One of the aspects of leading my choir that I don’t tend to succeed at all the time is making notes after rehearsal. I always have the best intentions, and I usually manage to jot down any tasks that really need to picked up, like emailing someone or ordering scores. Where I sometimes fall down is in making notes about what went well in rehearsal and what needs attention.
The ‘I’m too tired’ excuse!
When I get to the end of a session, I’m usually pretty tired – after all, I’ve just spent two hours doing something pretty physical, and concentrating hard all the while. When I get home, I know that I should make some notes while everything’s fresh in my mind, but I usually just want to have a nice glass of wine and unwind a bit, so I promise myself that I’ll make notes in the morning. Of course, the morning rolls round and I forget. Ah well. ‘Twas ever thus.
Why planning your warm-ups is so effective
The point of making notes on the rehearsal, when I do remember to do it, is to inform my planning of the next rehearsal. A really effective way to address problems and challenges that have arisen in one rehearsal is to address those issues in your warm-ups the next time. So, for example, let’s suppose that you notice while rehearsing a piece that the balance between the vocal parts is off. You work on it during the session, but it’s still not quite as you’d like it. The problem might be that the singers aren’t listening to each other enough, which often happens. The less experienced the singers, the more likely it is that they try to block out the sound from other parts, for fear of being led astray.
‘Doing’ instead of ‘instructing’
So in this example, we’d like to work on the choir’s listening skills. It’s probably not going to be very effective to simply say ‘listen to each other’ because it’s often the case that our singers don’t really know how to put verbal instructions into vocal practice. Instead, we might use an exercise in our warm-ups that encourages listening. One idea that I’ve found very effective is to simply ‘pass around’ a melody. Pick a song that everyone knows (I don’t know why, but I find that ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ works very well) and divide the choir into two groups. If possible, ask the groups to turn and face each other. One group begins singing, and when you point to the second group, the first group stops and the second group takes over. The challenge is to continue the melody at the same volume and with the same tone. You can swap back and forth as often as you like, and it makes it a lot of fun if you do some quick changes, even during a word!
If you were hearing some breathy tone in the choir, you might want to focus on exercises that encourage good resonance, like humming. Or if the choir’s diction in a piece was less than brilliant, you could do some tongue twisters.
Applying warm-ups to repertoire
By addressing repertoire issues in our warm-ups, we can encourage improvement in our singers without them even necessarily knowing what the problem was. And helping our choirs to adopt good technique during vocal exercises allows us to reference that technique when we’re rehearsing a piece. Instead of saying ‘I need to hear a more resonant tone in that section’, which might elicit no change at all, you could say ‘remember how we made our faces buzz when did those humming scales? Let’s recreate that feeling here’. The more you can help your singers to understand how good technique feels in their bodies, the more likely they will be to adopt it when they’re rehearsing and performing, leading to a better performance all round.