I’ve just been writing my choir rehearsal plan for next week and as we have three sessions before our next performance, it got me thinking about the best ways to motivate my choir and achieve a great performance. I always make sure that whether speaking directly to my choir or emailing them I keep a positive and constructive approach.
It’s probably fair to say that as you approach your performance there are areas which you feel still need work. Make a note of these as early as possible, preferably as you notice them. Then you can structure your rehearsal plans to incorporate time for correcting these areas. Surprising your choir at the final rehearsal with lots of issues you are unhappy with will only create panic and lack of confidence. It might even cause some of the choir to duck out of it altogether!
Of course, a choir leader’s performance preparation starts long before the choir’s. Being organised well in advance with repertoire, practice tracks (if you use them) and well-planned rehearsals will all encourage your choir towards feeling prepared.
In my choir, we learn by ear using lyric sheets. My biggest task as we approach a performance is getting singers to part with these sheets, which become a sort of security blanket. I have to strike a balance between being their friendly choir leader, but not being too laid back so that they think it doesn’t matter if they’re still holding their words at the last rehearsal! I usually make a joke that some people fold their sheet into a tiny square and think I don’t notice. This usually causes an embarrassed giggle from the culprits. I also find peer pressure plays a part as no one wants to be the only one left holding lyrics. I often remind the choir that it’s much better to have no lyrics and maybe fluff a couple of words (you always know more than you think) than to be the only one holding a sheet – the audience will notice that immediately.
It’s not just about the music
Aside from the lyric issue, it’s also important to think about performance technique during rehearsals. Things I will be reminding my singers of include looking out to the audience, smiling and enjoying the music. I have found in the past that when nervous, people can tend to fixate on me as the conductor looking for help with the words which I guarantee they will already know as we go through the songs extensively beforehand.
While it’s very flattering (if a bit disconcerting) to get all the attention, it doesn’t look very good to the audience who may begin to wonder why the singers are ignoring them. The best balance is a bit of each: keep an eye on the conductor and also acknowledge the audience. It definitely pays to brush up on these skills in the final rehearsals before a performance so that your choir feel prepared and it doesn’t take them by surprise.
Finally one of the big things I will be reminding my choir of is taking time to appreciate applause. This is the audience’s way of showing appreciation so enjoy it. Indeed, ignoring it could be perceived as rude, like their opinion doesn’t count. Look at the audience, smile and don’t talk to your neighbour. The audience’s appreciation is the official stamp of a performance well done.