Music Is a Story #4: Musical Directors are Narrators.

Remember last week’s entry on collaborative performers? Here’s a quick refresher of the beginning:

“Who tells stories? The Narrator!

Okay… but who is the musical equivalent of the Narrator?

When the music involves only one person, the answer is simple: the performer. There’s no one else! Once you start involving more people, the answer gets a bit more complicated.”

In ensembles from orchestras to choirs to worship teams and even Latin Salsa bands, the Musical Director – be they conducting with a baton or from the piano or from the bass – is the musical equivalent of the Narrator. They are the person designated to “tell the story.” They interpret the music by coordinating the actions of the performers. That is their job. This isn’t to say that a lead singer or soloist or any of the other collaborators have no input. The Musical Director’s role is mediate it all and make the call, often while performing!

In duos or trios, multiple people can negotiate it. The bigger it gets, the more important it is for one person to make the call. Although front and center, the lead singer or soloist is not necessarily the best equipped to fill that role! This is where those who don’t understand the logistics of music-making screw up royally.

Not just anyone can be a musical director!

Before the MD steps on stage. Before the MD even steps in front of the group, they must know how the elements of the music fit together and be able to communicate it. With regards to singers, they must know the voice parts in relation to each other as well as to the accompaniment (if any). That is more a matter of ear training than vocal technique!

There are singers with beautiful voices who are completely lost when it comes to harmony, chord charts, musical scores, their entrances, or even their starting pitch. There are pianists and guitarists with mediocre voices who can pull the whole thing together flawlessly. Examples of the opposite exist as well.

The important thing is that before designating someone to do the job, know what music leaders do and what they need to know. Churches, I am looking at you.

All the best,

TKP – 2/28/23

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