I realised the other week as I was enjoying a warm, sunny October day that despite still feeling like it was the end of summer, I had just six rehearsals until our first Christmas performance. My usual rule is not to start Christmas songs until at least November, but this year with an early date in the diary I decided I had no choice but to launch into Christmas repertoire in October.
You can imagine the groans this was met with from my singers! My choir love their Christmas performances, but let’s face it in October despite the shops being full of decorations we’re just not ready to think about it! So how do we go about inspiring our singers to learn their repertoire with enthusiasm? Here’s what I did:
At the start of the first Christmas rehearsal I gave the choir a run down of all this year’s Christmas events so that they could get everything in their diary at this busy time of year. These are also displayed for members on our website. I hightlighted to them that the first performance was just six rehearsals away so that they understood why we needed to start preparations.
Have some fun
The great thing about our contemporary Christmas repertoire is that it’s fun and I knew once we got into rehearsing the songs people would enjoy them. Underneath I felt just the same about Christmas songs in October, but to enthuse my singers I put this aside and got into the spirit of it all. We use a lot of percussion instruments, like bells and a triangle, during the instrumental sections at Christmas so bringing these out created a light-hearted atmosphere.
Keep it simple
With just six rehearsals and many new members since the previous year I decided to keep things simple, revisiting past repertoire rather than trying to introduce new songs. This means less learning for existing members but also would help newer members in the learning process because they would be surrounded by confident singers. The down side to this is repetition for existing members but I am starting the new year with some brand new repertoire to counter-balance that.
Mix it up
For myself and my choir, I don’t just want the rehearsals from now until Christmas to be festive songs, so I have carefully planned my rehearsals to include non-Christmas repertoire as well. For example, I chose one of the pieces which the choir knows well but we performed it a capella, which we’ve never done before. Another we sang but I changed the dynamics so this became an exercise in watching the conductor. Also I made sure I had an interesting and varied selection of non-festive warm-ups for the choir to add some diversity and balance.
If you have any tips for teaching festive songs out of season, we’d love to hear from you.