Essentials in Conducting
by Karl Wilson Gehrkens
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[Footnote 26: In making plans for the organization of a group of wind instrument players into a band, it should be noted by the conductor that here the entire harmony must be supplied by the individual instruments (no piano being used) thus making it necessary to have alto, tenor, and baritone saxhorns in addition to cornets, clarinets, flutes, and trombones. The tuba is also almost indispensable, while the inclusion of two or three saxophones will greatly increase the mellowness of the effect as well as providing an additional color to make the tonal textures more interesting.]


In dealing with any ensemble group that includes wind instruments, the conductor must master the intricacies involved in the subject of transposing instruments, and although this book is not the place to get such technical knowledge as was referred to in the introductory paragraph of this chapter, yet perhaps a brief explanation of the most important points will not be wholly out of place, since we are writing more especially from the standpoint of the amateur.

By a transposing instrument we mean one in the case of which the performer either plays from a part that is written in a different key from that of the composition, or that sounds pitches an octave higher or lower than the notes indicate. Thus, e.g., in a composition written in the key of E-flat, and actually played in that key by the strings, piano, et cetera, the clarinet part would probably be written in the key of F, i.e., it would be transposed a whole step upward; but, of course, the actual tones would be in the key of E-flat. The player, in this case, would perform upon a B-flat clarinet—i.e., a clarinet sounding pitches a whole step lower than indicated by the notes. (It is called a B-flat clarinet because its fundamental gives us the pitch B-flat—this pitch being a whole-step lower than C; and it is because the pitch sounded is a whole step lower that the music has to be transposed a whole step higher in order to bring it into the correct key when played.) In the case of the clarinet in A, the pitches produced by the instrument are actually a minor third lower than the notes indicate (A is a minor third lower than C, just as B-flat is a whole-step lower). In writing music for clarinet in A, therefore, the music will need to be transposed upward a minor third in order that when played it may be in the right key; just as in the case of the clarinet in B-flat, it has to be transposed upward a whole-step.

"Clarinet or cornet in B-flat" means, therefore, an instrument that sounds pitches a whole-step lower than written; "clarinet or cornet in A" means one that sounds pitches a minor third lower than written; "horn in F" means an instrument sounding pitches a perfect fifth lower than written (because F is a perfect fifth below C); while the "clarinet in E-flat" sounds pitches a minor third higher than written. Whether the pitches sounded are higher or lower than the notes indicate will have to be learned by experience or study.

If the passage marked Fig. 1 were to be orchestrated so as to give the highest voice to the clarinet and the lowest to the horn, the clarinet and horn parts would appear as shown in Fig. 2.

[Music: Fig. 1]

[Music: Fig. 2

Clarinet in B-[flat]

Horns in F]

In order to make this information more specific, we add a table showing the keys of the original and transposed parts. The practical band man expresses the substance of this table tersely by saying, "subtract 3 sharps or 2 flats."

ORIGINAL KEY TRANSPOSED KEY KIND OF INSTRUMENT C D B-flat G B-flat A D F A A C A E G A B D A F-sharp A A C-sharp E A F G B-flat B-flat C B-flat E-flat F B-flat A-flat B-flat B-flat D-flat E-flat B-flat G-flat A-flat or A B-flat or A C-flat D-flat B-flat


The principal reasons for the use of transposing instruments are: first, because certain sizes of instruments produce a better quality of tone than others (e.g., the B-flat clarinet sounds better than the C clarinet); and second, because it is easier to play in keys having a smaller number of sharps and flats, and by transposing the parts to other keys, we can usually get rid of several sharps or flats.

In the case of performers on the clarinet, each player is necessarily provided with two instruments (an A and a B-flat—the C clarinet being almost obsolete, and the E-flat being used only in military bands); but in playing upon the brass wind instruments the same instrument may be tuned in various keys, either by means of a tuning slide or by inserting separate shanks or crooks, these latter being merely additional lengths of tubing by the insertion of which the total length of the tube constituting the instrument may be increased, thus throwing its fundamental pitch into a lower key.

In order to gain facility in dealing with transposed parts, the amateur is advised to try his hand at arranging simple music (hymn tunes, folk songs, easy piano pieces, et cetera) for his group of players, transposing the parts for clarinets, cornets, et cetera, into the appropriate keys. In this way he will also get an insight into the mysteries of instrumental combination that cannot be secured in any other way.


The first difficulty that the conductor of an amateur ensemble group usually encounters is that the instruments owned by his players are tuned according to various pitch standards; and he is very likely to find at his first rehearsal that his first-clarinet player has an instrument tuned in "high pitch," i.e., what is commonly known as concert pitch (about one half step above standard), while his second-clarinet player has an instrument in "low pitch," i.e., international, a' having 435 vibrations per second. (There is also a third pitch which is used by many of the standard symphony orchestras—this pitch being based upon a vibration rate of 440 for a'). If the conductor attempts to have his orchestra perform under these conditions, disaster will surely overtake him, and he will not only find his ears suffering tortures, but will be more than likely to hear uncomplimentary remarks from the neighbors, and will be fortunate indeed not to be ordered on to the next block or the next town by the police force! The difficulty arises, of course, because the oboe, English horn, clarinet, and other wood-wind instruments are built in a certain fixed pitch, and since the length of the tube cannot be altered, they must either play in the pitch intended or else not at all. In the case of the clarinet and flute, the pitch can be altered a very little by pulling out one of the joints slightly (the tube is made in several sections) thus making the total length slightly greater and the pitch correspondingly lower; but when this is done the higher tones are very apt to be out of tune, and in general, if the player has an instrument tuned in high pitch, he cannot play with an ensemble group having low-pitched instruments, especially when the piano supplies the fundamental harmony. In the case of the brass instruments, a tuning slide is usually provided, and the same instrument can therefore be utilized in either low or high pitch combinations.[27]

[Footnote 27: "High pitch" is employed mostly in bands; the reason for its use being that the wind instruments are much more brilliant when tuned to the higher pitch. It is encouraging to be able to state, however, that more and more instruments are being built in "philharmonic pitch" (a' 440), and the conductor who is organizing a band or orchestra is advised to see to it that all players who are purchasing new instruments insist upon having them built in this pitch.]

[Sidenote: TUNING]

The conductor of an amateur ensemble group will find it very greatly to his advantage to be able to tune the various instruments, or at least to help the players to do it accurately. This involves not merely a mechanical knowledge of what to do to the instrument to change its pitch, but, what is much more important, a very high degree of pitch discrimination on the conductor's part. It is at this latter point that assistance is most often necessary, and the conductor who can tell his cornet player when he is just a shade high or low, and can determine precisely when the violinist has his strings tuned to an absolutely perfect fifth, will have far less trouble with out-of-tune playing than otherwise; for a great deal of sharping and flatting (particularly in the case of wind instruments) is the result of inaccurate tuning.

[Sidenote: BOWING]

Since an orchestra contains such a large proportion of stringed instruments it will be very greatly to the interest of the conductor to take up the study of some instrument belonging to the violin family, and to learn to play it at least a little. If this is altogether impracticable at the beginning, the next best thing for him to do is to study bowing, learning not only the bowing signs and their meaning, but familiarizing himself thoroughly with the principles underlying the art. For this purpose some good work on bowing should be studied, but meanwhile a few words on the subject at this point will give the absolute beginner at least a small amount of indispensable information. The signs commonly employed in music for violin, viola, violoncello, and double-bass, to indicate various manners of bowing, are as follows:

[down-bow symbol] Down-bow: i.e., from nut to point.

[up-bow symbol] Up-bow: i.e., from point to nut.

[slur symbol] Slurred: i.e., all notes under the sign played in one bow.

[slur over staccato symbol] Staccato: i.e., all notes in one bow, but the tones separated.

The ordinary staccato mark ([dot staccato symbol] or [wedge staccato symbol]) means a long quick stroke, either up or down as the case may be. The absence of slurs indicates a separate stroke of the bow for each tone. Sometimes the player is directed to use the lower half, the upper half, or the middle of the bow, such directions being given by printing the words "lower half," et cetera, above the passage, or by giving the initials of these words (sometimes in German). When no bowing is indicated, a phrase beginning with a weak beat commonly has an up-bow for the first tone, while one beginning on a strong beat has a down-bow; but this principle has many exceptions. It is perhaps needless to state that correct phrasing in the case of the stringed instruments depends upon the employment of suitable bowing; and since the first violin part is most prominent and most important in orchestral music, it becomes the business of the conductor to observe most carefully the bowing of his concert-master and to confer with him about possible changes in bowing wherever necessary. It will save a great deal of confusion if players understand that the bowing is to be exactly as indicated in the score unless a change is definitely made. The first player in each group in point of position on the platform is called the "principal," and is supposed to be the most skilful performer in that section; and he is responsible, in conference with the conductor when necessary, for selecting the best bowing, et cetera, all others in the group watching him, and all phrasing as he does. In actual practice, this means that the players at the second desk bow like those at the first, those at the third desk follow those at the second, et cetera. Absolute uniformity is thus secured in each section. It should perhaps be remarked at this point that when different groups are playing the same phrase, e.g., violoncellos and basses, or second violins and violas, the bowing must be uniform in the two sections, if absolute uniformity of phrasing is to result.

