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Author Topic: Question for Choir Directors...  (Read 258 times)
immisk
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« on: August 01, 2017, 04:54:46 PM »

Hey everyone  Cheesy

I need a bit of advice. The music director at my church had a medical emergency about three months ago and I've been acting music director ever since. For the most part, everything has gone smoothly, but recently I've noticed that the instrumentalists at one of the masses (the contemporary mass) have been getting a bit out of hand. I.E. Playing too loudly and at inappropriate times.

What is the best way to pull someone aside and ask them to play softer or with more sensitivity? I'm typically an incredibly blunt person, but I feel a more diplomatic approach is better suited to this situation.

Also, how should I react if said instrumentalists become combative?

Thank you for any answers!
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timothy42b
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2017, 05:35:16 PM »

Yes, this is a difficult one.  Your leverage over volunteers is limited, and your authority as a fill in is suspect.  And EVERYBODY in a church seems to have thin skin and be easily offended.

When I ran a P&W team I did not allow amps.  Use a guitar pick, raise the lid on the piano, but no electricity.  I guess you don't have that option.  I also chose all the music, and believe me it's a LOT of work to find good stuff amid the dreck.  Music choices cannot be on the fly.  They need to be in writing with no deviation allowed. 

Are you trying to play and be in charge at the same time?  It's not working.

If your praise team has a leader, work through him.  You may need to work through a pastor or priest or whatever you use.

If they get combative?Huh? Don't fight with them.  They can't force you to.   

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Tim
timothy42b
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« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2017, 05:36:29 PM »

Another thought.  Who runs rehearsal?  A lot of this gets sorted out at rehearsal, and a lot depends on how picky you are at getting it right. 
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Bob
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« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2017, 11:07:49 PM »

You don't want a you-vs-them situation for sure.

If they play at the wrong time, give them a 'dagger' glance.

For playing too loud, do a warmup and have the lowest instruments play, add in middle instruments, then upper instruments.  The loudness follows that same pyramid.  If they play too loud during that, give them the hand and quiet them down.  "The hand" looks kind of like this...



You can also mention for what everyone should be listening for, what should be heard.  "Do you have the melody or accompaniment?"  "What do you think we want to hear?  Yes, the melody."  You can also couch it in praise, "Those ___(accompaniment figure)___ are good but is that what the audience wants to hear?  Probably not.  They want the melody."  If they don't get it, have the melody play.  Have them play.  If they're the melody, there's the balance angle. 



If you're the director, you set the tone, pacing etc.  Make sure you're moving things along.  They might just be bored.  You can also pick a few things ahead of time to cover.  Or focus on one aspect, like breath support or getting attacks or releases at exactly the same time.  Doesn't really matter what or how they play.  You can also pull a bit of a "Whiplash" and do a "Wait.  Stop.  Let's get every starting at exactly the same time.  Let's try again."  "Nope, stop.  My attack.  It's right... here.  Let's try again."  Another trick is just to keep them playing.  Play through the whole piece.  Have lows play.  Have highs play.  The thinner the numbers, the more exposed they'll feel, and hopefully that will get them to behave.
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timothy42b
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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2017, 03:37:19 PM »

You don't want a you-vs-them situation for sure.

If they play at the wrong time, give them a 'dagger' glance.

For playing too loud, do a warmup and have the lowest instruments play, add in middle instruments, then upper instruments.  The loudness follows that same pyramid.  If they play too loud during that, give them the hand and quiet them down.  "The hand" looks kind of like this...


Uh..........no.

Okay, this is great advice in a wind ensemble, orchestra, quintet, etc.  They do generally follow those rules, and it works.  If nothing else it makes them listen.

But this is a church.  Your lowest voice is the amplified bass guitar, and the only reason his amp is on 10 is it doesn't have an 11. 

