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


  • Adam Adler Nipissing University & Near North Voices


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 Director’s recovery? Would the choir survive as a cultural entity, or would a suspension wreak havoc on recruiting and retention? Given the ensemble’s 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 choir’s 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 Director’s 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 ensemble’s 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.

Author Biography

Adam Adler, Nipissing University & Near North Voices

Adam Adler is an assistant professor of music education in the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University and founding Artistic Director of Near North Voices – North Bay’s University-Community Choir. He has previously served on faculty in the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor and in the Crane School Music, SUNY Potsdam. A narrative researcher and founding proponent of the critical genderist perspective in music and educational research, Adam’s current research interests include male gender issues in music and education, choral community and sustainability, music teacher preparation, and music curriculum policy. Adam has served as conductor for the University of Toronto Hart House Singers, Just Singers Chamber Choir of Toronto, The Ford Motor Company Chorus (Dearborn, MI), the Crane Men’s Ensemble (SUNY Potsdam), and the Choir of Centenary United Church (Hamilton, ON). He has taught music in schools across southern Ontario and abroad, and is active as a choral conductor and clinician, composer and arranger.