In addition to the bowing signs explained on page 103, the conductor should also be familiar with certain other directions commonly found in music for stringed instruments. Some of the most important of these, together with their explanations, are therefore added.

Pizzicato (pizz.) (pluck the string instead of bowing)

Col arco (or arco) (play with the bow again)

Con sordino, or } Avec sourdine } (affix the mute to the bridge)

Senza sordino, or } Sans sourdine } (remove the mute)

Divisi (div.) (divide, i.e., let some of the players take one of the two tones indicated and the remainder of them the other one. This direction is of course used only in case two or more notes appear on the staff for simultaneous performance. It is customary to divide such passages by having the players seated on the side next the audience take the higher tone, while the others take the lower. If the section is to be divided into more than two parts, the conductor must designate who is to play the various tones.)


Reading an orchestral score is a matter for the professional rather than for the amateur; and yet the great increase during recent years in the number of amateur orchestras probably means that more and more of these groups will continue their practice until they are able to play a more difficult class of music—this involving the necessity on the part of their conductors of learning to read an orchestral score. For this reason a few suggestions upon score reading are added as a final paragraph in this chapter, and an example of a score is supplied at the end of the book—Appendix B (p. 166.)

The main difficulties involved in reading a full score are: first, training the eye to read from a number of staffs simultaneously and assembling the tones (in the mind or at the keyboard) into chords; and second, transposing into the actual key of the composition those parts which have been written in other keys and including these as a part of the harmonic structure. This latter difficulty may be at least partially overcome by practice in arranging material for orchestra as recommended on page 101; but for the first part of the task, extensive practice in reading voices on several staffs is necessary. The student who is ambitious to become an orchestral conductor is therefore advised, in the first place, not to neglect his Bach during the period when he is studying the piano, but to work assiduously at the two- and three-part inventions and at the fugues. He may then purchase miniature scores of some of the string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, training himself to read all four parts simultaneously, sometimes merely trying to hear mentally the successive harmonies as he looks at the score, but most often playing the parts on the piano. After mastering four voices in this way, he is ready to begin on one of the slow movements of a Haydn symphony.

In examining an orchestral score, it will be noted at once that the string parts are always together at the bottom of the page, while the wood-wind material is at the top. Since the strings furnish the most important parts of the harmonic structure for so much of the time, our amateur will at first play only the string parts, with the possible addition of the flute, oboe, and certain other non-transposed voices a little later on. But as he gains facility he will gradually be able to take in all the parts and to include at least a sort of summary of them all in his playing. The student is advised to purchase a number of the Haydn and Mozart symphonies either in the form of pocket editions or in the regular conductor's score, and to practise on these until he feels quite sure of himself. By this time he will be ready to try his hand at a modern score, which will be found not only to contain parts for more instruments, but many more divided parts for the strings. Meanwhile, he is, of course, taking every possible opportunity of attending concerts given by symphony orchestras, and is begging, borrowing, or buying the scores of as many of the compositions as possible, studying them in advance, and taking keen delight in following them at the performance; perhaps even imagining himself to be the conductor, and having visions of changes in interpretation that he would like to make if he were directing. As the result of several years of this sort of study, even an amateur may get to the point where he is able to conduct an orchestra from a full score with some degree of skill, and hence with some little satisfaction both to himself and to the performers.



[Sidenote: THE PROBLEM]

In taking up the special problems of conducting involved in directing a church choir, we shall first of all need to consider the dual nature of church music—its religio-artistic aspect, and in studying the matter from this standpoint we shall soon discover that most of the difficulties that have encompassed church music in the past can be traced directly or indirectly to a conflict or a lack of balance between these two factors. The churchman has not been sufficiently interested in the art side of church music, while the music director, organist, and singers have all too frequently been not only entirely out of sympathy with the religious work of the church, but have usually been wholly ignorant concerning the purpose and possibilities of music in the church service. The result in most churches at the present time is either that the music is vapid or even offensive from the art standpoint; or else that it emphasizes the purely artistic side so strongly that it entirely fails to perform its function as an integral part of a service whose raison d'etre is, of course, to inculcate religious feeling. "The church wishes for worship in music, but not for the worship of music," is said to have been the statement of Father Haberl at the Saint Cecilia Conference in Mainz (1884).[28] And it is indeed a far cry from this demand to the very evident deification of music that exists in many of our modern city churches, with their expensive soloists and their utter failure to cause music to minister as "the handmaid of religion." The problem is not a new one, and in a book written about a century ago the author says:[29]

The guiding rule which ought always to be present to the mind of a clergyman should also be held in mind by all good musicians who would help the church's object, and not employ the sacred building merely as a place where all kind of sounds that tickle the ear can be heard. All kinds of music are suitable for sacred use that do not raise secular associations. A Largo, an Adagio, a Grave, an Andante, an Allegro, a fugal or a non-fugal composition can all be performed in the Church but should one and all be of a staid and dignified character throughout, elevated and sober, and of such a nature that any preacher of note could say: "This splendid music is a fitting introduction to my discourse"; or "After such singing my lips had better be closed, and the spirit left to its own silent worship."

[Footnote 28: Quoted by Curwen on the title page of Studies in Worship Music (second series).]

[Footnote 29: Thibaut, Purity in Music, translated by Broadhouse, p. 24.]

A distinguished modern writer voices the same thought in the following words:[30]

The singing of the choir must be contrived and felt as part of the office of prayer. The spirit and direction of the whole service for the day must be unified; the music must be a vital and organic element in this unit.

[Footnote 30: Dickinson, Music in the History of the Western Church, p. 401.]

But in most churches music does not function in this ideal way and in many cases (especially in non-liturgical churches) there is no unity whatever in the service, and the music is evidently both performed and listened to from a purely art standpoint; or else it is so crude and inartistic as to be actually painful to the worshiper with refined sensibilities.

[Sidenote: THE REMEDY]

What is to be the remedy for this state of affairs? Or is there no remedy, and must we go on, either enduring tortures artistically, or suffering spiritually? We are not omniscient, but we venture to assert that conditions might be caused to improve by the adoption of several changes of procedure that are herewith recommended.

1. Educate the minister musically during his general and professional training, causing him not only to acquire a certain amount of technical musical ability, but attempting also to cultivate in him that intangible something which we call musical taste. A few seminaries—notably the Hartford Theological Seminary and the Boston University Department of Religious Education—are doing pioneer work along this line, but they are the exception rather than the rule, and the thing must be done by all if the desired result is to obtain in the future.

2. Encourage the organization of chorus choirs composed largely of those who belong to or attend the church and are therefore vitally interested in its work.

3. Select more churchly music, i.e., a type of music which when appropriately rendered will tend to bring about a mood of worship. This will often mean a simpler style of music; it may mean more a cappella singing; and it undoubtedly implies music that is fundamentally sincere. That many of our modern sacred solos and anthems fail in this latter respect must be evident to any one who has given the matter any thought whatever.

4. Let the church make an attempt to secure as its musical director one who possesses a type of seriousness and high-mindedness that will make him sympathetic with what the church is trying to do, thus enabling him to minister to the people through music even as the priest or preacher does through words of consolation or inspiration. We admit that this sort of a man (who is at the same time unimpeachable in his musical authority) is often hard to find; but that the two elements are incompatible, and that such a type of choir director cannot be trained, we absolutely refuse to believe. If the church sufficiently recognizes the failure of music as now frequently administered, and makes a strong enough demand for leaders of a different type, they are bound to be forthcoming.


Having trained our minister from a musical standpoint, organized a chorus choir, selected appropriate music, and secured the right type of choir leader, let us now make a strenuous attempt to correlate the musical with the non-musical parts of the service; and if we succeed in our effort at this point also, our task will be at least in sight of completion. This desirable correlation will only result if both minister and musician are willing to work together amicably, each recognizing the rights of the other, and both willing to give in upon occasion in order to make the service as a whole work out more smoothly. Many humorous stories are told, the point of which is based upon the absolute incongruity of the various parts of the church service. The writer remembers most vividly an incident that occurred during the first year of the Great War, in the church in which he was at that time the choirmaster. The choir had just finished singing an anthem written by an English composer as a prayer for peace,[31] the concluding strains being sung to the words "Give peace, O God, give peace again! Amen." As the choir sat down, after an effective rendition of the anthem, there was a hush in the congregation, showing that the message of the music had gone home to the hearers. But a moment later the spell was rudely broken, as the minister rose, and in a stentorian voice proclaimed the text of the day—"For I come not to bring peace into the world, but a sword."

