Inside the Conductor’s Head: Why on earth would she choose that song?

By Erica Phare-Bergh  |  Artistic Director  |  Voices in Motion

There are lots of things that I think about when I’m choosing repertoire for our choir – or any choir for that matter. Here are some of the questions that I ask myself before I order or arrange any songs for you all:

Theme:

I usually start with a song or two that I think you’ll enjoy and work songs around them that have a similar idea or look at the theme from a different perspective. For example, the last concert we actually GOT to sing was “Living in Technicolor” – so every song had to do with either a real colour or a mood that evoked a colour. This term, I’ve chosen the theme / concert title: “How Can I Keep from Singing?”. Obviously, this is a nod to the fact that trials and tribulations can’t keep us down (whether it be COVID, social-distancing, or memory loss).

Singability

Is it sing-able? Will it make the choir sound good? Will it be a big bang for our buck or will it take forever to learn and just be touch and go in the end? My job as a conductor is to choose music that makes you shine – figuratively and literally. Will it need to be adapted to make it more accessible? Is it too high or too low? Will I have to transpose it to a different key (and I have – you’re welcome)?

 

Variety

Are there different styles (pop, jazz, gospel, folk song)? Are the tempos (speed of the music – tempi, actually, to be true to the Italian plural) varied? Are all the songs fast? Will we put the audience to sleep if all the tempi are slow? What about different languages? (I gave you a break this term because it’s hard to hear on a Zoom rehearsal whether we’re all on the same page when we sing in a variety of languages.) Are different eras represented?) Having said that, my baby-boomer-ness is really showing in this concert. Lots of Beatles, Carpenters and Glen Campbell.) OK – so you got me on “language” and “era” this term.

Rehearsal time

Do we have enough time to learn the pieces well and feel good about performing them within the time frame that we’ve set?

 

Fun

Will singers have fun singing it? Will audiences have fun listening to it? Is it uplifting, inspirational or reflective? Does it bring back good memories of being a kid or a young adult? Fluff is OK too, but just like Coke and French fries, I wouldn’t want a steady diet. OK, you got me there too – Penny Lane is pretty fluffy.

 

Musical benefits

How will the pieces improve our singing technique? Our breath control? Our blended, uniform vowels? Our sense of musical style? Our understanding of why the composers wrote that song and when? How will we need to be flexible with our vocal/tonal colour in order to communicate the music?

So these are some of the things that I take into consideration when I choose music. Having said that, I guess I’d better list the songs that we’ll be singing this term!

 

  • Top of the World (Carpenters)
  • Try a Little Kindness (Glen Campbell)
  • Lennon-McCartney Medley
    • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
    • Penny Lane
    • With a Little Help from My Friends
    • When I’m 64
  • How Can I Keep from Singing? (Robert Lowry & Greg Gilpin)
  • Fly Me to the Moon (Kaye Ballard)
  • How Can I Not Sing? (West My Friend

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