Curious: Sing AND direct?
  • Stella611
    Posts: 108
    I am curious to know: how many of you sing AND direct? Do you do it out of necessity for the balance of the choir, they need your leadership, or...?
    So: yes or no, and what your reason is.
  • Yes, I sing and direct.

    I enjoy singing.

    In another choir, I sing and don't usually direct (because someone else is the director of that choir). He sings and directs. Usually, in his case, it's out of necessity (he's our stalwart bass).

  • Most of the time I've directed, I've also sung.

    Usually, in most groups it has been a necessity. With chant, I can guide tempo and phasing more effectively. With polyphony, usually we are lacking basses or the strong lead.

    Secondarily, as Chris mentions above, it is hard not singing - who can hear Guerrero, Palestrina, Victoria and not instinctively want to sing?

    However, there is a definite trade-off... and when I feel I don't have to sing, I try to avoid being selfish about what I want. When I sing, I can't do the same justice to hearing the other parts and correcting issues - I have to rely on section leaders to assist by pointing out areas that need review. That mostly works, but there are things that fall through the cracks.

    The other issue is that between directing and singing, breath control starts to become compromised.

    The more I can back away from singing, the more that forces the group to become functionally independent.
  • I did it from necessity (the previous director left but I was I was the only tenor in the choir at the time). It was not ideal. In particular, I felt that it was difficult to assess the balance and blend of the choir as a whole and to pick out detail issues in other parts whilst also singing. Like Incardination, I found that my breath control suffered. However, my biggest problem was that I wear varifocal spectacles, and whilst as a singer I can hold a score in such a way that I can both read the score and see the conductor I found it very difficult to maintain eye contact with the choir and still be able to glance at the score.
    Would I do it again? Probably only if it was absolutely necessary.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • From a choristers perspective:

    I've sung in choirs where the director sings of necessity. Normally this practice has been helpful. I've been in choirs where the conductor sings for fun. Normally this practice has been unobtrusive. I've been in choirs where the conductor sings directly at the section, sometimes the individual, who needs help. As much as I would love to see that practice succeed, it rarely does.
  • Carol
    Posts: 512
    Our organist is a very good bass and sometimes, if the part is tricky, the basses will cluster near him so he can help them out which works quite well especially when the piece is new. I once was cantoring and the pianist who was accompanying me started singing and I thought I must have gotten into another key or something else had gone horribly wrong and she was steering me back. After Mass I found out she was just enjoying the hymn and wanted to join in!
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • I do, and because we are few in number

    but I also love singing and would be sad to lose any opportunity to sing.
    that said, I agree with a lot of the issues which have been mentioned by others.
    Thanked by 2Carol Incardination
  • Considering I am currently half of my polyphonic choir's tenor section, yes, I do. I also sing/direct the Gregorian chant. As can be imagined, directing whilst singing the latter is easier than directing whilst singing the former. Recently, I've had another choir join ranks with ours, and so their choir director - Lena, who posts on this forum occasionally - will switch out with me sometimes to help shoulder the workload. She sings when I direct, vice versa. It's helpful.
    Thanked by 2Carol Incardination
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,322
    I don't really sing all that much, but I play and direct - that seems to amaze another DOM in town that I know. But I have done it for years to the point of not even thinking about it anymore. Occasionally, I will sing too if we are short on people, or I need to emphasize words for the choir.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • From a "practical" point of view, it may work.

