Book review for «The Choir»

the choir bildeSara Terrell writes a book review for my book «The Choir» in
The Choral Scholar, which is the journal of the National Collegiate Choral Organization (USA)
Andrew Smith, translator Cantando Musikkforlag AS, 2008 165 pages, 235 NOK (≈ $27.50 as of
publication date), hard cover ISBN: 978-82-92-49422-6
This slim, but powerfully written volume was originally published as Korkunst (literally “choir art”) in 2002 in the author’s native Norway. The 2008 translation by Andrew Smith, a native UK choral artist and composer who has spent his life in Norway, brings this important book to a wider audience. Author Tone Bianca Dahl states, “This is not a book about conducting, but about being a conductor.” More specifically, Dahl focuses on key aspects of conducting a choir that go beyond what we do with our arms. The ideas presented by Dahl steered my research in useful directions as I investigated the ways in which a choral conductor must adapt communication style based on the makeup of the choir being conducted. I recommend the book as a library resource for departments seeking to equip rounded leaders and interpreters of music. It would also be an effective source of readings for a rehearsal techniques class.
Tone Bianca Dahl is a conductor of over 25 years experience, during which time she has been active as both a conductor and solo performer. Trained at the Norwegian Academy of Music, she is currently a professor there. She is also the conductor of Schola Cantorum, one of Norway’s finest choirs, and she has a thriving role as clinician for choirs and conductors throughout Europe. The beginnings of The Choir came about when she was asked to design a course in Choral Didactics. Her research for the course led her to examine why she does things the way she
does, followed by an analysis of how and what exactly it is that she’s doing as a conductor. Dahl advocates for beginning with the why and letting the how and the what follow. The result, she finds, is a deeper effectiveness and more meaningful connection to her choirs.
Intended for use by conductor training programs as well as lay choral leaders, The Choir is written in an easy-to-read, first-person style, and the text is interspersed with inspirational quotations, art, and poetry by Norwegian author, composer and sociologist Lise Knudsen. A quick flip through the pages draws a distinct comparison to books of the self-help genre and the comparison is apt; the light style makes it a joy to read and it is organized in such a way as to make specific information easy to find for later reference.
The book is divided into three areas that correspond to the subtitle of «Singing, Leading, Communicating.» The first area is devoted to voice production and warming up, with a detailed but easily understood description of the physiological process by which the singing voice is formed. In the second segment, on Leading, Dahl deals with the role of the conductor in getting the choir from first rehearsal to performance. She discusses choosing repertoire, dealing with intonation (with a wonderful section on tuning individual notes in a chord), and practical aspects of planning a concert.
The final portion of the book, on Communication, is arguably the most powerful. Dahl reminds us that we are working with a living, breathing organism made up of a collection of individuals with different backgrounds, relationships, experiences, education levels, and emotions. The effectiveness and empathy with which we as choral leaders communicate with this collective
has a direct impact on the musical product we are able to create together. Dahl deals with issues such as how we speak to our choirs, how we inspire them, and how we distribute responsibility. Handling more sensitive issues such as dealing with choir committees, taking over leadership of an established choir and the removal of choir members are also given careful attention. Conductors who want to be more mindful of their own balance as a gateway to effective communication will find Dahl’s set of personal exercises for developing physical and emotional balance valuable. I find that they have given me more control and expressiveness in my gesture and a greater ability to approach my role as a conductor with an open and affirming mind.
The Choir is an effective and engaging book, and I firmly believe that it serves a valuable purpose within choral education programs in North America. As yet, there has been no American publication of the book, but the translated volume is quite easily obtained online from the Norsk Korsenter AS. The book’s translator, Andrew Smith, who is associated with the Norsk Korsenter states that they regularly ship the book outside of Norway and that those wishing to purchase the book should email the Korsenter directly at to place an order.
— Sara Terrell

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