Renowned British conductor Simon Halsey led a session that explored various approaches to score study, with a specific emphasis on how to approach pieces by Benjamin Britten. He described the routines of several different conductors, himself included, and explained that there is not just one right way of preparing a score; he says that it is important, as a conductor, to "find what works for you" as you prepare so that you may impart meaning to the choir to the best of your ability. But, regardless of your process of score study, it is always necessary to "get inside the text." Halsey says, and I quote, "You cannot stand up and do anything with your fellow musicians until you know the score inside and out."
Halsey's own process of score study involves three hours of deep analytical work in the morning: deciphering hidden meaning behind the text, figuring out how the harmonic rhythm contributes to the emotions of the piece, etc. Then, throughout the day, he reads poetry, the point of which is to stimulate the mind. In the evening, he works for three more hours on more technical things, such as writing in chord symbols or IPA, and he does not delve back into creative work until the following morning. His method creates a balance between both the emotional and technical elements of music that must always be taken into account. Regarding composers like Britten, though, he explained that the majority of his time is spent on bringing the text to life. I learned that all aspects of a beautiful poem set to music, such as a Britten piece, can tie back to text; text stress is influenced by musical phrasing (and vice versa), chord progressions give hints about where the story is leading, dynamics inform the emotions of the speaker in the poem...it's all connected to text. The most valuable lesson I took away from this session was that choral conductors must explore every aspect of music as thoroughly as possible, but at the end of the day, the conductor's job is to ensure that the choir is able to communicate what the poet and composer were each trying to say. Music needs to tell a heartfelt story, and unless the story is alive in the conductor's heart, the performance will fall flat
-Juliana Child, Ithaca College '18
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