I love the summer months with the choir: light-filled rehearsals, birds singing along and good spirits all round. At Total Voice we are very lucky to have an annual music festival taking place in our village at which both of our choirs perform. It’s quite an occasion, with a professional stage and crew on the village green, a marquee with a stage to showcase young local talent and stalls selling delicious food and all sorts of wonderful things. I’m sure that many of you are currently working towards similar summer events, which got me thinking about all those elements of preparation we need to ensure are in place to give the best performance possible and, equally importantly, one that your singers will love.
Are people learning their lyrics? In my choir we sing without them so it’s important in the run-up to our festival performance to encourage people to learn their lyrics in their spare time and put the sheets down at rehearsals. People often remember far more than they think and the earlier they can discard their sheets (often a sort of comfort blanket) the better. Being familiar with the lyrics means singers can enjoy the moment of the performance far more than if they were worried about remembering words.
The same goes for choirs who sing from scores, the more they can be familiar with a piece and thus get their head out of their score, the more they can engage with the audience and enjoy the performance.
Festivals are all about fun and enjoyment. Remind your choir of this and run through a few performance skills with them. This might include smiling, looking out to the crowd, standing and accepting applause and, very importantly, not chatting on stage. In the run-up to our festival I always like to take the opportunity to make the most of the warm light evenings and start the rehearsal with a couple of numbers outside (we’re lucky enough to hare a large garden at our rehearsal venue). This is a great way to prepare your choir for the acoustic difference between singing indoors and outdoors. That way, it won’t come as a complete surprise to singers on the day. Anything that makes them more aware and comfortable about their performance will help them feel prepared and enjoy it.
Adding the finishing touches
As a conductor you will have an idea of how you want the finished piece to sound. Now is the time to work on the finer details of the music. Festivals are a great showcase for choirs and you want to do the absolute best you can. A few carefully planned dynamic elements can be the difference between a good performance and a great one.
Getting the logistics right
Because outdoor festivals tend to be, by nature, temporary, there’s usually no opportunity to rehearse in the space beforehand. Make sure you know how many singers you are expecting on the day, never presume. I like to have a sign-up sheet way in advance for upcoming performances so that I know how many singers to expect for a certain performance. You may also want to rehearse in a mixed formation ready for the performance as it can be much easier when you take to the stage if everyone isn’t trying to find a set place.
Make sure the sound crew have everything they need, eg backing tracks, information on any soloists, which songs will involve an accompanist etc. I always like to type out a sheet for the sound team with everything they need to know. Remember you want the sound team on your side, so always be super polite and helpful. Don’t expect them to be mind-readers. Also, it’s important to make sure your choir have clear information about what they are to wear for the performance, what time and where they will meet and any warm-up plans. The more they know, the calmer and happier they will be.