Effective Rehearsal Techniques

Editor’s note: As choirs around the country gear up for the first rehearsals of the program year we thought it would be helpful to outline some best practices for choir rehearsals. A choir’s performance is only as good as their preparation. More than waving their arms around, the successful choir director must be an effective communicator and teacher.

Here are some ideas to make the most of your rehearsals.

PLAN

  • Know the music before you get to the rehearsal. Be able to sing all of the parts and have your music marked up.
  • Be aware of what needs to be emphasized on each choral anthem, such as tricky key changes, codas, rhythmic challenges, or divisis.
  • Plan the time to be spent on each anthem. You don’t want to get to the end of the rehearsal only having worked on a couple of pieces.
  • Keep a journal or notebook for planning and marking your choir’s progress.
  • It should be obvious to all that you have carefully considered the choir’s schedule, repertoire, and the overall role in the life of the church.

BALANCE

  • Select your repertoire with care. Make sure that you have a mix of pieces your choir knows well, pieces that are new, pieces that are challenging without being defeating.
  • Understand the abilities of your group.
  • Be flexible. You can often take an SATB anthem and adjust it to whatever works for your group.
  • Have a mix of musical styles and periods.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You don’t have to repeat them and you can always learn from them.
  • Always have new music in your plan. This tends to keep choir members coming back for more.

MOVE REHEARSAL ALONG

  • Start on time! Respect the time of your volunteers and they will respect yours – usually.
  • Strike a balance between personal stories and the work to be done.
  • Efficiently teach parts. Most of us have choirs that have folks with music degrees and some who struggle to read music. 
    • Idle time for parts can lead to talking.
    • Focus on one or two parts and have all the others hum their part.
    • Mix it up. Don’t always start with the basses and build up. 
    • Rehearse from the end of the anthem and keep moving backward. It gives positive reinforcement each time they repeat. 
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TAKE TIME FOR REFLECTION AND PRAYER

  • Start and end rehearsals with devotion of prayers. Compline is a wonderful way to end the evening.
  • Share pastoral concerns in the group. 

DEVELOP YOUR CHOIR MUSICALLY

  • Set a goal for the year. Goals can include sight reading improvement, good tone production, better posture, breath support. 
  • Go to continuing education events to learn more about choral skills.
  • Use warm-up time for specific purposes. 

HAVE FUN

  • Rehearsals should be something to look forward to attending.
  • Express gratitude for your choir’s time and willingness to serve.
  • Pray for each other.
  • Rejoice with each other.
  • Give some time off.
  • Gather for social time together a few times during the year. 

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

  • Expect a lot and your choir won’t let you down.
  • Challenge them with your repertoire selections.
  • Provide a schedule of what and when they will be singing for the “semester.”
  • Recognize that most of your choir members are volunteers. This is a major time commitment so praise them often. 
  • Make it as easy as possible for choir members to attend rehearsals. If possible provide a nursery. Have coffee and/or water available. 
  • Have a calendar and exhort your choir to let you know when they will be absent. 

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

  • If an anthem looks like it may be a train wreck, don’t be afraid to pull it at the last minute. Always have a “blizzard anthem” that can be substituted.
  • Don’t be afraid of unison, two and three part music. 
  • Be prepared for the unforeseen – winter illnesses, the post-Easter syndrome. 

Kevin Barger is the Director of Music Ministries at Epiphany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Richmond, VA, serving in that role since 1997. He also is currently serving as the President of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM). 

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