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While not exactly two-a-penny, books aimed at helping choirs and their conductors are not unknown. Newly arrived is Michael Bonshor’s The Confident Choir. Dr Bonshor is a very experienced singing teacher and choral conductor: he adds to this a background in psychology, and by conducting interviews and setting up focus groups within choral communities he examines good and less good practice from his own observation and the singers’ own feedback.

One of the big plusses about this book is the way it is laid out. Dr Bonshor has certainly been meticulous and thorough. Each of the six chapters develops a particular theme, and at appropriate moments gives bullet-pointed checklists and exercise menus: a great help to those who use this slim volume as a work of reference. It is too easy for experienced old lags like myself to say ‘I know all this’, though it never hurts to be reminded occasionally of what does and doesn’t work. But I can imagine that those who come newly, unexpectedly, reluctantly or any combination of these to the business of choral direction will find this book highly informative and more than mildly encouraging.

Early in the text, the author refers to ‘flow’, meaning ‘in the zone’. He uses the word to describe what happens when everything is popping along in a positive manner and a lot of useful learning is taking place. And ‘flow’ is just what the musician Dr Bonshor’s prose does – until he remembers his psychological leanings, at which point we are treated to sentences that no doubt make his academic friends beam with delight and leave me cold. I too would like many more members of choirs and choral societies to look up not merely more often, but all the time: easily achieved by holding the music higher, so the head is not choosing between looking at the music or the conductor. I’m not sure that close acquaintance with ‘Rodenburg’s second circle principles of eye contact’ will produce any greater improvement in this area.

The frequent quotations from choir members are fascinating – they are arguably the single most important aspect of this manual. I remain mildly puzzled about the sub-title. While it is undoubtedly ‘A Handbook for Leaders of Group Singing’, I’m sure it will be equally of interest to all choir members everywhere, not least to see if what they say in their coffee-break is the same as that being said elsewhere.

JEREMY JACKMAN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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