"There are two vital secrets, which not too many choral directors put into practice," said the director to his new assistant, Bob, during lunch, "secrets which have helped me to have full choir stalls and enthusiastic singers all through my life. Do you want to know what they are?"

"I certainly do," responded Bob enthusiastically, sitting at the choir-room piano and getting out his notebook.

"The first secret I learned as a student at Cambridge University. I was in a class of 12 music students, which was led by Dr. Hubert Middleton. Middleton was organist of Trinity College, and a pretty fierce lecturer. Every week he would give us an hour's work to do in class while he would call each one of us to his table, one at a time, to mark the work we'd done for him during the previous week.

12 Commandments for a Great Audition

Whether a child stays in your choir depends on what you do in the first crucial 10 minutes!

By John Bertalot

"One week he'd set us to write a string quartet in the style of Mozart. When I went up to his table with my work I expected him to smile and say, 'That's good!' He didn't!" added the director with a wry grin.

"What did he say?" asked Bob.

"He looked at a few pages and snorted--snorted!--and said, 'Would you expect a young lady cellist from Girton College, five miles outside the city, to come into Cambridge on a wet Monday night, on the bus, carrying her heavy cello, to play THAT?!'

"I stammered, 'N-no, Dr. Middleton!' He threw the music back at me and said, 'In that case, write her a decent cello part to make her journey worthwhile!'

"Well," concluded the director, "I can't tell you the effect that had on me; I was pretty stunned. So I took the very simple cello part I'd written for her and, during the week, filled it with lots of notes so that it looked more like Berlioz than Mozart. I'd got the message."

Bob smiled, and said, "The message is that you're not going to get your singers coming to your practice room on a wet Monday night unless you're going to make it worth their while."

"And what, practically speaking, does that mean?" asked the director.

"It means that, as far as children are concerned, the musical games I work out for them..."

"RUBBISH!" interrupted the director, slapping the piano, "you haven't been listening to me. There's a four-letter word which you must offer to all your singers, and it's not the word game."

There was a pause as Bob reviewed several possibilities. He suddenly slapped the piano too, and shouted, "WORK!"


"It means that they've got to work hard and pay total attention to what you're asking of them. They don't waste their time playing games and they don't waste your time by chatting when you're rehearsing."

"Right! There are better places to play games than a practice room, and there are better times to chat than during a rehearsal."

The director paused for a moment, and added, "Let me press this message home.

"There was a wonderful woman in England some years ago who had a gift for training animals. She had a weekly TV program on which she demonstrated how easy it was to train dogs to be obedient."

"Oh, yes!" interrupted Bob, "Barbara Woodhouse was her name. She was marvelous."

"Right! Every week was the same: some inoffensive dog owner would be dragged by their ill-disciplined pet to Mrs. Woodhouse who would immediately take charge.

"She'd hold the dog's lead, look the animal straight in the eyes and say, 'Rover, SI-TTT!' And Rover, who'd never been talked to so firmly before, immediately sa-ttt! She and the dog would look at each other for five seconds, and then Barbara would give the dog a friendly pat and say, 'Well done, Rover!' and Rover would wag his tail and feel really pleased with himself."

The director paused, while Bob was writing in his notebook, and continued, "She had three words that summed up her successful technique. They all start with the same letter--F."

Bob thought for a moment, and said, "She was FIRM!"

"Right. But she only asked Rover to do what she knew that the dog could achieve, even though Rover didn't know it. Therefore she was..."


"Right again. And the important result of all this was that Rover found the whole experience..."


"Yes, he did. But notice the order in which those three words come. The work came first, and the fun came as a direct result of work well done."

The director leaned against the piano and added, "So many leaders of children's choirs seem to run their rehearsals by saying, 'Now, kiddies, we're going to start today with a lovely game, but after that we've got to do some work.' And that immediately brings cries of 'Oh dear,' from the kids to whom work has been presented as an unpalatable part of the practice."

Bob winced as he remembered that he'd been brought up to lead practices rather like that. The director was right!

The director continued: "My children, and my adults, too, know full well that when they walk through the practice room door they are going to work, and work very hard. But they also know that the result of that hard work will be to raise their sense of self-worth, brought about through exciting achievement, and the learning of new techniques through singing worthwhile music which I have prepared carefully beforehand. And they always feel good about it, because I am determined to enjoy the practice as much as they do. We share the achievement and we share the joy that comes from it.

"And, so," he concluded, "thanks to Dr. Middleton, my singers always arrive punctually and fill my choir stalls with their joyful enthusiasm and total dedication..."

"Which they get from you!" interrupted Bob, with a smile.

"Right!" beamed the director. "If I'm prepared to work hard, to give myself 100% to our work, and consciously to enjoy every moment of our rehearsal, my singers will, too!"

"If it works for pets, it should also work for kids and adults," smiled Bob.

"It does!"

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