[Footnote 31: John E. West, O God of Love, O King of Peace.]

The responsibility in this case rested as much upon the shoulders of the choir director as upon those of the preacher, for he should at least have taken the trouble to acquaint his coworker with the nature of the anthem, so that some reference might have been made to the subject in either the prayer or scripture reading or in some of the hymns, if not in the sermon itself. It is perhaps not always feasible to have sermon and anthem agree absolutely in subject, but it is entirely possible to avoid such occurrences as that cited above, if even a small amount of thought is given to the matter of correlation each week. Surely the choir leader could at least provide the minister with the titles of the anthems and solos to be rendered.


In advocating a return to the volunteer chorus choir instead of the salaried solo quartet, we are well aware of the disadvantages that are likely to accompany any attempt along this line. We know that the chorus choir composed of volunteers is often poorly balanced, usually contains for the most part indifferent voices and often unskilful readers, and frequently consists largely of giddy young girls, whose main object in singing in the choir is obviously not based upon their interest in the spiritual advancement of the community! But we believe that under the right type of leadership most of these bad conditions will in time disappear, and that, through the chorus choir, music may well become a vitalizing force in the life of many a church in which a revitalizing process is badly needed.

In order to make ourselves perfectly clear, let us summarize at this point the qualifications especially needed by the conductor of a volunteer church chorus.

1. He must be a reasonably good musician, possessing not only familiarity with music in general, but in particular an intimate knowledge of vocal music, and knowing at least the fundamentals of voice training.

2. He must understand the purpose of church music, and must be in sympathy with the religious work of the church.

3. He must be young in spirit, and thus be able to take a sympathetic attitude toward the members of his choir as human beings, and particularly as human beings who are still young, inexperienced, and frequently thoughtless. This implies, of course, a certain amount of personal magnetism and this is as necessary in the volunteer choir for holding the membership together and securing regular attendance as it is for inspiring them musically.


One of the chief difficulties encountered in more or less all choral organizations, and especially in the volunteer church choir, is the tendency on the part of many members to do all they possibly can in the way of dress, actions, loud singing, and lack of voice blending, to call attention to themselves as individuals. This not only results in frequent offense to the eye of the worshiper because of clashing color combinations (the remedy for which is, of course, some uniform method of dressing or perhaps a vestment), but what is even more serious, it often causes a lack of voice blending that seriously interferes with both the religious and the artistic effect of the music. For this latter state of affairs there is no remedy except to learn to listen to individual voices, and when some voice does not blend with the rest, to let the person who owns it know that he must either sing very softly or else stop entirely. This can often be accomplished by a look in the direction of the singer who is causing the trouble; but if this does not suffice, then a private admonition may be necessary—and here we have a situation in which the diplomacy and the good humor of the conductor must be exercised to the utmost, especially if the offending voice belongs to a prominent member of, and perhaps a liberal contributor to, the church. In such a case, one may sometimes, without unduly compromising one's reputation for veracity, inform the offending member that his method of singing is very bad indeed for his voice, and if persisted in will surely ruin that organ!

Needless to say, the conductor must exercise the utmost tactfulness in dealing with such matters as these, but it is our belief that if he insists strongly enough in the rehearsal upon a unified body of tone from each part, and backs this up by private conversations with individual members, with perhaps a free lesson or two in correct voice placement, or even the elimination of one or two utterly hopeless voices, a fine quality of voice blending will eventually result. It might be remarked at this point that such desirable homogeneity of tone will only eventuate if each individual member of the choir becomes willing to submerge his own voice in the total effect of his part; and that learning to give way in this fashion for the sake of the larger good of the entire group is one of the most valuable social lessons to be learned by the young men and women of today. It is the business of the choir leader to drive home this lesson whenever necessary. It is also his task to see to it that no member of his choir by his actions causes any interference with the worship of the congregation. In plain speech, it is his duty to see to it that choir members conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to their position, and that they do not by whispering, laughing, note writing, and other similar frivolities, hinder in any way the development of a spirit of reverent devotion on the part of the congregation.


Another type of undesirable individualism is to be found in the case of the church solo singer. We have no quarrel with the sacred solo when sung in such a way as to move the hearts of the congregation to a more sincere attitude of devotion; and we are entirely willing to grant that the sacred solo has the inherent possibility of becoming as pregnant with religious fervor as the sermon itself, and may indeed, because of its esthetic and emotional appeal, convey a message of comfort or of inspiration to many a heart that might remain untouched by the appeal of a merely intellectual sermon. But it has been our observation that the usual church solo very seldom functions in this way; that the singer usually considers it only as an opportunity to show how well he can perform; that he seldom thinks very much about the words; that the selections are usually not chosen because they are appropriate to the remainder of the service but because they are "effective" or perhaps because they are well adapted to the voice or the style of the singer; and that our congregations have grown so accustomed to this sort of thing that the performance of a sacred solo is now usually listened to, commented upon, and criticized in exactly the same way in the church service as would be the case at a concert performance.

Instead of thinking, "I am delivering a message," the singer is only too palpably saying to us, "I am singing a solo, don't you think I am doing it well?"

The remedy for this condition of affairs is the same as that which we have been recommending for church music in general, and before church solo singing can be commended in very glowing terms as a method of assisting the congregation to become more thoughtful, more fervent in their devotional attitude, we must have:

1. More appropriate selections.

2. A more sincerely reverent and a more thoroughly non-egoistic attitude on the part of the soloists.

Because these things are so difficult of attainment under present conditions our feeling is that, all in all, chorus music is probably considerably more effective as a vehicle for making a religio-esthetic appeal, than solo singing.


The public schools are doing very much more in the way of teaching music than formerly, and in many places consistent work is being carried on as the result of which the children now in school are learning to read music notation somewhat fluently, to use their voices correctly, and are cultivating as well a certain amount of taste in music. Because of this musical activity in the public schools, our task of organizing and directing volunteer church choirs should be very much simplified in the near future. Community singing will help at this point also, and the very much larger number of boys and girls who are receiving training as the result of the development of high school music, ought to make it considerably easier to secure the right type of choir director in the future than has been the case in the past. As a result of the present widespread interest in music and music study, it should be possible also to get very much better congregational singing, and withal to interest the congregation (and the preacher!) in a better type of music. All in all, the outlook is extremely promising and we venture to predict a great improvement in all that pertains to church music during the next quarter century.


Let us close this discussion by urging the choir director to remember that the most important music, at least in the Protestant church, is the congregational singing; and to consider the fact that if music is to help people worship without becoming a substitute for worship, it will be necessary for him not only to inspire his choir with high ideals of church music, but also to devise means of inducing the congregation to take part in the singing to a much greater extent than is now the case in most churches. It is usually true that the finer the choir, and the more elaborate the accompaniment, the less hearty is the congregational singing. If there is to be steady growth in the efficiency of chorus choirs, therefore, it will not be surprising if congregational singing sometimes falls off in volume and enthusiasm. The reasons for such a decline are: First, because the people take no responsibility for the singing, knowing that it will go well whether they join in or not; second, because the choir often sings so well that the people would rather listen than take part; third, because the director frequently stands with his back to the congregation and apparently does not expect much singing from them; and fourth, because the choir leader often insists upon a highly musical interpretation of the hymns, this involving the carrying over of phrases, et cetera. These latter things may well be done after a long period of training, but in the early stages the way to arouse interest in congregational singing is not to insist too strongly upon the purely artistic aspects, but to remember that most of the congregation are musically untrained and not only do not see the point to all these refinements, but will frequently become discouraged and stop singing entirely if too many of them are insisted upon. It will be well also to apply to this type of group singing the principles already discussed in connection with community "sings," having the congregation sing alone part of the time, having a stanza sung as a solo occasionally, making use of antiphonal effects, and in other ways introducing variety and placing more responsibility upon the congregation; and, most important of all, calling attention more frequently to the words of the hymns, either the preacher or the choir leader sometimes giving the stories of their origin, and in other ways attempting to interest the congregation in the meaning of the hymn as a poem. Perhaps a more careful selection of the hymns would help also, especially if a consistent attempt were to be made to give the congregation an opportunity of practising the more musical tunes, so that they would come to feel familiar with them and at ease in singing them. If the choir director will take the trouble to go through the hymn book and select forty or fifty really fine hymns and tunes that are not being used, suggesting to the minister that these be sung sometimes in connection with the more familiar ones, he will very often find the minister more than willing to meet him half way in the matter. In these various ways the choir leader and the minister may by consistent cooperation inspire the congregation to the point where the vocal response is as hearty and as heartfelt as it used to be in the olden days.



