How to get repertoire ready for performance FAST when you’re short of time

I’m writing this article with Christmas in mind but it can apply equally to any time when you find yourself with a short learning period between performances.

Christmas is always a good example because there is a tricky balance to be found. Your singers won’t want to repeat the same repertoire year after year, but they probably won’t want to start learning Christmas music in September when the sun is still shining and it’s reasonably warm (I realise that around the globe the seasons and tempertaures differ greatly but here in the UK we certainly want our summer to last as long as possible!).

However carefully we plan our choir seasons, we can end up with the occasional ‘traffic jam’, perhaps because of a last-minute opportunity or because a fantastic new performance (too good to turn down!) coincides with a regular fixture. Either way, if you’re going to get a performance together quickly, you’ll need to have your wits about you. Here are some top tips for navigating a short rehearsal period.

Be realistic

You may have grand ideas about the ‘ideal’ repertoire for the performance in question. Lavish Christmas songs in four parts with beautiful descants and harmonies are always going to be lovely. However, if you overload your singers with too much learning and too much tricky repertoire they are likely to be left feeling under-prepared and anxious. The most important thing about a performance is to have confident, engaged singers who are enjoying the experience. Far better to deliver an achievable repertoire well than lots of new, intricate repertoire poorly.

Build experience

Short lead times for a performance are often easier once your choir has been running for a while and has built up a catalogue of repertoire. You can mix and match to create new sets that will only need a bit of brushing up rather than the full works. This will feel far more manageable for your singers.

You will always have the issue of newer singers who aren’t as familiar with the old repertoire. Having rehearsal tracks that they can listen to at home can be really helpful in this situation. If you have time you could also hold an additional rehearsal to go over repertoire for anyone who needs some extra help with the learning. That way you won’t slow down rehearsals by going over things most people already know.

The old with the new

Striking a blance of familiar repertoire with new can work really well. That way your singers know a good percentage of the performance pieces already but at the same time they get the challenge of learning something new.

You can spend a decent amount of time focusing on the new piece, which will be interesting for your choir, while just brushing up on the older pieces. This is ideal for Christmas time when you wan’t to avoid months of preparation singing Christmas songs but want to give your singers something fresh to try.

Consider the venue

When you’re choosing repertoire, consider where you’ll be performing. If you will be performing indoors with a good acoustic then songs with solos or more exposed arrangements can work really well. If, however, you will be outdoors, particularly in the colder months, anything too subtle can be easily lost. Much better in this instance to go for big volume numbers with all voices involved to help carry the sound.

Comments on How to get repertoire ready for performance FAST when you’re short of time

  1. Avatar Catherine says:

    Exactly right! I’m preparing a (short) Christmas program, choosing one challenging piece plus four others that are either in our repertoire or easy to learn. This is making everybody happy, feeling challenged, but not overwhelmed. Thanks!

  2. Avatar Pato Podo says:

    Good advice. I had to drop down some fantastic ideas due to lack of rehearsal tme.

  3. Avatar Valerie says:

    Thank you so much for the fantastic advice, Christine, I have an SATB choir comprised of senior citizens, who are great fun. I also do some SAB arrangements in the same way that Ann Clewlow does with her choir with SSA and SA.

    This year, because of your advice I am going to include a few pieces from past concerts. I have also arranged harmony parts for two pieces that were in unison. So that the first verse is unison and the repeat verse is harmony.

    Good luck to you all with your festive performances.

  4. Avatar Ann Clewlow says:

    Great advice as always, Christine. My choir is primarily SSA, but I also use SA arrangements to shorten learning time and introduce variety. The second sops then get the melody more than they are used to! Also, we are lucky in that the hall we rehearse in has a smaller one with a piano adjacent to it in the same building. If there is a particularly tricky part I will despatch that part, along with our accompanist, into that hall to note bash for ten minutes, whilst I take the rest of the choir. When they come back it’s amazing how much progress we will have made in a short space of time.

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