The hand?  Yeah, I've never seen a contemporary church music group notice that.  Usually you aren't even in front of them.  (as a trombone player I'm used to getting the hand, and have been trained to watch for it.  The guy on a trap set?  He just thinks you're waving at him.  He may even wave back.) 
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iansinclair
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« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2017, 04:08:36 PM »

I never had the misfortune to have a praise and worship group in the churches for which I was the music director.  That said... remember that you are the boss.  Hopefully the regular person for whom you are substituting made that clear.  You may also find -- I did, once in a while with soloists -- that it is necessary to remind them that the purpose of the exercise is to praise God, not to show off their latest chops, and that they are doing that as part of a group.

You might find if you have a particularly difficult individual or small group of individuals that your best bet is to let them go and do their own thing, perhaps as part of worship... and perhaps not.  But you need to remember that if they don't want to or won't be part of your group/choir/whatever, then perhaps it is best if they aren't.

Good luck...
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Ian
timothy42b
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« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2017, 02:45:30 PM »

I never had the misfortune to have a praise and worship group in the churches for which I was the music director. 

It's not my kind of music.  In church I tend to be a pipe organ Bach type.  However, when I was asked to do it, I found that it was deeply meaningful and moving to a certain segment of the congregation.  I didn't really understand that but I had to respect it and try to do my best. 

Quote
That said... remember that you are the boss. 
.

One of the thing I insisted on was starting on time.  I brought my handheld GPS to church (back in the days before smart phones and network time connections), held it up, and counted down the seconds.  I claimed we started our music to the femto second.  Some of them appreciated my humor, but it was also a way of enforcing my control. 
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Tim
immisk
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« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2017, 11:13:47 PM »

Wow! Thank you all for your responses.

Timothy, I run the rehearsal, play for the mass, and lead from the piano. I've been doing it for six years and it's worked out great, but this is my first time working with the contemporary music group on a weekly basis instead of just standing in. The biggest issue is the drummer, as the guitarist does not use an amp and plays very tastefully.

I suppose the biggest problem is that we rehearse in a separate room that does not have a drum set, so I never know what I'm going to hear until we're in the middle of mass. He's turned down my attempts to rehearse one on one during the week repeatedly as well. I'm stuck trying to have a sit down with him and I have no idea how to even start the conversation.

Bob, I only have a few instruments. The drummer is the problem and he's RIGHT behind the piano, I can't make eye contact beyond the piano lid. I agree with the rest of your advice thoroughly- being able to stop a group and make corrections is one of the hardest things, especially when trying to keep their attention. Sometimes they just ... keep singing away.

Iansinclair, it was never made clear to anyone, including myself, that I was to become the interim director. All that I've been doing is out of a sense of duty to my parish, although I'm hoping to inherit the position if the regular director does not return.

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Bob
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« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2017, 12:16:06 AM »

What about moving the set up around?

Or find (or create) a piece where the drum set is actually quieter.   Or even a section.  It might get him to realize he's on 100% all the time.
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quantum
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« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2017, 12:32:10 AM »

Play the part of leader, do it with conviction.  Even though you are just filling in and you may not have officially been handed the baton, that is essentially what you are doing.  Hopefully, they will return with their attention and respect.  I know it is difficult when the person normally in-charge is absent, you might feel like you are stepping on their shoes if you give too much direction.  

You might want to think of it like this: you are playing at a masterclass, the teacher might give some directions and they may be in direct contradiction to what your regular teacher professes, yet some other directions are in agreement with your regular teacher.  Nonetheless, you continue on for the short period of the masterclass, following and listening.  You do not do any disservice to your regular teacher by listening and trying out another opinion.  You might discuss these options at your next regularly scheduled lesson.  

***

What you describe seems to be a balance issue, therefore an ensemble issue.  Personally, I would deal with this first as an ensemble before attempting to single one person out.  In a private session the person may not understand nor hear what you are trying to get at.  Speak to the ensemble as a whole.  Work it out as a whole.

I would outline these points, of course you know this stuff but you may need to reinforce it for the group:
Playing louder does not equal sounding better.
Playing louder because it makes one feel better, does not make a better sounding ensemble.
Parts do not have equal importance: there is a time for each part to lead or to be submissive.
Listing to each other is part of ensemble playing.
Crowding the space occupied by another instrument creates a mess of sound.  
Playing louder does not make the listener pay more attention to you.