[Sidenote: THE PROBLEMS]

The two special problems connected with directing a boy choir are:

1. Becoming intimately acquainted with the compass, registers, possibilities, and limitations of the boy's voice.

2. Finding out how to manage the boys themselves so as to keep them good-natured, well-behaved, interested, and hard at work.

To these two might be added a third—namely, the problem of becoming familiar with the liturgy of the particular church in which the choir sings, since male choirs are to be found most often in liturgical churches. But since this will vary widely in the case of different sects, we shall not concern ourselves with it, but will be content with giving a brief discussion of each of the other points.


The child voice is not merely a miniature adult voice, but is an instrument of quite different character. In the first place, it is not nearly so individualistic in timbre as the adult voice, and because of the far greater homogeneity of voice quality that obtains in children's singing, it is much easier to secure blending of tone, the effect being that of one voice rather than of a number of voices in combination. This is a disadvantage from the standpoint of variety of color in producing certain emotional effects, but it is in some ways an advantage in the church service, especially in churches where the ideal is to make the entire procedure as impersonal and formal as possible. In the second place, the child voice is good only in the upper register—the chest tones being throaty, unpleasant, and frequently off pitch. In the third place, the child voice is immature, and his vocal organs are much more likely to be injured by overstraining. When directed by a competent voice trainer, however, the effect of a large group of children singing together is most striking, and their pure, fresh, flutelike tones, combined with the appearance of purity and innocence which they present to the eye, bring many a thrill to the heart and not infrequently a tear to the eye of the worshiper.


In many European churches, and in a considerable number in the United States, it is customary to have boys with unchanged voices sing the soprano part, men with trained falsetto voices (called male altos) taking the alto,[32] while the tenor and bass parts are, of course, sung by men as always. Since the child voice is only useful when the tones are produced with relaxed muscles, and since the resonance cavities have not developed sufficiently to give the voice a great deal of power, it is possible for a few men on each of the lower parts to sing with from twenty to thirty boys on the soprano part. Six basses, four tenors, and four altos will easily balance twenty-five boy sopranos, if all voices are of average power.

[Footnote 32: In many male choirs the alto part is sung by boys; but this does not result in a fine blending of parts, because of the fact, as already noted in the above paragraph, that the boy's voice is good only in its upper register. It may be of interest to the reader to know that in places where there are no adult male altos, these voices may be trained with comparative ease. All that is needed is a baritone or bass who has no particular ambitions in the direction of solo singing (the extensive use of the falsetto voice is detrimental to the lower tones); who is a good reader; and who is willing to vocalize in his falsetto voice a half hour a day for a few months. The chief obstacle that is likely to be encountered in training male altos is the fact that the men are apt to regard falsetto singing as effeminate.]


There is one difference between the mixed choir of adult voices and the boy choir that should be noted at the outset by the amateur. It is that, in the former, the choir leader is working with mature men and women, most of whom have probably learned to use their voices as well as they ever will; but in directing a boy choir, the sopranos must be taught not only the actual music to be sung at the church service, but, what is much more difficult, they must be trained in the essentials of correct breathing, tone placement, et cetera, from the ground up. Hence the absolute necessity of the choirmaster being a voice specialist. He need not have a fine solo voice, but he must know the essentials of good singing, and must be able to demonstrate with his own voice what he means by purity of vowel, clearness of enunciation, et cetera. These things are probably always best taught by imitation, even in the case of adults; but when dealing with a crowd of lively American boys, imitation is practically the only method that can be used successfully. We shall not attempt to give information regarding this highly important matter in the present volume, because it is far too complex and difficult to be taken up in anything short of a treatise and because, moreover, the art of singing cannot be taught in a book. The student who is ambitious to become the director of a boy choir is advised, first, to study singing for a period of years, and second, to read several good books upon the training of children's voices. There are a number of books of this character, some of the best ones being included in the reference list in Appendix A (p. 164).


The child's larynx grows steadily up to the age of about six, but at this time growth ceases, and until puberty the vocal cords, larynx, and throat muscles develop in strength and flexibility, without increasing appreciably in size. This means that from six until the beginning of adolescence the voice maintains approximately the same range, and that this is the time to train it as a child voice.

The question now arises, why not use the girl's voice in choirs as well as the boy's?—and the answer is threefold. In the first place, certain churches have always clung to the idea of the male choir, women being refused any participation in what originally was strictly a priestly office; in the second place, the girl arrives at the age of puberty somewhat earlier than the boy, and since her voice begins to change proportionately sooner, it is not serviceable for so long a period, and is therefore scarcely worth training as a child voice because of the short time during which it can be used in this capacity; and in the third place, the boy's voice is noticeably more brilliant between the ages of seven or eight and thirteen or fourteen, and is therefore actually more useful from the standpoint of both power and timbre. If it were not for such considerations as these, the choir of girls would doubtless be more common than the choir of boys, for girls are much more likely to be tractable at this age, and are in many ways far easier to deal with than boys.

At the age of six, the voices of boys and girls are essentially alike in timbre; but as the boy indulges in more vigorous play and work, and his muscles grow firmer and his whole body sturdier, the voice-producing mechanism too takes on these characteristics, and a group of thirty boys ten or twelve years old will actually produce tones that are considerably more brilliant than those made by a group of thirty girls of similar age.


To the novice in the handling children's voices, the statement that the typical voice of boys and girls about ten years of age easily reaches a'' and frequently b'' or c''' [music notation] will at first seem unbelievable. This is nevertheless the case, and the first thing to be learned by the trainer of a boy choir is therefore to keep the boys singing high, beginning with the higher tones [music notation] and vocalizing downward, instead of vice versa. The main reason for the necessity of this downward vocalization is what is known as the movable break. In an adult voice, the change from a low register to a higher one always takes place at approximately the same place in the scale; but the child's voice is immature, his vocal organs have not formed definitely established habits, and the chest register is often pushed upward to c'', d'', or even e'' [music notation]. This is practically always done in singing an ascending scale loudly, and the result is not only distressing to the listener, but ruinous to the voice. In former days this type of singing was common in our public schools, the result being that most boys honestly thought it impossible to sing higher than c'' or d'' [music notation] this being the limit beyond which it was difficult to push the chest voice. The head voice was thus not used at all, and the singing of public school children in the past has in most cases been anything but satisfactory from the standpoint of tonal beauty. But most supervisors of music have now become somewhat familiar with the child voice, and are insisting upon high-pitched songs, soft singing, and downward vocalization, these being the three indispensable factors in the proper training of children's voices. The result is that in many places school children are at the present time singing very well indeed, and the present growing tendency to encourage public performance by large groups of them makes available a new color to the composer of choral and orchestral music, and promises many a thrill to the concert-goer of the future.

It is the head register, or thin voice, that produces the pure, flutelike tones which are the essential charm of a boy choir, and if chest tones are to be employed at all, they must be made as nearly as possible as are the head tones, thus causing the voice to produce an approximately uniform timbre in the entire scale. This may be accomplished with a fair degree of ease by a strict adherence to the three principles of procedure mentioned in the above paragraph. In fact these three things are almost the beginning, middle, and end of child-voice training, and since they thus form the sine qua non of effective boy-choir singing, we shall emphasize them through reiteration.

1. The singing must be soft until the child has learned to produce tone correctly as a habit.

2. Downward vocalization should be employed in the early stages, so as to insure the use of the head voice.

3. The music should be high in range, in order that the child may be given as favorable an opportunity as possible of producing his best tones.

When these principles are introduced in either a boy choir or a public school system, the effect will at first be disappointing, for the tone produced by the boy's head voice is so small and seems so insignificant as compared with the chest voice which he has probably been using, that he is apt to resent the instruction, and perhaps to feel that, you are trying to make a baby, or worse yet, a girl, out of him! But he must be encouraged to persist, and after a few weeks or months of practice, the improvement in his singing will be so patent that there will probably be no further trouble.


