Knowing the score: study tips for choir leaders Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of our score study series. Last time, we discussed how to get a high-level view of a new piece. Now, we’ll take a closer look.

Thinking about the detail

Sketching the structure of the piece

Once we’ve got an overview of the piece, we can dive into some more detailed work. You may want to scribble all over your score as you do this, so it can be helpful to make a copy for that purpose. You can transfer your final notes to your main score later.

First, have a look at the basic structure of the piece – movements, sections, repetitions. Are there any repeat marks or da capos? Are there changes in time signature or tempo? If there are fermatas (pauses), what comes before and after them?

Emulating the singing experience

Once you’ve assessed the structure, sing through each part. Even if you’re not a singer, you need to know how it feels to sing the piece. Obviously, you need to sing the part in your own range – we’re not looking to damage our voices. If you’re singing skills are limited, you might even need to transpose a part so that it’s within your range. It doesn’t matter. You’re not trying to create a performance; you’re just getting an idea of how the piece feels physically to the singers. Make a note of the tessitura of each part (the range in which most of the notes fall). Is it generally comfortable? Will one part have a harder time than the others? Also note any extremes of range which could affect when and how you will rehearse. For example, if a piece or section is very high for the sops, you might not want to rehearse it right at the beginning of a session.

Plotting the harmonies

Once you’ve gone through that exercise, you’ll have a clear idea of where the melodies and harmonies lie in the piece. Who takes the melody? Is it handed from part to part? If so, are there any handovers that could be bit clutchy? It can also be helpful to mark the score with the supporting harmonies, either using roman numeral notation or simple chord names. This can help you to develop a picture of which parts share characteristics at the same or different times in the piece, which in turn can help you with rehearsal planning. Analysing the chord structure of a piece will also enable you to identify dissonances – non-chord tones that give harmonic interest, but that could be tricky for singers to pitch.

The point of all this is that we want to get the music in our heads, as thoroughly as possible, before we plan our interpretation and practise conducting it. In fact, all this groundwork is likely to inspire our interpretation.

In the final instalment of this series, we’ll look at interpretation and conducting practice.

 

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