    However, in my experience, the acoustics of having two different directions of sound is often undesirable. Furthermore, I believe that the director needing to sing is just a symptom of the choir not being confident, which should be addressed through other means in rehearsal. It's ultimately nothing more than a Band-Aid to a problem that can be more properly cured otherwise.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,577
    When I sing (rarely) I direct only in a psychological sphere as waving arms only destroys the acoustic. However, I might use small gestures for important cues. I gather the schola into a semicircle when doing so and that helps with cues also.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • rollingrj
    Posts: 268
    When I have directed choirs, I have also sang with that particular ensemble. It has always been out of necessity, as I am usually the only tenor in the group. If one is part of a small group (from duos to nonets), it not a problem because cut-offs are subtle cues at the most. Any larger and you have to face them, it's better to take the advice of Bartleby the Scrivener--"I would prefer not to."
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,322
    I think you develop the skills you most need. If you need to direct and sing, you will do so. If you need to direct and play, you will also do so. If you need to direct, play, and sing - ask for more money.
  • Yes, I do. Tiny choir, non-musicians. If I had 15-20 (or even 12), I probably wouldn't, since it's really hard to do evaluative listening that way. Also, I'm facing them, which means I'm singing to the back wall, and while I have a comparatively large voice, it makes it harder to balance. A further problem: they get used to "following the leader", which means they aren't learning to audiate on their own.
    Thanked by 2Incardination Carol
  • I sing and direct, out of necessity. I’m the only strong soprano and really only a mezzo at that, but I’m slowly becoming the high soprano my college choir director told me I would be if I practiced singing every day. Funny how things work out like that. Basses are on their own if they have a solo passage, though. I’ll help in my octave during rehearsal, but obviously can’t during the service. I’m really thankful they’re good, strong, and do just fine without me LOL
    Thanked by 2Incardination Carol
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,113
    Yes. I am usually trying to play the organ, semi-conduct, and sing the bass part all at the same time. Occasionally I sing the tenor part or switch back and forth sometimes, depending on who needs the help.

    I do this because my men's numbers have dwindled to the point that I'm not sure the part would be heard if I didn't sing it. My women's numbers have swelled, so that's a blessing!
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • Agreeing with CharlesW - Irish is in line for a raise!! :)
    Thanked by 2Carol StimsonInRehab
  • The conductor shouldn't sing IMHO. Singing can be distracting on multiple fronts: the mouth in itself is a communication device and if it's being only used to sing one part then it can be confusing to the rest of the choir, especially in polyphonic music. If the conductor really needs to sing out of necessity, it might also be a good idea to get the choir used to singing without a conductor and that everyone just sings. Also, singing can distract the conductor such that he can't hear the rest of the blend.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 811
    When I sing, I can't do the same justice to hearing the other parts and correcting issues - I have to rely on section leaders to assist by pointing out areas that need review. That mostly works, but there are things that fall through the cracks.

    IMHO directors whom I've witnessed singing along, are not doing it out of necessity, even if they may have convinced themselves that it is. I think it's a bad habit. It makes it nearly impossible for the director to hear balance for one, but every other issue, especially.

    Yes, most of us love to sing. Most orchestra directors also love whatever their instrument is, but except for very rare cases, you don't see them up there playing anything. Because that would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, it really isn't supposed to work that you are the musician and the director, too. (The "leader" of a small ensemble is obviously not the same thing as someone standing in front of an ensemble, conducting.)

    While I find it easier to believe that a male director's voice might be a necessity, a female director has (I believe) much less of an argument.

    First off, If the ladies who sing the same part as the director cannot sing their own part unless she sings as well, that's a big problem that needs to be addressed and corrected.

    Also, not only is the voices going separate ways much less than ideal (even with a microphone), but the subtleties of entrances and such get incredibly sloppy when the director could be more focused on his or her own entrance, than making sure that the conducting is clear enough for everyone to enter at that exact same time, and so the director might actually be singing the slightest bit ahead of everyone else.
    I know others in this group are orchestra musicians. The subtle difference between the baton and the played beat is something that not everyone notices, but it plays into the latter issue.

    (TBH, oftentimes, I find organists distracted from the ensemble mentality if singing whilst playing, as well.)
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 757
    My, my. How did Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and others manage to do just that? Direct, sing, & play? It is possible. And it is possible to get a good sound from it.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 811
    I did say it was a "rare," not nonexistent, occurrence.
    They're also the stars of their shows, not [humble] members who need to appear and sound as one within their ensemble.

    As I said, this is my honest opinion.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • There are times, such as in a small group, very small, the director needs to be a singer as well. As remarked above, such a director leads as much by vocal nuance as he does with other bodily gestures. This is especially true of chant, where such a leader fulfills one of the functions of a true cantor.

