Introducing new music to your choir is all about balance. You know there’s going to be a learning curve, but you want to make sure that all your rehearsals are enjoyable. Here are my quick tips for getting the balance right.
Do your homework
A successful introduction of new music will depend largely on how well prepared you are and how thoroughly you know the score. While we may put a great deal of importance on how we present the information in rehearsal, we have to be in command of that information in the first place, and the only way to do that is to put in the graft of score study. Even if you’re learning by ear and teaching by ear, the same principles apply. You have know the music inside out.
Don’t do too much at once
A quick bash through an entire song or piece can be fun, but it’s likely that if you’re learning anything substantial, you won’t conquer it in one session. It’s important for your singers to feel that they accomplish something tangible at a rehearsal, which is where your season planning comes in. Make sure you know how much you need to accomplish at each session, and don’t try to overload the choir with new learning at any single rehearsal.
Don’t necessarily start at the beginning
It’s always tempting to start at the top and work through a piece chronologically, but sometimes it can be helpful to think a little differently. Is there a passage of the music that sets up a theme? Is there a simple statement of a melody that could be learned by everyone before you work on the more complex sections? Personally, I often like to start at the end of a piece. Giving the choir a chance to see the end of the musical journey can really help them as they navigate the rest of the piece. It also means that as you continue learning and eventually running the whole piece, the end gets better and better.
Look for patterns and repetitions
If one part establishes a melody which is then repeated by another, why not learn it together? If a chorus changes slightly with repetition, can you highlight the contrast? If you can flag up themes, motifs and patterns in a piece, you can help your choir to get a deeper understanding of the music and accelerate their learning.
Progress, not perfection
However much planning we do for our rehearsals, our leadership has to be reactive to a large degree. The choir will be more responsive to new learning on some days than others. We may plan to get a particular song or section up to scratch in a particular rehearsal, but if it’s just not happening, don’t keep slogging away at it. The choir will get demoralised and the law of diminishing returns will kick in.
Finish on a high
One of the most fundamental rules of choral rehearsal that I always try to live by is not to keep niggling away at things right to the end of rehearsal. Your singers want to sing. Whatever you’ve learned, whether it’s gone well or not, have a good old sing at the end of rehearsal. And if your new piece simply can’t be bashed through in that way, sing something else that the choir knows well. You want the choir to leave with smiles on their faces.