What’s the point of score preparation?

What's the point of score preparation

We all know that most of our work as choir leaders is done outside the rehearsal room. Whether you’re a conductor or conductor/manager, you probably have a ‘to do’ list as long as your arm.

One of the tasks you may find yourself neglecting is score study. With all the demands of daily life, it can be a challenge to find the time to really knuckle down and get a thorough knowledge of the music.

It’s fairly obvious that the score preparation we do will help our choirs in rehearsal and performance, but I believe that it’s also vital to build our confidence and effectiveness as conductors. Here’s how:

It gives us a deeper understanding of the music

Music is so much more than dots on a page. Score study helps us to put a piece into a historical and compositional context. Even a small amount of research into the circumstances in which music was composed can augment our rehearsal planning and help us to communicate the essence of a piece to our choirs.

It allows us to feel prepared and in control

As with so many things in life, the more preparation we do, the more confident we feel. Having a reliable, methodical approach to score preparation is a huge step towards creating effective, enjoyable rehearsals.

It helps us to empathise with our choirs because we know how it feels to sing all the parts

An important part of score preparation is understanding the individual vocal parts. We encourage choir leaders to sing each part (even if that means transposing it). Sometimes, it’s only by singing a part that we can reveal possible challenges, for example tricky breaths, intervals or vowel sounds.

It allows you to anticipate problems before they arise and answer questions with authority

Your score study can allow you to address potential problems before they arise in rehearsals. Perhaps you notice a difficult entry note for one part and find a cue in the accompaniment that they can listen out for. Perhaps you find a long phrase that needs staggered breathing so as not to interrupt the line. Perhaps you spot a melody in a lower part that is likely to be drowned out by an upper part if you’re not careful with your dynamics.

Identifying potential pitfalls and having answers and remedies to hand is a huge boost to our confidence as choir leaders. This approach also helps us to run our rehearsals smoothly because it reduces the time we spend making decisions on the spot, which can interrupt our train of thought and lose the choir’s attention.

If you already have a system for score study that you use consistently, you can feel very pleased with yourself. If you don’t, I hope I’ve convinced you to spend a bit more time on this fascinating and rewarding area of work.

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    Victoria Hopkins

    Victoria is a founder and director of Total Choir Resources. She leads Total Voice Chamber Choir in the UK.

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    Lois Johnston - a few months ago Reply

    Thank you for your article- I so agree with you. I can’t conduct well without preparing the score first because I need to know what is on the next page! Occasionally I conduct the local Community Choir for a rehearsal and as I usually work with ladies in two or three parts, the four parts including men become quite a challenge, but very good for me I am sure!

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - a few months ago Reply

      Hi Lois,

      Thanks for your message. That’s exactly it, as choir leaders we need to understand where a piece is going as we teach it. This also helps us to feel more confident as choir leaders.

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    Kevin O'Carroll - a few months ago Reply

    Hi Ladies,

    Having read my book you will already be familiar with my take on score preparation. For me, at least 50% of my work is on the score.
    Not properly preparing a score is like getting into a car, driving aimlessly and then being surprised that you have not arrived at the destination you wanted. First we decide where we want to go. Then we check the map to see how to get there. If we are thorough (or driving an over-sized load!) we will check for possible problems (low bridges etc.) and only when we have all of that done can we expect an uneventful journey. I am sure, like me, many of your followers have had a bad experience in putting in a destination in a sat-nav only to find themselves in the middle of nowhere! So it is with score preparation is essential.

    What do we want?
    How will we achieve it?
    What problems can we expect along the way?

    I recently spoke with a conductor who bragged about how clean his scores were. I asked about the meaning of specific Latin words in the text – he couldn’t answer me. I asked about specific word pronunciations – he had to think for a minute. I asked how he would conduct a tricky passage – again there was hesitation. Proper score preparation would have dealt with all of these issues.

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - a few months ago Reply

      Hi Kevin,

      Great to hear from you. An important point well put. I love your analogy!

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    Erica - 3 years ago Reply

    This is an interesting article, I do go through all the parts as I record all the vocal parts and send them out to my choir on Dropbox. I don’t use sheet music, never have because I like to do my own arrangements and I suppose I want my choir to sound different from all the other local community choirs in the area, following the standard choral arrangements out there of popular. Its a rode for my own back but I prefer it that way. It does at times stretch me vocally hitting those soprano notes but hey its a good work out for my pipes. Love your articles by the way, I think you should do a live workshop for choir directors. Just an idea!! :)

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      Victoria Hopkins - 3 years ago Reply

      Hi Erica

      Thanks for that great feedback. We often get asked about holding workshops and it’s certainly something to consider for the future.

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