What are the skills that a good director must have?
I intentionally did not want to specify a choir conductor: whether it is conducting an amateur vocal group, the local band or a professional symphony orchestra, the type of skills that a conductor must acquire is essentially the same.
The artistic preparation will constitute a solid foundation from which to start, a necessary but no longer sufficient condition to be able to assume the role of leader of a group. Being a good musician, both from a technical-theoretical point of view and from that of developing an adequate sensitivity to face the complex art of interpretation, can make us suitable to face the stage alone with our instrument but, when the instrument that we play is ‘made up of people’, everything changes. The beauty of our profession is precisely the fact that we are not alone on stage when creating the musical experience but have the great privilege of being able to live that moment by sharing it with other colleagues. All this, however, has a price: we must know how to relate effectively with each other, not placing ourselves on a higher level (even if physically we were on a podium) but rather seeing in the other a collaborator, an accomplice.
The director is a coach who, through a creative process, stimulates reflection, inspiring each singer and instrumentalist to maximize their personal and artistic/professional potential to make it available to the group in favor of the achievement of a shared musical idea that will come communicated to the public.
Before going into the study of group psychology, conflict management, advanced negotiation techniques (hoping never to use them), the good director has to face, first of all, his fears and weaknesses (because, cit. We do not work with the favor of darkness). Cases in which our ego will be an obstacle in relationships will not be rare (especially if we are equipped with a wand and have just finished reading the complete Harry Potter saga for the third time …). We will have to be able to keep our private life separate from the professional one because the commitment of the group must be reciprocated by our concentration and, above all, we must be able to find the right balance in the relationship with our choristers/instrumentalists, trying to define a clear separation between what happens during the rehearsal and what one does after, so that nothing that happens on rehearsal becomes a personal matter. Without a doubt this is more difficult in amateur than professional formations.
In the era we are living in, however, artistic competence and leadership skills are no longer enough. We live in a historical moment in which music is a commercial product, if not a background used for sales; the school no longer teaches ‘to listen’, the number of graduated musicians is far greater than that of the musicians actually employed and the orchestras and theaters close (even before the Covid-19 emergency). Still, the need for music remains high.
How should a director be placed in this situation?
It is now more essential than ever to focus on audience development. This means, for example, creating attractive events and activating awareness campaigns on the importance that music can play on our physical and emotional wellness, on our perception of the world and on the way we live in society. The director has the responsibility of defining a training project for his group: a program with short, medium and long-term objectives that provide for a progressive artistic growth of the ensemble, but I would dare to say also of the director. At the same time, it is increasingly necessary to define a training path for one’s audience, with targeted events (for example concert lessons) and reasoned musical programs. Enough with the essay concerts or harlequin programs! It is also the director’s responsibility to ensure that the concert is not just a moment of entertainment but can become a real engaging musical experience. A suggestion? We play with space, with multimedia, with theatricality, with projects and programs that are gradually more experimental but not too far from the audience’s ear, so that the formation of this takes place in a progressive and accompanied way. A director with diversified training and experiences (from the direction of Gregorian chant to that of the musical passing through vocal and instrumental ensembles) will certainly have more ease in conceiving captivating programs, both for singers/instrumentalists and for the public: curiosity and continuous desire to put at stake can make a difference. Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly important to create and develop international relationships and experiences: these are motivating opportunities and great growth for both the group and the director; thanks to new technologies it is possible to start recently (a Skype/Zoom meeting with a composer from across the Alps or an international virtual choir) to then move on to exchanges, tours and participation in competitions. The important thing is to start: distances are getting shorter and shorter so we have no more excuses.
In summary: the director is required to be an excellent musician, a leader, an effective communicator, a coach, a psychologist, a conflict solver, a director and / or choreographer and, in the absence of a prepared management, I would also add an event planner, a marketing and digital communication expert, a connoisseur of entertainment legislation and tax legislation. In short, a life in constant evolution.
And here comes a question: where to train? Where to find and how to discern information?
Access to knowledge has become increasingly direct, within reach, but at the same time this simplification has also increased the difficulty of identifying valuable material.
Most of the time, the Conservatories prepare the musician, but not the professional who, leaving the welcoming walls of the Conservatory, will face a ruthless world of work (a world that, moreover, does not recognize that of the ‘musician’ as a profession). This is why it is important not to move alone but to network between directors, both nationally (as ANDCI is doing) and internationally, working in an ethical and virtuous way.
This magazine can become a precious means to share the knowledge of each of us, a starting point to know the interests and fields of study of each member that can then possibly be developed in the national assemblies in presence. The miscellaneous column has, by its very nature, the task of addressing different issues. There will be a way to deepen the topics mentioned in this article, but we will also deal with music and human relations, social and intercultural projects, music and speech, the identity of the singer, advice for reading and listening and much more.
From sharing the experiences of each of us, collaborations, inspirations for new projects, comparisons and debates, curiosity to explore unexplored sectors … all excellent opportunities for personal growth and, consequently, for the groups we conduct.
Davide Fagherazzi was born in Belluno. He began his musical studies at the age of six and in 2006 he graduated in piano at the ‘C. Pollini ‘of Padua; he then specializes at the Santa Cecilia Foundation in Portogruaro (VE). In 2005 he began his studies in choral conducting and in 2007 those of Musical Paleography and Gregorian Chant at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy of the University of Padua and then at the Abbey of S. Giustina in Padua. In 2011 he began his orchestral conducting studies with Andrea Gasperin and in September 2013 he entered the ISEB Institute of Trento where he studied conducting with Alex Schilling and José Rafael Pascual-Vilaplana, repertoire with Andrea Loss and instrumentation with Carlo Pirola. In 2017 he began to deepen the study of opera singing with the soprano Tatiana Aguiar. In parallel to his artistic activity, in October 2011 he obtained a master’s degree in Electronic Engineering at the University of Padua. Lecturer in IT, marketing and business organization, he alternates training activities with that of musician performing regularly as a pianist and as a conductor of orchestras and choral ensembles. In 2011 he founded Nova Symphonia Patavina (http://www.novasymphoniapatavina.it) of which he is currently artistic and musical director. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org