Creating a collaborative choir rehearsal

When we lead a choir, we’re in charge. The choir leader is the final musical arbiter of the group. However, we’re also collaborating in making music with our singers. After all, if they didn’t sing, we’d look pretty silly standing there waving our arms in silence!

It can sometimes be tricky to navigate the right course between autocrat and democrat. Here are few tips to help you create enjoyable, collaborative choir rehearsals.

Give them the ‘why’

You’re the one doing the rehearsal-planning and ultimately directing the repertoire, but your singers are part of the music-making. Their response to your instructions will be much more wholehearted if they know why you’re asking them to do things. So instead of simply saying ‘sopranos – bar 24 onward needs to be quieter’, you could say ‘sopranos – bar 24 onward needs to be quieter because we want to create a feeling of melancholy’.

Don’t spoon-feed

As well as teaching and shaping your choir’s repertoire, you want your singers to develop as musicians. One way to do this is to avoid over-instructing them. Sometimes, you just need to point something out and there’s no need for specific direction, as in ‘basses, pay particular attention when we get to bar 60’, rather than ‘basses, you sang the wrong the rhythm at bar 60. It’s double-dotted, not single-dotted, so it should sound like this’. If the initial instruction to pay attention doesn’t work, then of course you’ll have to help out, but it might be enough. The learning will take hold much more deeply if the singers have worked it out for themselves.

Ask questions

When a piece or section requires improvement, ask your singers what they think needs to be done. Occasional questions from you to the choir will remind everyone that they need to be listening as well as singing and that they are part of the music-making process, not just a vocal instrument that the leader is ‘playing’. You should, of course, already have a good idea of the answer yourself, but you might be pleasantly surprised at how attentive your singers are, and how committed they are to creating a good performance.

Mind your language

Using collaborative language can go a long way to helping your choir take ownership of their performance. Try to avoid a lot of reference to what you want and think. Instead of ‘I think the melody’s being swamped before letter D; I want the underlying parts to be quieter’, you could say ‘those of us on the harmony parts before letter D, let’s bring the dynamic down a little and allow the melody to really come out’. A simple linguistic change can create a much better atmosphere.

We must always remember that our choirs get together and sing because they enjoy it. Our job, ultimately, is to nurture them so that they can communicate music to an audience. It’s not all about us!

Comments on Creating a collaborative choir rehearsal

  1. Avatar Jenny Smith says:

    These are wise ways to engage the members of the group to listen to each other and have their music making forever improving. I have used some of these approaches but it is good to have them at the front of my mind and deliberately use a fresh idea each time we come together. It’s fun to see the reaction these create too and how the atmosphere grows over time.

    Thank you. i love reading your ideas.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Jenny,

      It’s our pleasure, really pleased the ideas we’re sharing resonate with you and keep those practical steps you can take with your choir at the front of your mind.

  2. Avatar Gary Young says:

    Very helpful & informative tips.
    Greatly appreciated the ideas of communicating to the choir for rehearsals.

  3. Avatar Kamali says:

    Very helpful tips!
    Humility and participation are really vital for a successful rehearsal.
    Thanks a lot.

  4. Thank you! I’ve always thought/tried to be collaborative in our rehearsals, but you’ve given me here a couple of more ideas to put into practice.

  5. Great article, Victoria. You are so right – the language makes such a difference, by making it teamwork rather that a school room scenario, and not spoon-feeding them makes them progress faster so that they apply what you teach to other songs. I take the asking questions bit a bit further, by recording the songs in rehearsal, sending them out to members by email and asking them for their comments on the results. I’ve been amazed at how people who started choir with no experience can now give very perceptive constructive comments! Self evaluation is so important for progress, and that starts with your advice about not spoon-feeding. Also the recording of the work done on the song is so useful to people who have had to miss that rehearsal and it saves going back over old ground when they come back.

    1. Avatar Helen Owens says:

      Yes Ann, I have recorded sometimes and we’ve listened all together…..perhaps as you say listening individually at home giving them opportunity then to comment would be a good way to go with this. Thanks

  6. Avatar Valerie says:

    Thank you very much indeed. There are lots of thought provoking ideas for me there.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Valerie, glad you found the article helpful.

  7. Avatar Fiona Ives says:

    Excellent! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Fiona

  8. Avatar David says:

    wonderfull and helpfull tips…

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks David

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