Rehearsing choral music
Updated: Jan 31, 2021
As a choral conductor I work with choirs of varying abilities on a weekly basis. This ranges from children's choirs to adult amateur community choirs, and I find that successful rehearsal comes down to finding the appropriate level of entry for the group of singers in front of you. Step 1 is always to assess the level, musicianship and mentality of the singers. I ask myself why these people are in a choir; are they here to make music that sounds beautiful, or are they here primarily for social reasons? As a conductor and musician, my aim is always to make the highest quality music. But depending on the group dynamic, sometimes I have to find different strategies for doing this.
On the more specific point of rehearsing and teaching a piece of choral music, it's important to have an aim or objective in mind at the outset. I often set the tone of a piece by using a little exercise to focus on an element of musicianship that I want the singers to engage in order to achieve my interpretation of the piece, or more simply just to sing it well. If it is unaccompanied, I will try an exercise that gets my singers focusing on intonation. If there is a particular demand for a good legato, why not work with your singers on this before approaching the piece so that they already have the correct technique in mind. 'Chunking' is a fundamental part of the learning process, and breaking down key concepts in a way that is easily understood will help singers to understand what you are trying to achieve with them.
From the amateur singer's perspective, it is often difficult to know how to approach the music in front of you without just bumbling through and hoping to get to the other side without getting a frown from the conductor. Click here for a link to a basic choral beginner's guide to practice techniques, written by Dorleen Fryling.
Ultimately, rehearsals are best when everyone feels that they have achieved something. It is better to perfect one small element of a piece or one piece itself than to stumble through several pieces badly. Everyone should have fun, but ultimately strive to achieve something amazing in rehearsals, which then means performance can be enjoyable rather than stressful. If the music is well-learnt, the singer focuses on the experience of performing rather than the terror of singing the correct notes. Choir and conductor alike make music and come away feeling uplifted. But this all begins with successful rehearsals. It's here that the key to experiencing an amazing performance begins.