- Choral Conducting: Philosophy and Practice, and: A Handbook for Beginning Choral Educators
In his two-part book, Choral Conducting: Philosophy and Practice, Colin Durrant presents his philosophy and approach to choral conducting by citing numerous studies and books on the subject. By dividing the book into two sections titled "Philosophy" and "Practice," the author provides a logical sequence for the reader. In the first section, consisting of six chapters, Durrant cites several philosophers that he has found relevant to conducting and singing. After a thorough examination of the concepts, the second section of the book, consisting of five chapters, provides suggestions for putting these ideas into practice. Durrant does not focus on a particular type of choir or age of singer; rather he suggests that these concepts are applicable to all types of choral groups.
In chapter 1, Durrant explains the purpose of the book as a support for courses in conducting, but not as a how-to text that isolates theory from people. He states that "conductors help us to connect the creations of composers to our own lives" (p. 7). Durrant introduces the idea that learning to swim and learning to sing have common elements. He encourages the reader to "start swimming with effective and efficient strokes" (p. 10) by reading the text in its entirety to facilitate reflection and consideration.
Chapter 2, "Human Learning and Behavior," begins with a look at the brain and its potential. Durrant emphasizes that the brain does not exist without the body; thus the term "bodymind" is introduced as the basis for the holistic approach to conducting that is prevalent throughout the book. This chapter also presents conditions for learning, comparing human-compatible and human-antagonistic approaches. The common negative approach of spotting only the mistakes in the singing as a sign of the conductor's ability is an example that most choral conductors can understand. Durrant believes that the activity of singing should be pleasant and non-threatening, and it is the responsibility of the conductor or teacher to create that environment.
Chapter 3 attempts to answer the question "Why do people sing?" (p. 36). Research studies cited in the chapter indicate that the social benefits and the bonding with a group are as important to the singer as the actual experience of singing. Therefore, in chapter 4 Durrant expands on the idea that the role of the conductor is to connect. This chapter provides an historical perspective on conducting to show that personality and behavioral traits have influenced the evolution of conducting into what it is today.
The last two chapters of the philosophical section of the book bring all the theories to a conclusion with the author's own model for an effective choral conductor. Durrant's model includes philosophical principles, musical-technical skills, and interpersonal skills. An extensive chart defines the skills and abilities required for each category.
The second section of the book covers the practical aspects of conducting, such as rehearsing, conducting gestures, and the development and health of the voice in all ages. In chapter 7, Durrant offers his own eight-part model of effective choir rehearsing and conducting, while chapter 8 includes a description of conducting gestures with photographs and journal entries by Durrant's own students on their observations of the conducting styles of various conductors.
In chapter 9 Durrant cites research on the changing voice, both male and female, including range charts and characteristics of the voices. He also includes the aging voice in this chapter, and his understanding of this group is insightful and shows [End Page 1023] compassion and kindness. In chapter 10, Durrant presents course outlines for both initial and advanced conducting courses.
The last chapter, appropriately titled "Last Movement," returns to the swimming metaphor introduced in chapter 1. Durrant summarizes his personal belief that conductors influence the musical and emotional lives of...