The easiest, most intuitive way to have a focused choir rehearsal is to know what you’re going to be singing in advance. In this post I’ll go into some detail about how I plan my rehearsals.
The Beginning of the Quarter
Before the new quarter starts I determine which songs from our current overall repertoire we’ll be singing and enter it into an outlining tool called Action Outline. (You can also do this in Microsoft Word or any other outlining tool or word-processor. I like Action Outline because it’s simple, but some of the keyboard shortcuts leave something to be desired. I’m still hunting for better outlining software, so my recommendation of the product comes with reservations.) Then every Friday, the day after our weekly Thursday rehearsal, I decide which songs we’ll be singing at our next meeting and send out an email to the choir with the agenda so they can prepare at home if so inclined. The first two weeks of a quarter are spent going through individual parts and determining which songs need the most work.
The Rehearsal Subsections
Once we’ve gone through the two week review, a normal rehearsal is divided into six subsections:
- Vocal Warm-ups and Vocalizes (~10 minutes)
- Warm-up / Review Songs(~20 minutes)
- Sight-Reading(~30 minutes)
- Songs to Work on(~45 minutes)
- Extra Songs to Work
- Request Time(~15 minutes)
The warm-up / review songs are songs within the quarter repertoire that don’t require that much extra prep, but do need review. They work as a confidence booster and get people excited about singing.
After that we jump into sight-reading, which tends to be the most taxing part of the rehearsal. We’ve been using new, easier, music for sight-reading material, some of which has been “solfeggified” meaning the lyrics have been replaced with solfege syllables. Soon I’ll be adding short sight reading exercises more targeted at reading certain intervals and rhythms.
After sight-reading we move onto the “Songs to Work on” section where we examine songs we already have some grasp on in more detail. We play with performance techniques, work on blend, dynamics, incorporate neat historical aspects, etc. If we finish with those songs before the last fifteen minutes of rehearsal we work on the extra songs, which like the warm-up songs are less technically challenging. These are good to have on hand because sometimes between the sight-singing and songs being worked on the choir can get mentally fatigued. Transitioning to these easier songs is a good way to keep the rehearsal productive and fun instead of just draining.
During the last fifteen minutes the choir gets to request which songs to sing. It can be anything in the entire repertoire, not just current quarter. Not only is it a relaxing way to end the rehearsal, it enables us to practice some of our other repertoire too.
I’ve found this structure works really well because it flows well with people’s energy and attention span. At the beginning of rehearsal we first have to overcome inertia, which is what the review songs are for. After that we have the most energy and and it gradually falls from there, so more challenging material goes at the beginning and the easier stuff goes at the end.
Changes in Rehearsal Structure
If there’s a performance coming up I’ll usually cut the sight-reading section and we’ll spend the entire period working on performance issues. I’m also planning to experiment with having a rehearsal dedicated to singing rounds or singing music by a certain composer or some other theme to spice things up. Since the Collegium is largely about education in addition to making great music, changing the rehearsals like is an OK thing to do.
Planning Songs in Advance
I only plan what we’re going to be singing at any given rehearsal a week in advance. I do this for several reasons. One is that during a quarter I’m manging a fairly small number of pieces, so it’s not very hard to make sure that each of them gets enough attention. Another is that at the beginning of a quarter I only have a vague idea of which songs are going to need more work than others. Each week I could find new reasons for why a certain song should get more rehearsal time or less. Also I like being flexible with adding songs to the repertoire. If a sight-reading song gets added to the rep it’ll get bumped to the “work-on” section, which is something I can’t plan for at the beginning of a quarter. Planning at the beginning and sticking to the plan would make me a lot less flexible, and that loss of flexibility is not something I’m willing to deal with.
Benefits to Planning Rehearsals
Knowing in advance what I want to get out of the next rehearsal has been an integral part of my improvement as a choir director. With that comes knowing which songs we’re going to sing and in what order. Having this understood in advance means that I can spend all of my energy on interpreting how the choir sounds and none on figuring out what we’ll work on next. And by letting the choir know what we’ll be working on ahead of time they have the opportunity to practice at home. All good things.