How Should A Choir Rehearsal Be Paced?

How Should A Choir Rehearsal Be Paced?
Cheri Walters

Fresh from a four-day music conference, newly enthused and ready to try something different, I gave my choir members a questionnaire about rehearsals. Included were several questions about rehearsal pacing: Was it too slow? Too fast? Just right? Did they feel we covered too much music or not enough?
I was quite surprised at their answers. The overwhelming response regarding the pace of our choir rehearsals was that it was too slow. My initial reaction was, “They just don’t realize how much music we actually cover.”

Given that our choir rehearsal is shorter than most (from 8:15 to 9:30 following midweek Bible study), I felt confident that the six to eight songs we usually practiced were enough to keep up a good steady pace. But their answers told me clearly that many of my choir members were not being challenged musically. Not one indicated the pace was too fast. I swallowed hard and decided to take them at their word.

First, I made copies of the rehearsal schedules I always give to my accompanists and sound technician, and gave them to the choir members. I reasoned that if they had a list in their hands, they would perceive that the pace was quicker, whether it was or not. There is something satisfying, a sense of accomplishment in checking off the items on a list. It shows each choir member, in black and white that they have done what they set out to do.

In giving the choir members their own copies of the rehearsal schedule, two things happened: First, as I expected, they felt they were accomplishing more, and second, to my surprise, they actually were accomplishing more. When they picked up their music at the beginning of rehearsal, they could consult their lists and place each piece in proper order. Also, because they were more aware of what was left to be done, there was less “visiting” between songs. Though small in themselves, these little moments saved added up to time for another two or three songs in rehearsal.

The second thing I did was to spend less time on each song per rehearsal. Instead, I rehearsed each song over more weeks. Some studies on learning and memory indicate that people learn better and retain more of what they learn when it is studied in shorter intervals over a longer span of time. Putting this theory into practice took some advance planning that was difficult at first, but spared me some gray hairs later.

It became necessary to think eight to ten weeks ahead, not only for special occasions like Easter, Christmas or Mother’s Day, but for each Sunday’s anthem.
I began by penciling in on my calendar the songs for each Sunday, always keeping at least eight weeks ahead. When first getting started, it was hard to come to the point of being that many weeks ahead, but once there, it was just a matter of replacing the song or songs just sung with new ones each week.

As time has passed, the printed rehearsal schedules have grown to include announcements pertaining to the music department and prayer requests for choir members, plus special instructions to the accompanists or sound technicians_ Also on the list, opposite each song title, I have added spaces to check indicating: “piano,” “organ,” “reel-to-reel,” “cassette” or “synthesizer” accompaniment.

When using a combination of taped and live accompaniments, I try to intersperse reel-to-reel numbers throughout the schedule, giving the sound technician time to cue up , and avoiding “dead air” during the rehearsal. It is a simple matter of forethought to tailor the rehearsal schedule to fit the needs of the choir, instrumentalists (or orchestra, if there is one) and sound crew, and makes the rehearsal progress more smoothly. More importantly, it says to each individual who has included the rehearsal in his or her busy schedule that I value that time.

The care taken in planning allows me to conduct the rehearsal with more confidence, rather than drifting haphazardly from one song to another, and eliminates a great deal of the frustration busy people feel when their time is misspent.

In summary, there are five things I have learned about properly pacing a rehearsal:

1. Give the choir members, accompanists and sound technicians a written list of everything you plan to rehearse. Tailor it to your own situation with specific instructions regarding instruments or taped accompaniments.

2. Plan music at least eight weeks in advance and rehearse each piece of music only once or twice in a rehearsal, but over a longer period of weeks.

3. Schedule around any delays you can reasonably anticipate (tuning of instruments, changing or cueing of tapes). Your accompanists and sound technicians will appreciate you if you work with them.

4. Always maintain control of the rehearsal. Project an attitude of cheerful confidence and thoughtful organization. The choir will be much less likely to feel their time is being wasted if they believe the director knows what is going on and what needs to be accomplished.

5. Most importantly, don’t be defensive about the messages your choir members are sending you. Be secure enough to consider their suggestions positively, without taking each comment as a personal criticism. If they are restless or inattentive, perhaps they need to be challenged.

As ministers of music, we also need to be challenged to keep “pressing toward the mark” in this high calling. We must continually strive for excellence. By keeping open to changes we can make, by learning from our choir members new ways to improve our ministry effectiveness, we will continue to move forward toward that mark.

(The above material originally appeared in Ministries Magazine.) Christian Information Network