A Choir Director’s Teaching Philosophy
With my students, each day I choose:
Inspiration over intimidation
While it is easy and tempting to use external consequences like grades, disciplinary action, and failure to push a student or ensemble towards their best work, I have found it more powerful to lead by example. By doing so, I show them my expectations in various areas by living them out on a daily basis.
When students are singing or working in a lazy fashion, I will overwhelm them with consistent work ethic and discipline. When students are not connecting with subject matter, I will reexamine my methods to find a way to relate to students and make it relevant.
- If I want them to be prepared, I must always be prepared.
- If I want them to work hard, I must always work hard.
- If I want them to be punctual, I must never be late.
- If I want them to be kind and respectful, I must treat them with kindness and respect.
- If I want them to be good writers, I must always write well, even in an e-mail.
- If I want them to be good singers, I must vocally model well in rehearsals.
Empowerment over imitation
Choral directors can often coerce a choir into sounding a certain way through a combination of mimicry, repetition, and emulation. In my earliest years of teaching, I would do the same. Now, I aim to empower my students with the “whys” in addition to the “hows”.
When students are singing a composition from a certain style period, we will study the cultural, musical, artistic, literary, and geopolitical influences of that time. When students are learning about part writing in functional tonality, we will study formative literature of the master composers to see how the “rules” are really just best practices based on what sounded the best the most often.
- If I want them to be good sight readers, I must teach them how to sight read well.
- If I want them to have good posture, I must consistently show them what that looks like.
- If I want them to think critically, I must teach them how to do so and require them to do so regularly.
- If I want them to have good practice habits, I must show them what those are and develop an environment in which that is fostered and rewarded.
- If I want them to sing with a good tone, I must develop and foster good tone.
Success over failure
Some students will respond positively to failure, rallying to find whatever is necessary within themselves to eventually find success. However, I have found that other students do not. All students respond well to success. Success acts as a snowball rolling down a hill, feeding itself and building upon its own momentum.
When I plan lessons or rehearsals, I always try to ensure success for each student. Even though this cannot and will not happen one hundred percent of the time, it is a valuable perspective with which to approach each class or rehearsal. When a student or ensemble fails, I always consider what I could have done differently first before assuming it is their fault.
- If I want them to learn a concept, I must ensure that they all possess the prerequisite skills.
- If I want them to sing a piece well, I must choose literature that fits their ability level.
- If I want them to achieve something beyond their current ability level, I must plan each step carefully.
- If I want them to embrace something new or different, I must gradually open their hearts and minds to change.