Phillip Swan directingMost often, we are faced with either/or situations: either PC or Mac, either accompanied or a cappella, either fries or a salad. Lawrence University is a both/and school.  Both a college and conservatory.  Both strong in solo training and in ensembles.  Both a rigorous and supportive culture. We are both Phillip Swan and Steve Sieck. 

The number one question we are asked is how our students manage the process of working with two directors.  Wouldn’t two conductors’ styles confuse them?  Students have to reconcile different approaches all the time.  A singer needs to figure out how to sing with fully-released vibrato for Verdi and how to sing with imperceptible vibrato for Lassus.  A student needs to figure out how to listen and take notes in the lecture hall, and how to raise a hand and ask a question in the seminar classroom. This music history professor argues for German Latin in Mozart and that voice teacher argues for Italian Latin.  So it should be no different in the singer’s ensemble training that s/he learns to work with different rehearsal processes, different sonic ideals or different ways of marking the score.  Our students are not confused by having two directors – they are strengthened by it.  Indeed, students in our ensembles will carry a solution from one director’s process into the other director’s rehearsal in very helpful ways.  And, most importantly, our students develop the flexibility to work with multiple styles of leadership in their lives after Lawrence.

Something else happened when we started this.  We each started growing in new directions, too.  Subtle improvements entered into our programming, our planning and our rehearsing.  When you collaborate with someone who approaches the work differently than you do, and you commit yourself to working as a team, you open yourself up to the possibility that there are other ways to do what you do.  Inevitably, some of those other ways will strike you as improvements on the way you used to do things. 

The reality is that no one conductor is perfect in all things.  What a blessing, then, to be able to work with a colleague who complements your training and skill-sets.  But we do not mean by this, “Steve, do all this stuff; Phillip, do all that stuff,” as if Steve only does this or Phillip only does that.  We mean, what a blessing to work with someone who best fosters growth in the other side of you.

Stephen Sieck conductingYou can imagine our confusion when we get the second-most frequently asked question, “who’s in charge when push comes to shove?”  Our response is simply, “why are you shoving?”  To what end? The best solution is focused on what the students need, and is only found in respectful dialogue.  Moreover, the reality is that we all co-direct: with our voice teachers, our band and  theater directors, our coaches, et cetera.  Pushing and shoving all these potential collaborators sounds exhausting and counterproductive to creating a community of choral excellence. 

We recognize that this is not a model that would work in every program everywhere.  We are tremendously grateful it works here, and we would love to talk further with anyone considering it.