    In larger groups singing is not wise. However, the director may, in addition to bodily gestures 'mouth' certain key entrances or moments to given persons. If directing and playing the organ simultaneously, mouthing is almost essential, along with other imaginative facial gestures. Otherwise, directors should not actually sing. Some do this thinking that their voices must be heard in order for their singers to sing out. This is not wise. It reminds me of the time I told a microphonist-'cantor' not to sing into her microphone. With great emotion she averred that if she didn't the people would not sing. The truth is they weren't singing any better at all - all one heard was the microphonist. And, so can it be with choral directors who feel that their singers just have to have them sing along. This doesn't actually result in better singing from the choir. It just means that the directors voice is heard above them. This can be nothing more that vocal narcissism.
  • Singing along with something such as a response, hymn, or even leading a chant--in short, anything monophonic--is okay in my books. But I still stand by my statement that, in any kind of polyphonic or intricate music, it's a hindrance more than anything.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 243
    I am in general agreement with CCooze and Mr. Osborn, among others, above. I often sing if we are chanting (always plainsong, and sometimes in Anglican chant), but if I am singing, I am neglecting to some extent one of my other roles. I also find it impossible to focus on my own breathing, and therefore sing well, if I am conducting (whatever form that happens to take) or particularly if I am conducting from the organ. I am guilty of sneaking an occasional pitch to the tenors or altos, or momentarily vocally reinforcing an entrance, but when I do so I am not really trying to 'sing' with the ensemble—I do it in a way that is meant not to be noticed by listeners. My groups and I are both fortunate that my voice is not required to fill out the sound or supply missing parts!
  • TCJ
    Posts: 678
    I switch off and on. Back when the choir was just getting started and everything was unison, I would softly sing (or lip sync) because it helped some choir members know when to start/stop at places. Then when we began singing in harmony, I would sing bass because the men were too few. Now I tend to sing tenor because that section needs the extra help. I would prefer to not sing while directing/playing.
  • I mouth words but don't sing when I am playing and directing, because they wouldn't be able to hear me anyway.

    I try to only mouth for a cappella pieces, where I am positioned directly in front of the choir. But if I'm singing while directing, it's for one of two reasons: either I need to keep the always-going-flat sopranos from going flat (so I sing their part softly, an octave lower; the mics are aimed at them and not me, so if I sing softly you can't hear me), or the piece has a tenor part, but my choir has no tenors (at which point I sing quite a bit loud so that the mics pick me up). It's a fun little balance.
  • jcr
    Posts: 67
    In my present situation that is typically short of men, I sing more than is good for the choir. Ideally, the choir should stand on its own because the conductor's podium is seldom an acoustically good spot from which to sing, and while the conductor is singing he cannot hear the choir very well. This last is especially bad in rehearsals. Sometimes it is necessary, but it is not ideal BTW, I love to sing, also.
    Thanked by 2Carol CCooze
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    I generally will, especially if I have a small group or there aren’t many/strong tenors. I always sing Gregorian chant when directing.
  • I think of a conductor (at least of singers) as I do a headmaster. He's a singer who happens to have command authority. Directors (at least of singers) who don't sing are like heads of school with no teaching experience.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • I will play and cantor out of necessity at times. When the choir is present, it is usually too much to sing, play, and direct, so I focus on playing and directing.
  • I sing and play (guitar, or as my username suggests, banjo... which is falsely maligned as an instrument of the devil... but that is another topic!), and direct as best I can with shoulders, head, and facial exprsssion. It’s a small choir, not highly trained but deeply devoted.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • kenstb
    Posts: 358
    Out of necessity, I play the organ, sing and direct. It has forced me to become comfortable with the schizophrenic experience of listening, directing and executing the music. In the long run, it has made me better. The choir is small, but very dedicated and they need the help.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Carol
    Posts: 512
    I call our organist "Bobble Head" when he is forced to both direct and play at one time.

    Also, how are a banjo and a law suit alike? In both cases people are relieved when the case is closed.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,322
    Old and corny, but they say the way to get a perfect pitch on a banjo is to throw it in the trash can without hitting the sides.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 348
    If left to my own devices I wave my own hand around while singing. I swear I sing better that way. I think the hand and vocal centers in the brain must be very interconnected.

    When in a group, I want someone to direct, lest we all sing as we please and not start and stop at the same time. At least do gestures at the stops and starts!

