We all want to do the best for our choirs and make rehearsals worthwhile and enjoyable. Effective planning is essential, both for individual rehearsals and entire seasons.
However, even the most conscientious of us will slip up occasionally. We may have every intention of making notes on the last rehearsal and planning the next one with time to spare, but life gets in the way. Suddenly it’s rehearsal day again (can a week really be that short?) and we are planless and in a panic. So here are my ‘quick and dirty’ tips for getting things back on track.
What do you need to accomplish
Are you performing next week? Next month? What needs to be better? How quickly?
Are you still note-bashing, or are you at the finessing stage? Hone in on the sections that need the most attention and make those the central work of the rehearsal. Don’t attempt to cover everything, particularly if time is tight. I have been to far too many choir rehearsals where each piece is started from the beginning, every week. The beginning gets really polished (great) while later sections are still very sketchy (not so great).
What would you like to accomplish
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received about leading singers is this: conduct the choir in front of you, not the choir in your head (the choir in my head is the Montiverdi, in case you were wondering). Think about your choir’s strengths and weaknesses. If you could improve only one thing what would it be? Tone? Ensemble? Intonation?
Settle on one aspect and use that as the focus for the rehearsal. Be strong enough to let other issues go this time; don’t haul the choir up for every little thing. They’ll get overwhelmed and switch off.
Start with singing, not talking
Kick off the session with a brief warm-up. If possible, use something that ties in with your focus, so if you’re concentrating on diction, maybe you could use some tongue-twisters. If you’re concentrating on intonation, you could call out some chord names and have the choir sing them back to you (if you’ve never tried it, it’s a fantastic challenge. Give the choir a middle C only, then ask them to sing, say, an E major chord. It really gets them thinking about intervals).
You’re welcome to disagree with me (and I’d love to hear from you if you do) but I don’t recommend beginning rehearsals with talk (usually in the form of notices about concerts, events etc). I like to get the room buzzing with something fun and challenging and save the monologue for after the mid-rehearsal break.
Create a “sacrificial” section
The best-laid schemes of mice and conductors … you know the rest. I’m not the world’s greatest at timing. Sometimes I feel like a rehearsal has lasted five minutes, other times I’m wondering what we’re going to do for the last twenty minutes because I’ve already covered my rehearsal plan.
I deal with this using a tip from my murky past as a public speaker in the legal profession. Always have a section of your talk (or in our case rehearsal) towards the end of the session that you can ditch if time runs away with you. Maybe there’s a piece or section that is already in pretty good shape, but could do with a polish if time allows, keeping your rehearsal focus in mind.
Finish on a high
From experience, I think there’s little worse for choral singers than having a panic-stricken conductor hammering away at a tricky section right up to the wire, then declaring that time has run out and finishing the rehearsal with a plea for everyone to do their homework.
Hammer away at the tricky section by all means, but always leave a bit of time at the end of rehearsal to (a) run something that you’ve worked on in the rehearsal, or (b) have an sing of something in the repertoire. Don’t be tempted to interrupt and correct anything at this stage (yes, you will have to be strong). The choir won’t remember the correction and you’ll spoil their buzz.
So, to re-cap:-
- Think about what pieces and sections you need to cover, and make those the main work of the rehearsal.
- Think of one aspect of the choir that you would like to improve, and make that the focus.
- Start the session with something challenging and fun. Don’t waste time talking.
- Have a “sacrificial” section that you can ditch if time runs away with you.
- Finish with a big sing.
What do you think? How do you cope with rehearsal planning on the fly? Or are you always impressively organised?