Boys are admitted to male choirs at from seven or eight to ten or twelve years of age, but are often required to undergo a course of training lasting a year or more before being permitted to sing with the choir in public. For this reason, if for no other, the director of a boy choir must be a thoroughly qualified voice trainer. He, of course, takes no voice that is not reasonably good to start with, but after admitting a boy with a naturally good vocal organ it is his task so to train that voice as to enable it to withstand several hours of singing each day without injury and to produce tones of maximal beauty as a matter of habit. But if the choir leader is not a thoroughly qualified vocal instructor, or if he has erroneous ideals of what boy-voice tone should be, the result is frequently that the voice is overstrained and perhaps ruined; or else the singing is of an insipid, lifeless, "hooty" character, making one feel that an adult mixed choir is infinitely preferable to a boy choir.[33]

[Footnote 33: Even when an ideal type of tone is secured, there is considerable difference of opinion as to whether the boy soprano is, all in all, as effective as the adult female voice. Many consider that the child is incapable of expressing a sufficient variety of emotions because of his lack of experience with life, and that the boy-soprano voice is therefore unsuited to the task assigned it, especially when the modern conception of religion is taken into consideration. But to settle this controversy is no part of our task, hence we shall not even express an opinion upon the matter.]

Adolescence begins at the age of thirteen or fourteen in boys, and with the growth of the rest of the body at this time, the vocal organs also resume their increase in size, the result being not only longer vocal cords and a correspondingly lower range of voice, but an absolute breaking down of the habits of singing that have been established, and frequently a temporary but almost total loss of control of the vocal organs. These changes sometimes take place as early as the thirteenth year, but on the other hand are frequently not noticeable until the boy is fifteen or sixteen, and there are on record instances of boys singing soprano in choirs until seventeen or even eighteen. The loss of control that accompanies the change of voice (with which we are all familiar because of having heard the queer alternations of squeaking and grumbling in which the adolescent boy so frequently indulges), is due to the fact that the larynx, vocal cords, et cetera, increase in size more rapidly than the muscles develop strength to manipulate them, and this rapid increase in the size of the parts (in boys a practical doubling in the length of the vocal cords) makes it incumbent upon the choir trainer to use extreme caution in handling the voices at this time, just as the employer of adolescent boys must use great care in setting them at any sort of a task involving heavy lifting or other kinds of strain. In the public schools, where no child is asked to sing more than ten or twelve minutes a day, no harm is likely to result; but in a choir which rehearses from one to two hours each day and frequently sings at a public service besides, it seems to be the consensus of opinion that the boy is taking a grave risk in continuing to sing while his voice is changing.[34] He is usually able to sing the high tones for a considerable period after the low ones begin to develop; but to continue singing the high tones is always attended with considerable danger, and many a voice has undoubtedly been ruined for after use by singing at this time. The reason for encouraging the boy to keep on singing is, of course, that the choirmaster, having trained a voice for a number of years, dislikes losing it when it is at the very acme of brilliancy. For this feeling he can hardly be blamed, for the most important condition of successful work by a male choir is probably permanency of membership; and the leader must exercise every wile to keep the boys in, once they have become useful members of the organization. But in justice to the boy's future, he ought probably in most cases to be dismissed from the choir when his voice begins to change.

[Footnote 34: Browne and Behnke, in The Child's Voice, p. 75, state in reply to a questionnaire sent out to a large number of choir trainers, singers, et cetera, that seventy-nine persons out of one hundred fifty-two stated positively that singing through the period of puberty "causes certain injury, deterioration, or ruin to the after voice." In the same book are found also (pp. 85 to 90) a series of extremely interesting comments on the choirmaster's temptation to use a voice after it begins to change.]

Let us now summarize the advice given up to this point before going on to the consideration of our second problem:

1. Have the boys sing in high range most of the time. The actual compass of the average choir boy's voice is probably g—c''' but his best tones will be between e' and g'' [music notation]. An occasional a'' or b'' or a d' or c' will do no harm, but the voice must not remain outside of the range e'—g'' for long at a time.

2. Insist upon soft singing until correct habits are established. There is a vast difference of opinion as to what soft singing means, and we have no means of making the point clear except to say that at the outset of his career the boy can scarcely sing too softly. Later on, after correct habits are formed, the singing may, of course, be louder, but it should at no time be so loud as to sound strained.

3. Train the voice downward for some time before attempting upward vocalization.

4. Dismiss the boy from the choir when his voice begins to change, even if you need him and if he needs the money which he receives for singing.


The second special problem mentioned at the beginning of this chapter is the management of the boys owning the voices which we have just been discussing; and this part of the choirmaster's task is considerably more complex, less amenable to codification, and requires infinitely more art for its successful prosecution. One may predict with reasonable certainty what a typical boy-voice will do as the result of certain treatment; but the wisest person can not foresee what the result will be when the boy himself is subjected to any specified kind of handling. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a typical boy, and even if there were, our knowledge of boy nature in general has been, at least up to comparatively recent times, so slight that it has been impossible to give directions as to his management.


In general, that choir director will succeed best in keeping his boys in the choir and in getting them to do good work, who, other things being equal, keeps on the best terms with them personally. Our advice is, therefore, that the prospective director of a choir of boys find out just as much as possible about the likes and dislikes, the predilections and the prejudices of pre-adolescent boys, and especially that he investigate ways and means of getting on good terms with them. He will find that most boys are intensely active at this stage, for their bodies are not growing very much, and there is therefore a large amount of superfluous energy. This activity on their part is perfectly natural and indeed wholly commendable; and yet it will be very likely to get the boy into trouble unless some one is at hand to guide his energy into useful channels. This does not necessarily mean making him do things that he does not like to do; on the contrary, it frequently involves helping him to do better, something that he already has a taste for doing. Space does not permit details; but if the reader will investigate the Boy Scout movement, the supervised playground idea, and the development of school athletics, as well as the introduction of manual training of various sorts, trips to museums of natural history, zooelogical and botanical gardens, et cetera, school "hikes" and other excursions, and similar activities that now constitute a part of the regular school work in many of our modern educational institutions, he will find innumerable applications of the idea that we are presenting; and he will perhaps be surprised to discover that the boy of today likes to go to school; that he applies at home many of the things that he learns there, and that he frequently regards some teacher as his best friend instead of as an arch enemy, as formerly. These desirable changes have not taken place in all schools by any means, but the results of their introduction have been so significant that a constantly increasing number of schools are adopting them; and public school education is to mean infinitely more in the future than it has in the past because we are seeing the necessity of looking at things through the eyes of the pupil, and especially from the standpoint of his life outside of and after leaving the school. Let the choir trainer learn a lesson from the public school teacher, and let him not consider the boy to be vicious just because he is lively, and let him not try to repress the activity but rather let him train it into useful channels. Above all, let him not fail to take into consideration the boy's viewpoint, always treating his singers in such a way that they will feel that he is "playing fair." It has been found that if boys are given a large share in their own government, they are not only far easier to manage at the time, but grow enormously in maturity of social ideals, and are apt to become much more useful citizens because of such growth. Placing responsibility upon the boys involves trusting them, of course, but it has been found that when the matter has been presented fairly and supervised skilfully, they have always risen to the responsibility placed upon their shoulders. We therefore recommend that self-government be inaugurated in the boy choir, that the boys be allowed to elect officers out of their own ranks, and that the rules and regulations be worked out largely by the members themselves with a minimum of assistance from the choirmaster.

Let us not make the serious mistake of supposing that in order to get on the good side of boys we must make their work easy. Football is not easy, but it is extremely popular! It is the motive rather than the intrinsic difficulty of the task that makes the difference. The thing needed by the choir director is a combination of firmness (but not crossness) with the play spirit. Let him give definite directions, and let these directions be given with such decision that there will never be any doubt as to whether they are to be obeyed; but let him always treat the boys courteously and pleasantly, and let him always convey the idea that he is not only fair in his attitude toward them, but that he is attempting to be friendly as well.

Work the boys hard for a half hour or so, therefore, and then stop for five minutes and join them in a game of leapfrog, if that is the order of the day. If they invite you to go with them on a hike or picnic, refuse at your peril; and if you happen to be out on the ball ground when one side is short a player, do not be afraid of losing your dignity, but jump at the chance of taking a hand in the game. Some one has said that "familiarity breeds contempt, only if one of the persons be contemptible," and this dictum might well be applied to the management of the boy choir. On the other hand, it is absolutely necessary to maintain discipline in the choir rehearsal, and it is also necessary to arouse in the boys a mental altitude that will cause them to do efficient work and to conduct themselves in a quiet and reverent manner during the church service; hence the necessity for rules and regulations and for punishments of various kinds. But the two things that we have been outlining are entirely compatible, and the choir director who plays with the boys and is hailed by them as a good fellow will on the whole have far less trouble than he who holds himself aloof and tries to reign as a despot over his little kingdom.


