As I’ve gotten back into flapping my arms in front of a group of singers the past fourteen months, I’ve been scouring the net as well as a library of music publications here in my office. I look for any short essay (books are too long) that gives me one good nugget. Then it gets gets clipped and saved in a file in my desk marked “conducting.” Indispensable to me: Gerald Custer‘s column in GIA Quarterly.
Another useful resource is a British one, and this post from their site underscores a very important principle: One Thing At A Time.
I have a few trained musicians in the parish. My second predecessor is now retired and a choir member. She does some work with our psalmists. I often have her take about fifteen minutes to lead off the rehearsal with some aspect of vocal pedagogy. My pianist is a fine reader and experienced church musician. She often hears things I do not. But if I listened to these two ladies on every stumble in our music ministry, we could all be working hard into the late evening hours. Sometimes it’s better to move on, playing the long game.
Last night, after we were working long and hard on an old Mass setting (new to about 1/4 of the people) things were getting a bit sloppy on cutoffs for a Communion psalm. At a pause, my pianist mentioned it. I heard it too. But I told her we were going to skip over it. Ms Hopkins’ advice from that second link above includes:
You don’t have to fix everthing all at once. Rehearsals are a finite length and it’s important to finish on time. You can’t deal with every little point and it’s counter-productive to try. You’ll end up demoralising your choir and yourself. If you’ve planned your rehearsal properly, you’ll already have a good idea of what you want to achieve at a particular session.
All I wanted to do yesterday was get the Mass parts they haven’t sung in three, four years to gel with me, the instrumentalists, and the singers. We worked hard for the better part of an hour to get that done. Mission accomplished. I let the people go home a half-hour early.
That principle of attending to one thing at a time has merit for just about every church ministry I can think of: preaching, soup kitchens, RCIA, wedding planning–you name it.
Come to think of it, it has a lot of merit in one’s personal life. I’ve spent most of the summer revising my diet and losing some weight I’ve allowed to add. I’ve also been noticing that despite feeling better with improved nutrition and less bulk around my middle, I’m still dozing off during prayer or even the occasional liturgy. My body tells me to attend to sleep. It might take me some weeks to reinforce a new habit on that front. But maybe I could start up an exercise program instead. Do both at once? Pah! One thing at a time. I can take heart that it’s exactly the way I would do it with my choir. This Fall is a good time to reinforce a better sleep pattern. I’ll still be alive in two months. Focus on fitness can wait for a rested and refreshed body.od