Episode 21 - Pragmatic Choral Direction

“Singing is a tricky business!” notes Philip, before he flies East to attend the 2023 World Choral Symposium in Istanbul. “It’s the only musical experience where you can't see your instrument.”

In episode 21 we sat down to talk about the business of being a choir director. “It begins with observing the product, the choir in action,” says Philip. He learned by being a choir member first, then watching how others, including Robert Shaw and Charles Munsch, directed. Philip’s first full-time choir director position came with also being the organist at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Minneapolis at age 20. (He had joined the Minnesota Orchestra the year prior.) Philip moved to become Organist and Choir Director at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis at age 25, where he has remained since.

“Choirs need three things,” says Philip. “The first is rhythm. That’s the most important skill. Then you learn notes. And then words. That’s it!” Philip also talks about the business of “singing as one,” which is not about blend—rather, about achieving a unified sound. He also reveals various habits, process and techniques for helping balance choirs, build confidence among singers, and increase their flexibility. “50% of what a choir does is vocal. 50% is listening,” says Philip. As a director, you are always coaching ways to actively listen, so a choir hears where and how each part fits in the picture.

This episode features excerpts from two VocalEssence recordings. The first is from “Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise)” by Felix Mendelssohn (1840). The second is “A Ukrainian Prayer” by John Rutter.