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.
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.
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.