This is the final part of my series of articles covering some of the basics of how to be a choir leader. We’ve looked at why you might want to take on this role in the first place, what sort of choir might suit your personality and talents, how to use the power of your connections to get a project off the ground, getting the finances right, understanding some basic techniques to give your choir an identity, and how to create an online presence that will allow you to manage and promote your choir.
All the articles in this series so far have related to things that you can put in place, wholly or partly, before anyone has sung a note. At some point, though, you are going to assemble a group of people and make music. This final article is about that daunting prospect – your first rehearsal. How can you ensure that it is successful and that the singers you lead at the first outing come back for the second?
Your first rehearsal is unlike any other
When a group of people meet for the first time to make music, there are bound to be all sorts of emotions, perceptions and motivations in play. No one will know quite what to expect. Some of the group may be quite nervous, worrying that their talents and skills may be inadequate. It’s important to remember that a first rehearsal needs to achieve many things that are not about music. It will showcase you and your leadership abilities, it will encourage a disparate group of people to form a team and get to know one another. It will be a starting point for, you hope, a bright future of musical achievement and fulfilment. No pressure then!
As with all things that appear quite daunting, the best approach is to break the task down into manageable chunks and deal with them one at a time.
Where will you meet? There will be a few considerations to take into account. Obviously, you need sufficient space for the numbers you expect. You need to be heard easily by your singers, so if the acoustic doesn’t lend itself to that, you’ll need to think about amplification. You’ll also need sufficient space for people to mingle and get to know each other.
If you have a regular rehearsal venue picked out, but don’t feel its quite conducive to a first rehearsal (perhaps there’s little space for socialising before and after), you could consider hiring somewhere just for the inaugural event.
If your choir will rehearse regularly with an accompanist, you’ll obviously need to have someone lined up to perform this role long-term. If you plan to lead from the piano yourself (perhaps because you’ll be performing unaccompanied music and you’ll only need a piano for note-bashing), I recommend hiring an accompanist for your first rehearsal, at least. When you lead a choir for the first time, you need to be totally focused on your singers and how you’re communicating with them. You’ll have plenty to think about without having to accompany as well.
Similarly, if you’re going to run sound equipment yourself in the future, get some help for the first session so that you’re not in danger of getting distracted. Give yourself the luxury of a single focus.
The plan for your first rehearsal shouldn’t be too focused on learning new music. If you spend a large chunk of your time note-bashing, you’ll probably kill the buzz in the room and send your new singers away feeling a bit deflated. Whatever repertoire you intend to cover in future weeks, try to make the first rehearsal self-contained. Focus on inspiring your new choir, not teaching them.
Spend plenty of time on warm-ups and fun team-building exercises (there are plenty of ideas on this website and you can check out our Little Book of Choir Warm-ups for inspiration) and don’t worry too much about technique and repertoire. That can all come later – there’s plenty of time.
You may be tempted to kick off the rehearsal with some information about who you are, the musical background that led you to choir-leading, why you’ve decided to embark on this project and what you intend for the choir. Resist that temptation and get everyone singing as soon as possible. We’ve found that the best time for announcements and notices is after a mid-rehearsal break, before you embark on the second half.
When you have your mind on the big picture, it’s easy to forget the little things. Giving your choir name badges for the first rehearsal will save them having to repeat their name to lots of new people and will help you learn who everyone is. If you can run to decent quality badges, you could ask your singers to wear them for the first few weeks to give everyone a chance to commit names to memory.
Information to take away
Because you want to make the first rehearsal extra-fun, you won’t want to spend a lot of time giving your singers information that they’ll probably forget anyway. Make sure you have an email address for everyone who attends and then put the information they need – contact information, performance plans, rehearsal dates etc – in written form. It’s a nice idea to create a flyer or postcard for the first rehearsal with a bit of inspirational blurb about what you’re planning for the choir as well as the important information they need to know.
Ultimately, the first rehearsal of a new choir is about the beginning of a relationship between you and your singers. Let them get to know you and your unique combination of personality, talents and skills. Create an inspirational, fun inaugural rehearsal and you can look forward to building a happy, successful choir.