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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Lessons from Daniel Coyle

As you know if you've read many of my posts, I enjoy reading in other areas, from psychology to sports/coaching, and trying to learn things from them I can apply to music and conducting.
I think that the biggest thing I've taken from Daniel Coyle's two books has been the idea of gradually building the "white matter," or myelin, in the brain. If you've read much about the brain over at least 50 years or so, some of the structures (neurons, axons, dendrites, the synapses, etc.) have been understood to some extent for a long time. The idea of the insulating properties of myelin, which is much more recent, which gets put down only as a connection is fired, and builds gradually, is a great help to understanding how practice works. It tells how important it is to practice the correct things in the correct way (because you don't want to lay down myelin—or reinforce—the wrong things). And it also tells us about the patience needed as our brains repeat the correct actions many times and gradually build stronger and stronger connections as the correct skills are ingrained and gradually become more automatic, more unconscious . . . so your conscious brain can do what only it can do in leading the whole show.
It changes the nature of how we practice our own skills (conducting & rehearsal technique), but also, how we teach our singers to sing better, to be better musicians, better ensemble singers, better expressive singers. I know I will think much more about my own skills and these processes because of this.
And on to an announcement that I'll finish up being a ChoralNet blogger soon. For one thing, I've written a lot and need to work on some other things. But primarily, my life will be especially busy next year. Now, all of us are busy—I'm not special in that way, given the lives we all lead as conductors and teachers! But next year, with Jerry McCoy's retirement at the quickly-approaching end of this  school year, I'll be taking on his role for the 2015-16 academic year, administering the choral program, conducting the A Cappella Choir, and teaching all our graduate students in conducting (including writing and running their exams and supervising quite a few final papers). At the same time, I'll keep conducting the Collegium Singers (our ensemble that sings with our period-instrument orchestra) and remain chair of the Division of Conducting & Ensembles.
It'll be busy, but a great challenge and great fun at the same time—Jerry set very high standards. I'm looking forward to it . . . but trying to keep up with writing a weekly blog is a bit much.
I'll say more later, but it's been a great privilege to be able to share with (and learn from) you over the past several years. Thanks to Scott Dorsey and Phillip Copeland for asking me to do this—it's been fun!

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