Playing Music from Memory: Pt 3 of 3

Continued from part 2 of ‘Playing Music from Memory’.

Like most choral conductors I have my choirs perform repertoire from memory. In my early career, though, I assumed choirs had memorization limits. One day a colleague challenged me by saying, “Michael, they know a lot more than you think they do.” Since then I have pressed my choirs to memorise all repertoire, and we practise this at every rehearsal.

In 2005 I took a girls’ choir from Australia to Europe. Three weeks before departure we decided to learn and memorise Benjamin Britten’s twenty-minute song cycle ‘A Ceremony of Carols’. The girls not only achieved this, but did so during the stressful period of final exams. Children are so capable. Teachers, coaches, mentors, and conductors should not let their preconceptions limit their students’ potential. Children will work to the standard demanded by the teacher. As a footnote to the European tour story above, we were performing ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ at the acoustically superb and gothic Minorite Monastery in Wels, Austria, and I had left the score in my hotel room. The girls were greatly amused that I would have to put my memory to the test. I had not practised conducting this piece without the score, and I was in front of a discerning and capacity audience. I berated myself; this was the first time I had forgotten to bring my score to a performance. Following the concert the girls unanimously proclaimed this performance as being our best in Europe. Perhaps this was because of the heightened communication the choir and I shared. With no score to focus on my eyes remained in contact with the choir. I missed a couple of cues, but on the whole my memory survived. This was a flow experience; the challenge required my fullest mental ability.

from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin

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“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, Music Educator, New Haven, USA.

“A must buy for every music teacher and music student” – William Bruce, Guildhall School of Music, UK.

“A deeply impressive work, the breadth of research is fascinating!” Robert Chamberlain, Team of Pianists and Monash University Piano Staff, Victoria Australia.

“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.

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‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 84 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“This is really good for all kinds of vocal groups, choirs, conductors. Bravo!!”

“The thinking person’s guide to training a choir. Love it!”

“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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