In conclusion, a word should perhaps be added about various plans of remunerating the boys for their singing. In some large churches and cathedrals a choir-school is maintained and the boys receive food, clothing, shelter, and education in return for their services; but this entails a very heavy expense, and in most smaller churches the boys are paid a certain amount for each rehearsal and service, or possibly a lump sum per week. The amount received by each boy depends upon his voice, his experience, his attitude toward the work, et cetera, in other words, upon his usefulness as a member of the choir. Attempts have often been made to organize a boy choir on the volunteer basis, but this plan has not usually proved to be successful, and is not advocated.

When the boys live in their own homes and there are Sunday services only, the usual plan is to have them meet for about two rehearsals each week by themselves, with a third rehearsal for the full choir. Often the men have a separate practice also, especially if they are not good readers.

If the organization is to be permanent, it will be necessary to be constantly on the lookout for new voices, these being trained partly by themselves and partly by singing with the others at the rehearsals through the period of weeks or months before they are permitted to take part in the public services. In this way the changing voices that drop out are constantly being replaced by newly trained younger boys, and the number in the chorus is kept fairly constant.




Correct voice placement, the full use of the resonance cavities, good habits of breathing, and other details connected with what is commonly termed voice culture, cannot be taught by correspondence; neither can the conductor be made an efficient voice trainer by reading books. But so many choral conductors are failing to secure adequate results from their choruses because of their ignorance of even the fundamentals of singing, that it has been thought best to include a brief presentation of a few of the most important matters with which the conductor ought to be acquainted. In discussing these things it will only be possible for us to present to the student of conducting the problems involved, leaving their actual working out to each individual. The chief difficulty in connection with the whole matter arises from the fact that the conductor needs in his work certain qualities of musicianship that are more apt to result from instrumental than from vocal training, the education of the instrumentalist usually emphasizing harmony, ear-training, form, and in general, the intellectual aspect of music; while that of the vocalist too often entirely leaves out this invaluable type of training, dealing only with voice culture and in general the interpretative side of music study. The vocalist who attempts to conduct is therefore frequently criticized for his lack of what is called "solid musical training"; but the instrumentalist-conductor as often fails to get adequate results in working with singers because of his utter ignorance of vocal procedure; and this latter type of failure is probably as productive of poor choral singing as the former. This chapter is, of course, written especially for the instrumentalist, and our advice to him is not merely to read books about singing, but to study singing itself, whether he is interested in cultivating his own voice for solo purposes or not. It might be remarked in this connection that aside from the considerations that we have been naming, the conductor who can sing a phrase to his orchestra or chorus and thus show by imitation exactly what shading, et cetera, he wishes, has an enormous advantage over him who can only convey his ideas by means of words.


Probably the first thing about singing to be learned by the student of conducting is that good voice production depends upon using the full capacity of the lungs instead of merely the upper portion. Hence the necessity of holding the body easily erect as a matter of habit, with chest up, and with the diaphragm alternately pushing the viscera away in order to enable the lungs to expand downward, and then allowing the parts to come back into place again, as the air is in turn expelled from the lungs. By practising deep breathing in this way the actual capacity of the lungs may be considerably increased, and breathing exercises have therefore always formed part of the routine imposed upon the vocal student. A deep breath involves, then, a pushing down of the diaphragm and a pushing out of the lower ribs, and not merely an expansion of the upper part of the chest. The singer must form the habit of breathing in this way at all times. To test breathing, the singer may place the hands about the waist on the sides of the thorax (fingers toward the front, thumbs toward the back) and see whether there is good side expansion of the ribs in inhaling, and whether in taking breath the abdomen swells out, receding as the air is expelled. We have always felt that a few minutes spent at each chorus rehearsal in deep breathing and in vocalizing would more than justify the time taken from practising music; but such exercises should not be undertaken unless the conductor understands singing and knows exactly what their purpose is.

It is important that the conductor should understand the difference between the use of the singer's full breath which we have been describing, and his half breath. The full breath is taken at punctuation marks of greater value, at long rests, before long sustained tones, and, in solo singing, before long trills or cadenzas. The half breath is usually taken at the lesser punctuation marks and at short rests, when it is necessary to replenish the supply of air in as short a time as possible, in order not to interrupt the legato any more than is absolutely necessary.


The next point to be noted is that, having provided as large a supply of air as possible every particle of it must now be made use of in producing tone; in the first place, in order that no breath may be wasted, and in the second place, in order that the purity of the tone may not be marred by non-vocalized escaping breath. This implies absolute breath control, and the skilful singer is able to render incredibly long phrases in one breath, not so much because his lungs have more capacity, but because every atom of breath actually functions in producing vocal tone. And because of the fact that no breath escapes without setting the cords in vibration, the tone is clear, and not "breathy." The secret of expressive singing in sustained melody is absolutely steady tone combined with a perfect legato, and neither of these desirable things can be achieved without perfect breath control, this matter applying to choral singing as forcefully as it does to solo work.

[Sidenote: RESONANCE]

The next point to be noted is that the carrying power and quality of a voice depend far more upon the use made of the resonance cavities than upon the violence with which the vocal cords vibrate. Every musical instrument involves, in its production of tone, a combination of three elements:

1. The vibrating body.

2. The force which sets the body in vibration.

3. The reinforcing medium (the sound board of a piano, the body of a violin, et cetera.)

In the case of the human voice, the vocal cords (or, as they might more properly be termed, the vocal bands) constitute the vibrating body; the air expelled from the lungs is the force which sets the cords in vibration; and the cavities of the mouth, nose, and to a lesser extent, of the remainder of the head and even of the chest, are the reinforcing medium—the resonator. A small voice cannot of course be made into a large one; but by improving its placement, and particularly by reinforcing it with as much resonance power as possible, it may be caused to fill even a large auditorium. This involves such details as keeping the tongue down, allowing part of the air to pass through the nose, focusing the tone against the roof of the mouth just back of the teeth, opening the mouth exactly the right distance, forming the lips in just the right way, et cetera. The result is that instead of sounding as though it came from the throat, the tone apparently comes from the upper part of the mouth just back of the teeth; and instead of seeming to be forced out, it appears to flow or float out without the slightest effort on the part of the singer. A forced or squeezed-out tone is always bad—bad for the voice and bad for the ear of the listener!


Another point to be noted by the conductor is that one sings upon vowels and not upon consonants; that most of the consonants are in fact merely devices for interrupting the vowel sounds in various ways; and that good tone depends largely upon the ability of the singer to select the best of several different sounds of the vowel and to hold this sound without any change in quality during the entire time that the tone is prolonged. It is comparatively easy to make a good tone with some vowels, but extremely difficult with others, and it is the singer's task so to modify the vowel that is unfavorable as to make it easier to produce good tone in using it. But while thus modifying the actual vowel sound, the integrity of the vowel must at least be sufficiently preserved to enable the listener to understand what vowel is being sung. All this is particularly difficult in singing loudly, and it is largely for this reason that the vocal student is required by his teacher to practise softly so much of the time. Some vowels have two parts (e.g., i = ae + ē), and here it is the singer's task to sustain the part upon which the better tone can be made, sounding the other part only long enough to produce a correct total effect.

[Sidenote: CONSONANTS]

As noted above, the consonants are in general merely devices for cutting off the flow of vowel sound in various ways, and one of the most difficult problems confronting the singer in his public performances is to articulate the consonants so skilfully that the words shall be easy to follow by the audience, and at the same time to keep the vowel sounds so pure and their flow so uninterrupted that the singing may be perfect in its tone quality and in its legato. It is because this matter presents great difficulty that the words of the singer with a good legato can so seldom be understood, while the declamatory vocalist who presents his words faultlessly is apt to sing with no legato at all. The problem is not insoluble, but its solution can only be accomplished through years of study under expert guidance. Vocal teachers in general will probably disagree with us; but it is our opinion that in choral performance at least, the tone rather than the words should be sacrificed if one or the other has to give way, and the choral conductor is therefore advised to study the use of the consonants most carefully, and to find out how to make use of every means of securing well enunciated words from his body of singers.

[Sidenote: RELAXATION]

The next point to be noted is the importance of what vocal teachers refer to as the "movable lower jaw," this, of course, implying absolute (but controlled) relaxation of all muscles used in singing. Without relaxation of this sort, the tone is very likely to be badly placed, the sound seeming to come from the throat, and the whole effect being that of tone squeezed out or forced out instead of tone flowing or floating out, as described in a previous paragraph. This difficulty is, of course, most obvious in singing the higher tones; and one remedy within the reach of the choral conductor is to test all voices carefully and not to allow anyone to sing a part that is obviously too high. But in addition to this general treatment of the matter, it will often be possible for the director to urge upon his chorus the necessity of relaxation in producing tone, thus reminding those who tighten up unconsciously that they are not singing properly, and conveying to those who are ignorant of the matter at least a hint regarding a better use of their voices.


