There are great reasons to use scores when you rehearse your choir. They shorten the ‘notebashing’ process because everyone has the text and notes in front of them. It’s easier to navigate a piece in rehearsal when you can simply direct everyone to a particular place in the score. Singers can make notes and alterations (in pencil, of course!).
But there are also pitfalls associated with singing with scores. Here are some suggestions on how to avoid them.
A score can become a security blanket
When singers use scores routinely in rehearsal and performance, they can begin to feel that it’s impossible to sing without them. The score becomes a ‘security blanket’ that the choir can be very reluctant to give up. If you want the choir to sing something from memory, your singers may struggle with the learning process because they’ve come to rely on having the score.
To avoid that problem, ask your singers to put their scores down and sing from memory regularly, even when you’re early in the learning process and even if you don’t intend to perform the piece without the score. Make sure your singers know that you don’t expect perfection. My usual instruction is ‘if you forget the notes, make something up; if you forget the words, sing ‘la”! One of the important things I try to instil in my choir is the willingness to make mistakes, because it’s not until you take that risk that you sing independently, rather than following others.
You want to see the choir’s faces, not the tops of their heads!
One of the major problems with using scores is that singers spend too much time looking at them. This is understandable while the text and music is unfamiliar, but all too often, the choir’s heads are still buried in their scores even when they know the piece. This obviously impedes the rehearsal process because you can’t shape the music with subtlety and nuance if no one’s looking at you!
One way to discourage this behaviour is to regularly ask the choir to put their scores down a sing a piece or section from memory, as I said in relation to the last point.
Another strategy is to focus on how your singers hold their scores. Make sure they know that holding their score up, so that they can see the music and you at the same time, is an important part of singing technique, just like posture and facial expression. Adopt a ‘look up, glance down’ policy, as opposed to the ‘look down, glance up’ way that many choir members sing. You may need to specifically rehearse that, assuring everyone that you don’t mind if they make mistakes – you just want to see their lovely faces.
Another strategy is to learn and perform pieces from memory, even if it’s only infrequently. This will help the choir to experience just how much better their performance is when they’re connected to the conductor in the moment.
Don’t wait until a performance to remind your singers that getting their heads out of their copies is vital. Build the practice into your rehearsals and you’ll be much more likely to get the results you want.