    But one crazy-maker: a couple times I've been in a group where the keyboardist sang intermittently (bits and pieces of phrases, a word here or there). It's SO distracting! Her entrances startled me. Her pauses confused me. Did she want us all to stop, too? Why did she start singing there? Were we off? I never did figure it out, so just tried to keep track of her with one eye while reading lyrics and watching the other singers with the other eye.

    Thanked by 1a_f_hawkins
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,745
    When in a group, I want someone to direct,.. gestures at the stops and starts!
    Why do so many on this forum think this does not apply to a congregation, and excoriate any cantor who attempts such gestures?
  • ...and excoriate...
    With all due respect to Mr Hawkins, whom I hold in genuine esteem -

    I have never had or been in a congregation that had trouble starting and stopping together, with or without the organ. Directing congregations is as tacky as all get out. Choirs need to be directed because their music is more artful and more complex. I've even known congregations who would begin parts of the ordinary and the dialogues right on time and right on pitch without so much as a note from the organ. This is accomplished by osmosis and experience. I've had congregations whom I could have sing a hymn stanza a capella by simply not playing and they would unerringly begin and end together a capella. Directing congregations is as tacky and unnecessary as all get out - it is also insulting, very insulting, to the people, and a visual blight on the flow of ritual. Only Baptists and Catholics seem unable to sing without pirouettists and arm flailers making narcissistic spectacles of themselves. The rightful and only 'director' of the congregation is the organist.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 348
    An enthusiastic elderly priest once 'conducted' the 'Sanctus' (vernacular version), in what appeared to be an attempt to get people to sing more vigorously. He also once celebrated some favorite saint two days in a row (and no one said a word). Given his age I'll grant some senility as a good excuse.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 811
    any cantor who attempts such

    As far as I've been able to tell, it isn't that they need a prompt to sing. What they need is to hear the cantor/choir begin, to make sure they're singing the right thing - for it isn't as though every verse ends on the beginning pitch or interval of the responsorial.

    That, and/or they simply forget the response between iterations (tends to happen at daily/spoken Masses), because of the verses. No amount of arm waving will conjure up words that have already slipped from their memory.


    I swear I sing better that way.

    While this could very well be so, the director's job isn't actually to sing, but to lead.
    Their voices should not be crutches.

    This past Sunday, the ladies sang a trio, with 2 of our sopranos singing 2nd soprano. Since 1 of the young ladies who would have been singing 1st didn't show up, it was left just another young lady and to our director. The young lady started freaking out, and saying, "well, then we'll just see what comes out, because I can't hear [the director] from here!"
    Choir members absolutely should not be relying on hearing the director in order to sing their part correctly/well. We all need to be encouraged to learn our own parts, and directors should be encouraged to listen more, that they may hear deficiencies and intonation issues, that should someone become sick, the entire choir doesn't fall apart because of his/her absence.

    Regardless, I've already posted about my opinion on the general topic previously, in this thread.
  • Cooze is very correct about directors who sing. Unless the group is very small and their voices really are a necessity, their singing is not needed and may even be a distraction. Directors of ensembles who sing usually aren't listening to their choirs, don't have confidence in their choirs, and think that their choirs can't sing or be heard without their own glorious voice, which they anxiously add to the mix. They really are underestimating their choirs.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,745
    My ideal would be very like what the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham has achieved*. And I agree that if the organist can be the directing influence no other direction is more desireable. Unfortunately this ability is in inadequate supply among organists. Similarly the ability to lead the congregation simply by voice and personality is uncommon among cantors.
    GIRM 104. It is fitting that there be a cantor or a choir director to direct and support the people’s singing. Indeed, when there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to direct the different chants, with the people taking the part proper to them.
    However the organist is mentioned in the preceding paragraph, indirectly including their rôle in the singing.
    103. Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, its place being to take care that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different genres of chant, are properly carried out and to foster the active participation of the faithful by means of the singing. What is said about the schola cantorum also applies, with due regard for the relevant norms, to other musicians, and especially the organist.
    * In the one priest parish I now live in, with a typical Sunday congregation of less than a hunded, we will probably never have the resources.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,939
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,322
    In reading some regulations, even the GIRM, I have thought that the people who make the rules don't have the burden of trying to follow them.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,322
    Ah, Leona. Remember her well.