A vocal register has been defined as "a series of tones produced by the same mechanism." This means that in beginning with the lowest tone of the voice and ascending the scale, one comes to a point where before going on to the next scale-tone, a readjustment of the vocal organs is necessary, this change in the action of the larynx and vocal cords being felt by the singer and heard by the listener. The point at which the readjustment takes place, i.e., the place where the voice goes from one register into another, is called the break; and one of the things the voice trainer tries to do for each pupil is to teach him to pass so skilfully from one register to another that these breaks will not be noticeable to the hearer—the voice eventually sounding an even scale from its lowest to its highest tone. There is considerable difference of opinion as to the number of registers existing in any one voice, but perhaps the majority of writers incline to the view that there are three; the chest or lower, the thin or middle, and the small or head. It should be noted, however, that the readjustment in the action of the vocal cords referred to above probably takes place only when passing from the lowest register to the next higher one, and that such changes in action as occur at other points are more or less indefinite and possibly even somewhat imaginary. Authorities differ as to just what the change in mechanism is in passing from the chest register to the middle one; but the most plausible explanation seems to be that in the lowest register, the change in pitch from a lower tone to the next higher one is accomplished at least partly by stretching the vocal bands more tightly, and that when the limit of this stretching process has been reached, the cords relax slightly, and from this point on each higher tone is made by shortening the vibrating portion of the cords; in other words, by decreasing the length of the glottis (the aperture between the vocal cords). This point may become clearer if we compare the process with tuning a violin string. The string may be a third or a fourth below its normal pitch when the violinist begins to tune his instrument, but by turning the peg and thus stretching the string tighter and tighter, the tone is raised by small degrees until the string gives forth the pitch that it is supposed to sound. But this same string may now be made to play higher and higher pitches by pressing it against the fingerboard, thus shortening the vibrating portion more and more. The tuning process may be said to compare roughly with the mechanism of the chest register of the human voice; while the shortening of the string by pressing it against the fingerboard is somewhat analogous to what takes place in the higher registers of the voice.

We have now enumerated what seem to us to be the most essential matters connected with vocal procedure; and if to such information as is contained in the foregoing paragraphs the conductor adds the knowledge that the messa di voce (a beautiful vocal effect produced by swelling a tone from soft to loud and then back again) is to be produced by increase and decrease of breath pressure and not by a greater or lesser amount of straining of the throat muscles; that portamento (gliding by infinitely small degrees in pitch from one tone to another), although a valuable and entirely legitimate expressional effect when used occasionally in a passage where its employment is appropriate, may be over-used to such an extent as to result in a slovenly, vulgar, and altogether objectionable style of singing; and that whereas the vibrato may imbue with virility and warmth an otherwise cold, dead tone and if skilfully and judiciously used may add greatly to the color and vitality of the singing, the tremolo is on the other hand a destroyer of pitch accuracy, a despoiler of vocal idealism, and an abhorrence to the listener; if our conductor knows these and other similar facts about singing, then he will not run quite so great a risk of making himself ridiculous in the eyes of the singers whom he is conducting as has sometimes been the case when instrumentalists have assumed control of vocal forces. But let us emphasize again the fact that these things cannot be learned from a book, but must be acquired through self-activity, i.e., by actual experience in singing; hence the importance of vocal study on the part of the prospective choral conductor.

In conclusion, let us enumerate the main points involved in what is called good singing—these points applying to choral music as directly as to solo performance.

1. The intonation must be perfect; i.e., the tones produced must be neither sharp nor flat, but exactly true to pitch.

2. The tone must be attacked and released exactly at the right pitch; i.e., the voice must not begin on some indefinite lower tone and slide up, or on a higher tone and slide down, but must begin on precisely the right pitch.

3. The tone must be absolutely steady, and there must be no wavering, no tremolo, no uncertainty. This means absolute breath control.

4. The tones must follow one another without break, unless the character of the music demands detached effects; in other words, there must be a perfect legato. The tones must also follow each other cleanly, unless the character of the music makes the use of portamento desirable.

5. The singer must feel the mood of each song, and must sing as he feels, if he is to perform with real expression. This is a much more vital matter in song interpretation than the mere mechanical observation of tempo and dynamic indications.

6. The text must be enunciated with sufficient clarity to enable the audience to catch at least the most important ideas presented. This involves not only the complete pronunciation of each syllable instead of the slovenly half-pronunciation so commonly heard; but implies as well that the sounds be formed well forward in the mouth instead of back in the throat.

If the singing of a soloist or a chorus can meet the test of these requirements, the singing may be called good.




In constructing a concert program for either a solo or an ensemble performance, and in the case of both vocal and instrumental music, at least five important points must be taken into consideration:

1. Variety. 2. Unity. 3. Effective arrangement. 4. Appropriate length. 5. Adaptability to audience.

[Sidenote: VARIETY]

We have given variety first place advisedly; for it is by changing the style and particularly through varying the emotional quality of the selections that the conductor or performer will find it most easy to hold the attention and interest of the audience. In these days the matter of keeping an audience interested presents far greater difficulty than formerly, for our audiences are now much more accustomed to hearing good music than they used to be, and a performance that is moderately good and that would probably have held the attention from beginning to end in the olden days will now often be received with yawning, coughing, whispering, early leaving, and a spirit of uneasiness permeating the entire audience, especially during the latter part of the program. The change of etiquette brought about by the phenomenal popularization of the moving picture theater has doubtless had something to do with this change in the attitude of our audiences; the spread of musical knowledge and the far greater intelligence concerning musical performance manifested by the average audience of today as compared with that of fifty years ago is also partly responsible; but the brunt of the charge must be borne by our habitual attitude of nervous hurry, our impatience with slow processes of any kind, and the demand for constant change of sensation that is coming to characterize Americans of all ages and classes. It is doubtless unfortunate that conditions are as they are; but since the attitude of our audiences has admittedly undergone a decided change, it behooves the program maker to face conditions as they actually exist, rather than to pretend that they are as he should like them to be. Since our audiences are harder to hold now than formerly, and since our first-class performers (except possibly in the case of orchestral music) are probably not greatly above the level of the first-class performers of a generation ago (although larger in number), it will be necessary to keep the listener interested by employing methods of program making, which, although they have always been not only entirely legitimate but highly desirable, are now absolutely necessary. As stated above, the obvious way to help our audience to listen to an entire concert is to provide variety of material—a heavy number followed by a light one; a slow, flowing adagio by a bright snappy scherzo; a tragic and emotionally taxing song like the Erl-King by a sunny and optimistic lyric; a song or a group of songs in major possibly relieved by one in minor; a coloratura aria by a song in cantabile style; a group of songs in French by a group in English; a composition in severe classic style by one of romantic tendency, et cetera. These contrasting elements are not, of course, to be introduced exactly as they are here listed, and this series of possible contrasts is cited rather to give the amateur maker of programs an idea of what is meant by contrast rather than to lay down rules to be followed in the actual construction of programs.

[Sidenote: UNITY]

But while contrast is necessary to keep the audience from becoming bored or weary, there must not be so much variety that a lack of unity is felt in the program as a whole. It must be constructed like a symphony—out of material that has variety and yet that all belongs together. In other words, the program, like a musical composition, must achieve unity in variety; and this is the second main problem confronting the conductor or performer who is planning a concert. It is impossible to give specific directions as to how unity is to be secured, for this is a matter to be determined almost wholly upon the basis of taste, and taste is not subjectable to codification. The most that we can do for the amateur at this point, as at so many others, is to set before him the main problem involved, and in constructing a program, this is undoubtedly to provide variety of material and yet to select numbers that go well together and seem to cohere as a unified group.

[Sidenote: LENGTH]

Our third question in making a program of musical works is, how long shall it be? The answer is, "It depends upon the quality of the audience." An audience composed largely of trained concert-goers, many of whom are themselves musicians, can listen to a program composed of interesting works and presented by a first-rate artist even though it extends through a period of two and a half hours, although on general principles a two-hour program is probably long enough. But one made up mostly of people who have had very little musical training, who read little except the daily newspaper and the lightest sort of fiction, and whose chief amusement is probably attendance upon the picture show,—such an audience must not be expected to listen to a program that is either too heavy or too long; and our judgment is that for such a group a program an hour and a half long is probably more suitable than one of two or two and a half hours. Our feeling is, furthermore, that the "tired business man" would not object so strenuously to attending the serious musical performances to which his wife urges him to go if some of these matters were considered more carefully by the artist in planning the program! But here again, of course, we have a matter which depends altogether upon the kind of music presented, whether the entire program is given by one artist or whether there are several performers, whether the whole program is of one kind of music or whether there is variety of voice and instrument, whether the performers are amateurs or professionals, and upon whether the performer is an artist of the first rank and is able by his perfection of technique, his beauty of tone, and his emotional verve, to hold his audience spellbound for an indefinite length of time, or whether he belongs to the second or third rank of performers and is able to arouse only an average amount of interest. Our purpose in including a discussion of the matter is principally in order that we may have an opportunity of warning the amateur conductor not to cause an audience which would probably give favorable consideration to a short program, to become weary and critical by compelling them to sit through too long a performance. This is particularly true in the case of amateur performance; and since this book is written chiefly for the amateur director, it may not be out of order to advise him at this point to plan programs not more than an hour or an hour and a quarter long, at first. It is far better to have the audience leaving the auditorium wishing the program had been longer than to have them grumbling because it is too long.


