At the beginning of a busy choir rehearsal as everyone arrives, the notion of relaxation can seem far away. However, I think it's vital to encourage relaxation in your choir. Here's why.
Your choir will find it difficult to focus and concentrate if they're excited and chatty. Some short relaxation exercises at the beginning of a rehearsal can help your singers ready themselves to concentrate and learn. Try gentle stretches like shoulder rolls, add some deep breaths with a sigh on the exhalation. Yawn to relax the jaw. You'll soon find that the excited buzz turns into a calm focus. This is not only beneficial to the physical aspect of singing where tension can interfere with the quality of sound but it is also a way of getting everyone ready to pay attention and work on the pieces. You'll probably find that most of your singers love the chance to chill out and relax after a busy day.
Don't forget yourself
It's just as important for you to find a relaxed state as it is for your choir. Leading a rehearsal is similar to a performance in that you have a plan and anticipation of how you will deliver it. While a bit of adrenalin can make you feel charged and ready, too much nervousness can impede your work. Relax with your choir and you will feel the benefits as well as your singers.
Remember that the choir mirrors you
Another reason to make sure that you stay relaxed is that your choir will unconsciously mirror your body language and demeanour. Tense shoulders will not only make conducting much harder and more tiring, but it could lead to your choir mirroring that tension. If this happens in rehearsal, the chances are it will also happen in performance, which can lead to a poor sound and a visibly uncomfortable choir. If you feel yourself tensing during a piece, take time at the end to do a few shoulder rolls or stretches with your choir before moving on to the next piece. You may be unaware that tension is creeping into your body language - another reason to video yourself occasionally!
Warm-up before the warm-up
Rushing around before a rehearsal can leave you little time to prepare your conducting. There are two ways you can help yourself to be prepared and feel more relaxed. The first is by having a rehearsal plan created in advance so that you don't need to be distracted by thinking about the logistics of the rehearsal. The second is to do a short warm-up yourself in a quiet corner before your singers arrive. Take time to do some gentle stretches and breathing, focusing particularly on your neck and shoulders, which can suffer if you conduct with too much tension.
If we're relaxed, we're happy
Create a relaxed atmosphere for your singers and they will thrive vocally. When we feel relaxed, we feel happy, which in turn allows us to sing with less tension and more enjoyment. Choir members want to improve and sing well. Help them to relax and you'll be helping them to sound fantastic and enjoy their choir experience.