Revisiting Rehearsal Principals

Summer is the time many of us dig into books, videos, etc. to prepare for the year ahead. Below are some of the principles I am re-visiting as I look ahead to the new year.

Score study – There are many ways to begin, but don’t skip any of these:

  1. Text – read, comprehend, look at word-setting.
  2. Structure – find the repeated sections, variations, new material, and transitions. Study the melodic figures, the harmonic movement, the relationship of the voices to the accompaniment.
  3. Sing all of the parts, marking where you have difficulty – you can expect to hear the singers have problems there as well.
  4. Sing the vertical structures (chords). Practice giving the pitches in the chord structures.
  5. Take note of the composer’s directions regarding tempo, dynamics, and articulation. If there are no directions, make decisions about those elements.
  6. Form a plan for how you will rehearse the piece – how many weeks of rehearsal before you sing it, how much time/rehearsal, which sections will be rehearsed each week, etc.
  7. Practice conducting it. Where will you need your left hand? What is the character of the piece and therefore the character of your beat?

Introducing the music

  1. Before sight reading, have the choir scan the piece as quickly as possible. The first scan looks for repeats, meter changes, key changes. Then sing. The second scan would include other details of the score.
  2. Always have ‘em sight read – bash through – as much as possible. Remember the zen of sight reading: no one’s life is at stake; relax. Give the key, give the meter, show where 1 and 5 are, and go.
    • Your long term goals are to have a group that can perceive notation and make a stab at it – a group that will KEEP GOING; i.e., a group that can perceive melodic and harmonic content quickly.
    • Your short term goal: get a sense of each piece as a whole
  3. If they can’t bash through the whole piece, make them try part of it and then break it down. Find the one musical idea that will make learning the rest of the piece easier. Or have everyone sing a single, important line.
  4. For the end of rehearsal: something fun, or inspiring (or in church work, the pieces for Sunday – ideally rehearsed in a different space. End with success.

And finally:

Don’t talk – sing! I think it was Charlene Archibecque who said “Seven words or less” whenever you stop. Let your conducting technique show the choir what you want.

There are many ways to organize your rehearsal, but they will all be for naught if you let the singers hijack your rehearsal. Every time you stop the singing, you need to know exactly what you’re going to ask for, or what you’re going to change, or whatever. Do not waffle and do not solicit opinions, unless you want to lose 10’ or so of rehearsal.

From Charles Bruffy: “Don’t start fixing until they’re committed to listening.”

End every rehearsal with something that the group can sing well, be it a whole piece, or a verse, or one phrase. The singers should leave feeling successful.