Our fourth problem has already been presented in discussing the other three, for it is because of the necessity of adapting the performance to the audience that we have insisted upon variety, unity, and reasonable length. Many a concert has turned out to be an utter fiasco because of failure on the part of the program maker to consider the type of people who were to listen to it; and although on such occasions it is customary for the performer to ascribe his failure to the stupidity of the audience, it must nevertheless be acknowledged that the fault is more commonly to be laid at the door of the one who planned the event. A program composed of two symphonies and an overture or two, or of two or three Beethoven sonatas, is not a suitable meal for the conglomerate crowd comprising the "average audience"; indeed it is doubtful whether in general it is the best kind of diet for any group of listeners. Here again we cannot give specific directions, since conditions vary greatly, and we must content ourselves once more with having opened up the problem for thought and discussion.


Having selected musical material that is varied in content and yet appropriate for performance upon the same program; having taken into consideration what kind of music is adapted to our audience and how much of it they will probably be able to listen to without becoming weary; our final problem will now be so to arrange the numbers that each one will be presented at the point in the program where it will be likely to be most favorably received, and will make the most lasting impression upon the auditors.

In general, of course, the heavier part of the program should usually come in the first half and the lighter part in the second, for the simple reason that it is at the beginning that our minds and bodies are fresh and unwearied, and since we are able to give closer attention at that time we should accordingly be supplied with the more strenuous music when we are best able to digest it. But although this is doubtless true in most cases, we have often noticed that audiences are restless during the first part of the concert, and frequently do not get "warmed up" to the point of giving close attention to the performance until ten or fifteen minutes after the program begins, and sometimes not until the second half has been reached. For this reason, and also to cover the distraction arising from the entrance of the ubiquitous late-comer, it seems best to us that some shorter and lighter work be placed at the very beginning of the program—possibly an overture, in the case of a symphony concert. The phenomenon here alluded to has an exact parallel in the church service. When we enter the church, we are thinking about all sorts of things connected with our daily life, and it takes us some little time to forget these extraneous matters and adjust ourselves to the spirit of a church service, and particularly to get into the appropriate mood for listening to a sermon. The organ prelude and other preliminary parts of the service have as their partial function, at least, the transference of our thoughts and attitudes from their former chaotic and egoistic state to one more appropriate to the demands of the more serious part of the service to follow. Somewhat the same sort of thing is found in the case of the majority of people who go to a concert hall for an evening's performance, and although the end to be attained is of course altogether different, yet the method should probably be somewhat the same. Our feeling is therefore that there ought usually to be some comparatively light number at the beginning of the concert program in order that we may be assisted in getting into the listening mood before the heavier works are presented. On the other hand, an artist often plunges into a difficult composition at the very beginning of the concert, and by his marvelous technique or his tremendous emotional vitality sweeps his audience immediately into an attitude of rapt attention; all of which proves again that art is intangible, subtle, and ever-varying—as we stated at the beginning.


In concluding our very brief statement of program-making, it may be well to mention the fact that small details often have a good deal to do with the failure of audiences to follow the program with as keen attention as might be desired. These details are often overlooked or disdained merely because they seem too trifling to make it worth the artist's while to notice them; but by seeing to it that the concert hall is well warmed (or well cooled), that it is well lighted and well ventilated; that the doors are closed when the first number begins, and that no one is allowed to enter during the performance of any number; that there are no long waits either at the beginning or between numbers; that unnecessary street and other outside noises are stopped or shut out so far as practicable; and that the printed program (if it has more than one sheet) is so arranged that the pages do not have to be turned while compositions are being performed—by providing in advance for someone who will see to all these little matters, the artist may often be rewarded by a fine type of concentrated attention which would not be possible if the minds of the individuals comprising the audience were being distracted by these other things.

The printer too bears no small responsibility in this matter of having an audience follow a program with undiminished attention from beginning to end, and there is no doubt that the tastefully printed page (and particularly if there are explanatory remarks concerning the composer, style, meaning of the composition, et cetera) will usually be followed with much keener attention than one the parts of which have merely been thrown together. The reason for this we shall leave for some one else to discuss—possibly some writer of the future upon "the psychology of the printed page."




In chorus directing, it is of the utmost importance that conductor and accompanist not only understand one another thoroughly, but that the relationship between them be so sympathetic, so cordial, that there may never be even a hint of non-unity in the ensemble. The unskilful or unsympathetic accompanist may utterly ruin the effect of the most capable conducting; and the worst of it is that if the accompanist is lacking in cordiality toward the conductor, he can work his mischief so subtly as to make it appear to all concerned as if the conductor himself were to blame for the ununified attacks and ragged rhythms.[35]

[Footnote 35: On the other hand, the conductor sometimes shifts the responsibility for mishaps to the accompanist when the latter is in no wise to blame, as, e.g., when the organ ciphers or a page does not turn properly.]


In order to obviate the disadvantages that are likely to arise from having a poor accompanist, the conductor must exercise the greatest care in choosing his coworker. Unless he knows of some one concerning whose ability there is no question, the best plan is probably to have several candidates compete for the position; and in this case, the points to be especially watched for are as follows:

1. Adequate technique. 2. Good reading ability. 3. Sympathetic response to vocal nuance. 4. Willingness to cooperate and to accept suggestions.

Of these four, the last two are by no means the least important; and sometimes it is better to choose the person who has less skill in reading or technique but who has sufficient innate musical feeling to enable him not only to follow a soloist's voice or a conductor's beat intelligently, but even to anticipate the dynamic and tempo changes made by singer or conductor.

The minds of conductor and accompanist must work as one. In stopping his chorus for a correction, it should be possible for the conductor to assume that the accompanist has followed him so carefully and is in such close musical rapport with him that, before the conductor speaks, the accompanist has already found the badly executed passage, and the instant the conductor cites page and score, is ready to play the phrase or interval that was wrongly rendered. The same sort of thing ought of course to take place whenever there is a change of tempo, and it is to be noted that in all these cases the accompanist must make a musical response to the conductor's interpretation, and not merely an obedient one.


Having chosen the best available person to do the accompanying, the next thing in order will be to treat the accompanist in such a way that he will always do his best and be a real help in causing the chorus to produce effective results. Next to the conductor, the accompanist is undoubtedly the most important factor in producing fine choral singing; hence our reference to the accompanist as the conductor's coworker. The first thing to note in connection with getting the best possible help from the accompanist is that he shall always be treated in a pleasant, courteous way, and the conductor must learn at the very outset not to expect impossible things from him; not to blame him for things that may go wrong when some one else is really responsible; and in general, to do his utmost to bring about and to maintain friendly, pleasant relations. This will mean a smile of approval when the accompanist has done particularly well; it may involve publicly sharing honors with him after a well rendered performance; and it certainly implies a receptive attitude on the conductor's part if the accompanist is sufficiently interested to make occasional suggestions about the rendition of the music.

If you as conductor find it necessary to make criticisms or suggestions to the accompanist, do this privately, not in the presence of the chorus. Much of the sting of a criticism frequently results from the fact that others have heard it, and very often if the matter is brought up with the utmost frankness in a private interview, no bad blood will result, but if a quarter as much be said in the presence of others, a rankling wound may remain which will make it extremely difficult for the conductor and accompanist to do good musical work together thenceforth.


One of the best ways to save time at the rehearsal is to provide the accompanist with the music in advance. Even a skilful reader will do more intelligent work the first time a composition is taken up if he has had an opportunity to go through it beforehand. This may involve considerable trouble on the conductor's part, but his effort will be well rewarded in the much more effective support that the accompanist will be able to furnish if he has had an opportunity to look over the music. When the accompanist is not a good reader, it is, of course, absolutely imperative that he not only be given an opportunity to study the score in advance, but that he be required to do so. If in such a case the conductor does not see to it that a copy of the music is placed in the accompanist's hands several days before each rehearsal, he will simply be digging his own grave, figuratively speaking, and will have no one but himself to blame for the poor results that are bound to follow.

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