Breathing Life into Our Music
A Manual for Church Choir Conductors in Asia
For many decades church choir conductors in Asia have been the recipient of excellent conducting textbooks written by European and American authors. A good number have become staple resources in the pedagogy of conducting. As noteworthy as these books are, there is yet a book that can address specific needs of Southeast Asian church choir conductors, most of whom are part of the developing world and have unique experiences that are hardly addressed by these choral resources. The developed world has accessibility to many choral resources, which are otherwise hard to come by in countries where they are so costly.
This author has observed that in many Asian choral cultures, much emphasis is given to extended repetition and rehearsal time so that musical components are aligned. Advanced learning systems in the West will spend a few minutes learning something that takes a far longer time to learn in the context of Asia. This situation may not necessarily be a minus for Asian cultures. In the process, relationships between choristers are built more lastingly through time. Asian culture cultivates a sense of trust and kinship. It enables singers to develop teamwork and global awareness of and adjustment to the singing environment.
In navigating these pedagogical and cultural rivers, the choral conductor is expected to meet more than the usual demands of work in a church setting. They include the need for spirituality, relationality, stewardship, and leadership. The church expects her to learn wisely from mindsets, perspectives, and approaches that will make her an adaptable, pastoral, and excellent church musician.
As such, the author hopes that his book will become a resource for that kind of a conductor. It aims to challenge church choir conductors in Asia to look at a variety of perspectives and resources. Conductors are encouraged to be more engaged in reflection and to collaborate with other church conductors in the region.
Much of the material in this book can form part of the subject matter discussed in three separate conducting courses: conducting technique, score study and preparation, and rehearsal technique. A fourth might be choral management. I intend for this book to keep writing itself and ensure its future editions. Each reader is encouraged to email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your experience in any of the areas mentioned above. What were the problems you encountered, and what solutions did you apply? These case studies will further bolster the need for an updated second edition for Asian church choir conductors.
This book uses the pronoun "her" throughout the chapters. The practice is intentional. It is a gesture to correct a perceived imbalance in choral leadership, usually assigned to men. As well, the author’s experience around Southeast Asia is that more and more women are taking roles in musical direction among church choirs. The use of color is self-evident to appeal to Southeast Asian tapestry and weave. It is a region bursting with rich imagery in their language. Southeast Asians are readily drawn to visual representations rather than verbalized definitions.
This manual aims to encourage Asian church choir conductors—novice, aspiring, and advanced—to train their choirs and congregations to sing multi-part anthems and hymns developed from their own cultures, experiences, and languages. Well-developed churches often rely heavily on American and European hymnody and choral literature, which have unconsciously shaped an aesthetic and methodology of learning that can sometimes confuse a cultural tradition. The reverse is also true. Churches steeped in their traditions—whether traditional or contemporary—need to expand their horizons and boundaries to realize that the church of God encompasses peoples and cultures that span many centuries, peoples, and places.
Joel M. Navarro, DMA
Professor and Lecturer, 2014-2020
Singapore Bible College
*(Pronounced IN-spi-ra-re. From the Italian, meaning “to breathe into.”)