As founder and director of the BYU Singers, Dr. Ronald Staheli has been around the world and back touring with and leading the elite choral ensemble. He grew up playing the piano, and studied piano and voice music theory at BYU. He continued his music education at USC, where he gained his masters and doctorate in choral music. Then he taught choir at Wichita State University for a few years before returning to BYU, where he led the BYU Singers until he retired in May 2015.
During those 30 years with the choir, he led them to Africa, China, all over Europe and across the United States, gaining awards and recognition every step of the way.
Now imagine him as your ward choir director.
Some years ago, after being called as a ward choir director in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a member of the choir approached Dr. Staheli. She and her husband faithfully attended each performance of the BYU Singers, and witnessed the spectacular results of his daily rehearsals. After choir practice one day she said, “This must be so hard for you, to be in heaven with your talented choir day after day, then to have to work with us.” Dr. Staheli didn’t see it that way.
[pullquote]”It hurt my feelings a little bit to hear that. I wondered, ‘Had I given you indication that I didn’t enjoy working with the ward choir?’ It’s such a different ball game that I’ve never compared the two.” —Dr. Ronald Staheli, former BYU Singers director[/pullquote]
“It hurt my feelings a little bit to hear that,” Dr. Staheli said. “I wondered, ‘Had I given you indication that I didn’t enjoy working with the ward choir?’ It’s such a different ball game that I’ve never compared the two.”
Dr. Staheli loves, helps and supports the choral music in his ward, and he shares his top four tips to help all ward choir directors improve their skills and lead better rehearsals.
- Do your homework. “That includes finding the music, preparing the music and getting to know your choir. You have to be prepared.”
- Breathe correctly. “Learn how to take a good, big breath and how to use the energy for a good sound.”
- Study proper choral vowels. “Learn to use the lips and mouth to get away from shallow, silly vowels, and instead make beautiful sounds that carry the music. It will feel foreign at first to the Sunday-only singer, but it makes a big difference in the sound.”
- Live on the edge of your comfort zone. “You have to get in the face of the choir. Walk up to them, get them to sing away from the score. Don’t worry about what others are thinking, even if you feel like you’re whirling around while you’re conducting. If you’re proper and prim, not much will happen with the choir.”
Whether a choir director has years of experience, little experience or is leading the Primary kids each week, Dr. Staheli says these tips apply across the board. In fact, he is Primary music leader in his ward, and is still teaching the same principles.
“We learn about good habits like standing tall, singing in our beautiful voices, learning about what’s going on in the music, and singing with the heart and brain together,” Dr. Staheli says. “The children are responsive and I really enjoy it. I’m learning how to have a lot more fun.”
Now that he’s not leading a choir every day, he often finds himself in the audience. He misses his choir, but he doesn’t mind the change in scenery.
“I like to listen for the good things in a performance,” Dr. Staheli says. “In the same way, I’ve always hoped people can listen to the things that I produce and hear the uplifting and beautiful things that properly convey the spirit.”
Read the Utah Valley Magazine feature on the origins of his one-bus BYU choir here, or pick up a copy of the November/December issue.
Primary *music leader. A chorister is who sings in the choir, not who leads it.