Congratulations on the completion of the academic year! You are now one step closer to entering our profession! In the fall, many of you will return to your colleges and universities to continue your studies while others will start their careers as choral conductors. Whether you are a first-year student or beginning conductor, I hope you find the following advice helpful as you navigate the transition from student to music educator/conductor.
Become the best musician you can be
As a conductor, your musical skill has the most significant impact on how far you can take your ensemble, artistically. Non-musical attributes such as an engaging personality, excellent communication skills, and an intuitive sense of group dynamics are necessary to succeed on the podium, to be sure, but your musical skill and knowledge provide the foundation.
An earned degree is just the beginning of your journey as a conductor. Growth as a musician and leader will continue throughout your career. The beauty of your collegiate years is that you have time to focus on your own development without the myriad responsibilities of running a school or church choral program. Use this time wisely and hone your skills as much as you can. Continue to practice sight-reading beyond the completion of the required courses. Continue to develop your keyboard skills (even if you have passed your piano proficiency). The list goes on and on. These foundational skills are critical to your success when you enter the profession.
Find as much repertoire as you can
In the age of advanced technology sound files and videos are, literally, at our fingertips. Use resources such as Youtube and Spotify to explore and discover new repertoire. Peruse composer websites, which so often have sound files and sample scores to view. Make lists and indicate pertinent information such as voicing and difficulty level. Finally, find repertoire for groups of ALL types and levels, not just advanced SATB ensembles.
Learn as much about the voice as you can
You may be the only voice teacher many of your students will ever have—an enormous responsibility! Do your due diligence and continue to learn about vocal technique. Learn several ways to teach technical concepts, such as alignment, breathing, and resonance, and continue to develop your own instrument. Consult your voice teacher and conductor to glean insight as to how vocal technique can be taught in a large group setting. If possible, take a vocal pedagogy course, even if it is not required.
Attend as many choral performances as you can—all types—not just collegiate and professional ensemble concerts. As an audience member, we not only support our colleagues and their singers, but also see the exciting things conductors are doing with their ensembles. Annotate the concert programs, noting pieces or other elements of the performances that you find interesting, and keep them for future reference.
Conduct a Choir
As you know, conducting a choir involves much more than just waving your arms. The great conductors are outstanding leaders of people. The best way to develop your skills as a conductor is to get yourself onto the podium. Try to find a choir to conduct. This may be a student-led ensemble at your institution, church choir, children’s choir, or community ensemble. In doing so, you will not only continue to develop your gestural language, but also your rehearsal, communication, and leadership skills.
Take advantage of professional development opportunities
You have already made a wonderful decision in becoming a member of ACDA. One of the best decisions I made before beginning my first year teaching in the public schools was attending the annual ACDA-MN Summer Dialogue. This was critical in helping me transition from student to music educator/conductor. In addition to attending a variety of poignant interest sessions and singing in the Directors’ Chorus, I was able to connect with others in the profession. Relationships were formed with other first-year teachers as well as veteran educators. We discussed repertoire, classroom procedures, grading, important events and festivals, as well as countless other topics. The advice and encouragement I received helped prepare me to enter the classroom a few weeks later.
ACDA continues to provide wonderful professional opportunities at the state, division, and national levels. Begin taking advantage now, in your pre-service years. The insight you will gain and the professional relationships you will begin to form are invaluable.