Get one person in the ensemble to go out into the room to hear how the others are sounding, what the congregation hears.  Have each person take their turn at listening from the perspective of the congregation.  Have them think about what they are hearing: can one sing to this music, what is the most important part, is that part clear, and so forth.  Get them to formulate a response to these questions before you give your analysis.  Doesn't matter if their responses are way off, the point is they have begun to think about it.  




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timothy42b
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« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2017, 01:45:21 AM »

Ah, we have some more information, and I think this situation is much more hopeful.
S
First, when you play, you're merely a peer, not a leader.  You have no authority and they are authorized to ignore you.  Sorry, but that's how it works.

Unless you're paying them, that's a different story.

So, run the rehearsal standing up in front of them.  Play the piano only at the final runthrough, and only if necessary.  It may not be.

Secondly, correct something from every player.  Pick something minor and nonthreatening, but insist on it.  This does two things.  It establishes that we have high standards, and it reinforces that you are in charge.

Now, the drummer.  You probably can't fire him so bring him along slowly.  Require brushes on a couple of pieces, and always give him one (but JUST ONE!) that h can play loud.  You will slowly rein him in and make him an ally.

You can make it work.  Or, not.  I've seen it happen both ways. 

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Tim
iansinclair
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« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2017, 02:29:17 AM »

Timothy has some excellent points...

First, it's almost impossible to lead a group and play piano at the same time.  For one thing, you don't have a free hand.  Second, as Timothy points out, you're part of the group.  You need to be, quite clearly, the conductor.

Second, you can't lead a group unless you can see each and every member of the group, and they can see you.  If they can't see you, they won't pay any attention to you -- and there may not be any malice in that at all; it's just that visually, you're just not there.  (It may look as though there is no leader in a chamber ensemble, but look again.  There is, and not always the first violin!).

Third, it may help the drummer a lot to listen to other groups and really top notch drummers.  They will quickly see that most of the time the drummer is there to provide the tempo and some accents, without drawing attention to themselves (Ringo Starr was a real master at this), but that now and then there would be an opportunity for the drummer to cut loose with a riff and really stand out.  Try to find groups which are playing similar music.  If you are doing gospel/bluegrass type music, you could do far worse than listen to Alison Krauss and Union Station; of the contemporary groups in that genre there simply is none better.

Good luck -- most of the drummers I've known have outsize egos, and can be a bit difficult...
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Ian
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« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2017, 08:28:19 AM »

You could do something like when you're in front of the group, mention that the sound is really bouncing back, really projecting from the drum set, ie not the player's "fault" but he'll still have to adjust.  You could also add something about the size of space, things really echoing, and the sound blending/mushing together by the time it reaches the back of the hall.

Or I was thinking get the drum set guy to dampen his drums a bit.  Stick something soft on them to take some of the drum head vibration.  Lean something soft or add filler in the bass drum.  I've seen that before.  

Easy idea for everyone -- If you can't hear your neighbor playing, you're playing too loud.  (If you can't hear yourself, you're playing to soft.   ...Or you're neighbor's playing to loud.)

You can also also focus more on dynamics in the piece and doing cresc/decresc.  It's good for everyone but it emphasizes paying attention to volume.  I wouldn't be surprised if the drummer is oblivious to it or thinks they should play really loud like a rock band.
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timothy42b
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« Reply #13 on: August 05, 2017, 02:05:08 PM »

I wouldn't be surprised if the drummer is oblivious to it or thinks they should play really loud like a rock band.

It's not impossible that the drummer actually does play in a rock band, and has significant hearing damage as a result.  He may not be able to tell how loud he plays. 
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Tim
immisk
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« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2017, 09:33:41 PM »

Update in case anyone's wondering.

I ended up sitting the guy down and just talking to him. It went something like,

*John*, you can't play the bass drum that loud during mass. Everyone loves having the set and we all really appreciate you, but you need to lighten up on the bass drum.

The next mass, I told him he sounded wonderful. Mass after that, told him he needed to work with a metronome. Mass after that, positive reinforcement, etc. Now he sounds a lot better and I've learned how to put on the pants.

Also, I got the job as music director. Yay!
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