under, who will remain nameless, could not sing his way out of a paper bag. You do need, however, to develop an understanding of how the voice works. A simple understanding of vocal anatomy and acoustics will take you a long way. BUT - this does not have to be learned all at once. You will pick that up as you go along.
Also, understand that your job is to make your singers sound as good as they can. This means you need to know the music very well, know what you want from it, and know how to teach your singers. The teacher part is something you will also learn as you go along. I still learn even after having done this almost 20 years. That's part of the joy of it.
So what frame of mind should you have as you stand in front of your singers? I would suggest that of a servant-leader. Some of my singers call me a benevolent dictator. That works, too.
Good luck, ask as many questions as you need from those who are also leading choirs, and HAVE FUN!
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