There’s always a tremendous feeling of enthusiasm at the beginning of a season, with new music to introduce to the choir, a fresh performance to work towards and perhaps some new warm-ups to throw into the mix.
However, in my experience, there’s a tricky phase in the middle of the season where we have learned the basic elements of the songs but they are not yet performance ready. Feelings of doubt as to our being ready in time start to creep in and I feel uncertain about how to tackle the workload during this phase. It feels like the performance is still ages away, yet I also worry that it’s going to come around very quickly.
Over time I’ve learnt some strategies to remain calm and ensure my rehearsals stay on track without overloading or stressing out my singers. Here are some top tips:
Even though the performance seems miles away at the beginning of a season or term, count the number of rehearsals, think about how many new pieces you are introducing and map out when you will introduce them and how long you will need to perfect them. Try not to overload your choir. Instead, introduce a couple of new pieces then re-visit these in the next session before adding in the next piece.
Have a contingency
I like to block out the couple of rehearsals prior to a concert primarily for working on performance skills and finishing touches. Of course, I’m working on these aspects throughout the rehearsal process, but I think it’s important to focus on the performance in the final phase. I certainly don’t want to be teaching new things right up to the performance date.
Keep things in perspective
Remember that rehearsal is a process. Don’t think that one piece has to be perfected before you start another. You can be working on several pieces, building them gradually. You might need to remind your singers of this too; my choir can get very self-critical when they don’t pick up a song instantly in the first rehearsal.
Focus on fun
Keep mid-season rehearsals engaging by including fun warm-ups and exercises to counter-balance the hard work involved in this phase. Ideally, your exercises will be relevant to your repertoire, reminding your singers of the skills they need to tackle their songs confidently. For example, you may have a piece which goes very high in the choir’s range. You could work on posture, breath and placement. If you have a lot of descending note patterns, you could do warm-ups that focus on tuning and support.
Finally, don’t forget that you, as the choir leader, must always have an eye on the next season. Don’t be taken by surprise as you approach a performance and realise that you have no idea what’s coming next!