Conducting Pantless: Exploring Internet Communication Technologies to Rehearse Choirs at a Distance

Adam Adler

Abstract


Near North Voices is a university-community choir in North Bay, Ontario. Founded in 2007, this ensemble has provided an advanced choral singing opportunity on the shared Nipissing University/Canadore College campus that has grown to serve the broader community. Rehearsals commence the first week of university classes in September, and follow the academic year with concerts in February and early April. Going into our sixth year of operation, Near North Voices was faced with an operational crisis the injury and incapacitation of our Artistic Director. As questions of sustainability emerged, the Artistic Director and Advisory Board struggled to plan a path forward. Should the choir be suspended pending the Artistic Directors recovery? Would the choir survive as a cultural entity, or would a suspension wreak havoc on recruiting and retention?
Given the ensembles remote location in a community with few professional musical leaders, as well as the absence of a budget for such a hiring, the possibility of recruiting stand-in conductor was an unlikely. When the choirs Assistant Conductor-in-Training valiantly stepped forward, questions of recruitment and retention emerged as they relate to the cult of personality within ensembles. Would choir members follow an amateur conductor who, while a capable musician, had minimal training in choir pedagogy and conducting? Meanwhile, assigned to home pending surgery, the Artistic Directors personal/professional need for continued professional practice as well as for connection with the community was challenged by requirements of the insurance company and university to live as a detached and non-operational disabled person.
This paper follows the ensembles journey as we used distance technologies to achieve our musical and pedagogical goals the while maintaining a semblance of normalcy by allowing the Artistic Director to conduct from home. Later development of distance technologies also supported chorister engagement from remote locations. The challenges and benefits of using distance technologies in real-time and recorded ensemble rehearsal situations to facilitate conductor and chorister mobility are discussed from logistical, pedagogical and psychological perspectives. Several distance communication technologies are critically reviewed.

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