Music Director Disease

Origin From: Total Vocal
Author: Deke Sharon
Date: 2014-05-15

I've had a chronic problem for years now. Decades. Since my teens. And perhaps my speaking about it will help the legions of other silent sufferers around the world.

I'm speaking about Music Director Disease.

It's an affliction specific to a cappella, and whereas there is no cure, with acknowledgement and careful monitoring it is possible to live a long and prosperous life on stage.

What are the signs you might have the disease? Symptoms include

* a far away look in the eyes

* diminished responsiveness to others on stage or in the audience

* lowered excitement and response

* physical and emotional detachment from the song

It can affect any member of a group, but is most common among music directors who:

* focus more on precision than performing 

* notice errors and then think about those errors while on stage

* spend time on stage analyzing the performance and audience reaction

Like i said, this condition is not curable. Once you have it, you will have it for the rest of your life. However, several measures can be taken to combat these insidious symptoms:

* rehearse while rehearsing, then when on stage trust the rehearsal and your instincts and "let go"

* remember that an audience does not experience a musical performance the way you do - as a series of precision maneuvers. Emotion and energy and engagement are far more important.

* remember that when hearing a piece of music live, most errors that bother you will never be noticed by the audience. Also remember that basically every great performance you've seen has been riddled with imperfections in the eyes of the performer. Errors you never saw.

* remember that the greats embrace imperfection. Example: the best selling jazz album of all time - Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" - has squelchy notes by Miles himself. Obvious, blatant mistakes in the forefront, on a studio album. And it just makes it more beautiful.

* if symptoms persist, consider audio and/or videotaping your performance, so you can perform while on stage, then analyze later.

This disease is specific to a cappella, as conductors, both choral and instrumental, face the group not the audience, so their facial expressions - distracted, angry or distant - cannot be read by the concert goers. And in most other musical ensembles or bands, a lead vocalist draws almost all of the attention, so the countenance of other instrumentalists, including perhaps a band leader behind a keyboard - go almost entirely unnoticed. 

If you're off to the side of your group and you're moving less, eyes wandering off into the distance, thinking about how you can get that 7th chord to better tune, or the color notes to float in more gently, you're dragging down the rest of your ensemble, who are actively feeding off your energy. And if you show any of the following symptoms, get help immediately:

* crinkled nose or furrowed brow when a wrong note is sung

* head tilted to one side when your group goes flat

* shooting a glance at a group member when he/she makes a mistake

If one or more members of your group suffers from this affliction, he or she might not know it. Consider forwarding them this message, perhaps with a note letting them know you are there to help them, not judge them. 

Alas, as directors, arrangers, composers and musicians, we are asked every day to analyze, pick apart, critique and perfect music made by ourselves and others, and then we're supposed to just turn it off like a faucet the moment we step on stage, but as is the case with most addicts, it is not so easy. Precision and perfection are a dangerous drug. 

My name is Deke Sharon, and I am a survivor of Music Director's Disease. Mine is a daily battle, but I stand here as a 30-year veteran to say that you too can live a healthy life with diagnosis, treatment, and support.



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