On Saturday morning, I was on my way to a reading session when I heard the Girls' Honor Choir rehearsing in one of the ballrooms, and I figured I would stop in and observe for 20 minutes or so. I ended up staying in there for an hour and a half, until the rehearsal ended. I was completely captivated by Russian-American conductor Elena Sharkova. She was so full of energy, and every aspect of her conducting was exemplary. When I entered the rehearsal space, she was doing an exercise with the children where she would do an exaggerated dance-like gesture and the children would mirror her as they sang. The sound improved as the students moved their bodies. Throughout the rehearsal, even when they weren't doing movement exercises, their bodies continued to respond to the music and to Ms. Sharkova's gestures. She also used imagery to communicate exactly what she wanted. I was amazed by the sound she was getting out of this group and by the overall effectiveness of her techniques.
I was also struck by how hard Ms. Sharkova pushed the students; she addressed every single aspect of their singing and stopped the music to fix every little problem that arose. But the students were not discouraged by her criticisms; they seemed excited to be challenged, and they were totally focused and attentive for the entire duration of the rehearsal. There was trust between conductor and ensemble. It was clear that the students were learning a lot from Ms. Sharkova, about so many different things, including diction, text stress, musical phrasing, communication, vocal technique, and the cultural significance of all of the pieces they were performing. The rehearsal was fast-paced, and it touched upon every aspect of choral singing. I couldn't get over how efficient Ms. Sharkova was, and her skillful leadership was manifested in the beautiful sound of the choir.
Aside from everything I learned about conducting technique from observing this rehearsal, I learned the most from watching Ms. Sharkova interact verbally with her choir. She genuinely loved them, and they loved her for it, and because she loved them she made an extra effort to really talk to them. At one point during the rehearsal, they were working on a gospel piece, and she was trying to get the choir to sing with more passion. She proceeded to explain gospel music from a patriotic standpoint. She spoke to the choir about how important gospel music was to American culture, and about how proud they should be to live in a country that has overcome so much pain. The talk became very emotional when she shared that she was never able to conduct in her home in Russia because of her gender, and that she loved America because she was able to pursue her passion here. By sharing her story with the choir, she strengthened the bond that she had with them. I was deeply moved by her honesty. And after she finished her speech, she asked the students to stand proudly and sing their gospel piece again, and the sound was twice as powerful as it had been the first time.
Ms. Sharkova took a good deal of time during rehearsal to express her love for her students. At one point, she said one of the most touching things I've ever heard a conductor say to an ensemble: "If I could give all of you one gift, if I could choose anything in the world, I would show you yourselves the way I see you. And you would be shocked by how beautiful you are." From that moment on, the students knew that every criticism, direction, and compliment she gave was out of love. They respected her because she respected them. The bonds that had been built were tangible in the room. Ms. Sharkova gave these students an incredible experience, and I was so inspired by her precision, grace, passion, and spirit.
The rehearsal I observed was the group’s last rehearsal before their concert. At the end of the rehearsal, Ms. Sharkova imparted beautiful words of wisdom to the group. She taught them about the beauty of gratitude, and she expressed her own gratitude to them for giving her a joyful music-making experience. I was able to capture this touching moment on video, and I will use this video to inform the way I speak to my students in the future.
Observing this rehearsal was a highlight of my conference experience. I was blessed to have the opportunity to witness the magic that happened between this wonderful conductor and her glorious ensemble.
-Juliana Child, Ithaca College '18
Welcome to our site!