Even Professional Directors Do This Wrong

basics tempo Jul 03, 2022

I’ve traveled a lot in my life. And I’ve seen hundreds of choir directors. Some good, some… well… you get it. 


If you ask me what I look for in a good choir director, my answer might surprise you. 


You might think it’s the way they hold their hands, or if they’re conducting with their head, shoulders, pelvis, legs, etc… 


But that’s not the first thing I pay attention to. 


To be frank, I don’t usually walk into a church with the purpose of figuring out how good/bad the conductor is. 


And I’m sure that neither do you. 


You and me both come into a church to communicate with God. We come in hopes that a tiny miracle will happen, and that maybe for one single moment I’ll know that my heart connected to my God in prayer. 


That’s where the choir director comes in.  


Sometimes they come in tripping lightly, and sometimes… As we say in Russian, sometimes they walk all over your heart with their dirty boots… But they don’t mean to. 


The funny thing is, some of these directors have years of experience, and lots of knowledge. Some are professional. Yet, in this one tiny little detail, they come up short. 


And yet others are self-taught and self conscious, but they can do better than many directors with their music degrees. 


Here’s what I unconsciously look for. Here’s what my heart notices first when I come into a new church. 


I subconsciously listen to the interaction between the clergy and the choir. Because in a divine service, the choir and the clergy collaborate for the glory of God. Or at least they should. 


But far too many choir directors think that their choirs are the most important part of Liturgy. That the singing is what the people come for. And that they themselves are the coolest things to walk conduct  in shoe leather (aren’t you proud of me for learning this American expression?!)


 And far too many times the choir director falls short. Because they think that they are more important. And the way they fail is this: they fail to follow the priest’s/bishop’s lead to set the tempo. 


Imagine to yourself the first exclamation of Liturgy in your priest’s voice: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” 


Now notice the tempo of his exclamation. The tempo in which he pronounces this chitok, recitative. And repeat it by substituting the words with “ta-da-da-dum” or something similar. 


“Ta-da ta da ta-da… ta-da-ta-da ta-da-da-dum, ta-da da-da da-dam!” 


That’s how fast your tempo should be. 


Some directors will hear the exclamation and respond 3 times faster or 3 times slower.

This creates a dissonance. That shouldn’t happen. In fact, the director has NO RIGHT to not follow the tempo of the clergy. Because the choir is secondary to the clergy. 


Surprisingly, many professional and otherwise good directors have no clue about this. But many humble directors I’ve met - who have no musical education - do very well with this. They seem to instinctively know that they are the responders, the followers, not the stars of the show. 


Because that’s what happens to Liturgy when we start “performing” and not responding. It becomes a show, and sometimes even a showdown between the priest and the choir. 


I know you’re going to do this right. 


Musically yours, 




 P.S. If you want to find out what other skills even professional directors fail at, join us for our Gorbik Method monthly call. Just click on this link to register (free for Gorbik Method customers, steep discount for those who register before Wednesday, July 6th!

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