What makes a good choir conductor? What are a choral conductor's responsibilities? Let us absorb the choir already exists and does not have to be built from scratch. We can address the latter another time. The ultimate aim must be to give the most beautiful and meaningful choral performances possible. The first step will be to acquire music, music of quality which the choir will enjoy learning and singing. If the choir has funds, through a small subscription or otherwise, the purchase of music will not be too onerous. Many choir singers are happy to buy their own music. The vexed question of copyright arises with photocopying. Make sure you have covered this base. Publishers sometimes give permission for photocopying in certain circumstances.
A supportive choir committee is an awful boon to a conductor. So is a skilled and patient accompanist. A basic level of choral musicality is required, but for most purposes, singing in tune can be ascertained without an audition. Always be on the lookout for new members.
It is best, for technical and group-dynamic reasons, to start rehearsals with some technical exercises, concentrating on breath support and resonance across the different vowels. This will also greatly increase the singers' range, leading to greater performance satisfaction.
Choir singing is a wonderful group activity, so building esprit de corps through encouragement and enthusiasm for the music is essential. Mutual support and friendship will grow out of this.
Once the sheet music has been chosen and obtained, a bird's eye view of the music via a CD or similar, or better still, dependent on the choir's sight-reading standard, a rough read-through, can give a feeling of already owning the music and a sense of the whole composition. This can reduce the anxiety of approaching something new and difficult at first meeting.
Providing some form of aural learning help, taped or CD or midi versions of the work being rehearsed or of each vocal part, including aural feedback of rehearsed music, will help considerably.
Rehearse at or just above the choir's sight-reading level. Sight-reading can only be learnt by actual practice. The conductor must, however, be patient. Very few bullies in the field of conducting are successful. Patience applies also in the note-learning stage, when individual sections of the choir are taken through their voice parts one at a time.
Talk about the interpretation early on; it keeps the music fresh while it is being learnt. Such remarks must not be proscriptive: choir members can have their own developed musical ideas. What a lot there is to cover! A slower tempo than the ultimate tempo in performance can help with learning. Dynamics can be written in early (everyone should have a pencil!). Developing a sense of style for different sections of the repertoire is essential, as is attention to local (eg. Phrases repeated responsively) and overall form (eg. Tempo relationships). Phrasing is often neglected: Mozart comes alive when phrases are formed with a short concluding diminuendo. Gestural phrases which follow the stresses in the text are important in Baroque music. Attention to unified articulation is always important. Other essentials are choral balance and beauty of tone.
All in all, a happy group will produce fulfilling music. Organize and enjoy the rehearsals, but aim for each performance. And aim ever higher: there is plenty of scope for that between part songs and the St Matthew Passion.