As the new year begins, I always think about how I can improve on what I am doing so that I can serve my singers, ringers, congregation and God better through worship and art. Here are four quick ideas that can make you more productive and efficient in your rehearsals. I hope you find them useful! Feel free to share some ideas of your own in the comments.
1. Establish a beginning of rehearsal routine.
On Sunday mornings, it used to take me several minutes to get my choir’s attention, and have them on task for warm ups. They are a large group, often over 100 singers, in a very large space with lots of distractions, including congregation members who have arrived early assembling in the sanctuary. After struggling with the amount of time that was wasted each Sunday, I established a series of visual cues that would get us started. I motion for them to stand followed by a shoulder roll exercise that I do, and they mimic. At this point they are all standing, all quiet and ready to rehearse, and I have not said a single word! The first few weeks, I talked them through the exercises, and then each week said less and less until I could prompt them with nothing more than visual cues. This is so much better then my first greeting to them be me asking them to please be quiet. I have found the use of visual cues to be very powerful in managing a large group of singers. I spend less time chiding, and more time encouraging – which we all appreciate!
2. Find our place in the music quickly
I learned this from John Bertalot who was the Director of Music at Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton New Jersey. It’s an invaluable little trick that saves time and keeps my choir focused in rehearsal. Rather than say “We will begin in the middle of page three, the second line, at the third measure,” I simply say “We will begin at 3,2,3.” The first number is the page number, the second what line on the page, and the third, what measure on that line. I no longer wrestle with the questions of “where are we?” or “Oh, I thought it was page two, third line” and so on. In fact, now many of my singers will ask a question and identify the measure in question using the same number system. It is easy to explain, new singers catch on quickly, and it keeps the focus on rehearsing rather than wondering where we are. While I credit John Bertalot for this gem, he says he got it from Gerre Hancock who was at St. Thomas Episcopal in New York.
3. Use a Newsletter rather than make announcements.
As my choir arrives, they pick up a four-page newsletter that is filled with information they need to know, and I do not have to talk about. It contains the rehearsal order for the evening, the schedule of rehearsals and warm ups for Sunday, what music should be in their folders and a calendar of upcoming events. We also share prayer requests, birthdays, funny cartoons and much more. The singers are in the habit of checking their folders to make sure they have the music we are going to be working on ready to go. With a choir of 140 singers, I almost never here “I don’t have that piece” during rehearsal! We do spend a few minutes each week highlighting some of the important things in the newsletter, but I do not have to verbally give them every detail and hope they are writing it down correctly. PDF copies are available online as well so that people who are absent, and snow birds can get caught up on what they need to know. It does take a little time to prepare each week, but it is worth it! If you want to take a look at the ones I create look here: www.tinyurl.com/FPCSCORE
4. Record your rehearsal
This is my least favorite thing to do because it is too instructive! I have done audio and video recordings. Often, I hear things on the recordings that somehow I miss in rehearsal. The most useful thing is what I observe about my rehearsal technique and pace. If there was a problem moment in rehearsal, many times the recording will make me aware of what I did do create the problem, or of how I communicated poorly. It’s a very humbling thing to do, but it has helped me get rid of lots of bad habits and taught me how to communicate more effectively. Recording can be as simple as setting your smart phone on a music stand and using the phone’s recording app.
What about you? Are there little tricks you have learned as a director or singer that would be useful for people to know? Share your thoughts or ideas in the comments. A fellowship like ours requires lots of two-way conversations if we are to grow in our service through worship.
Director of Sacred Arts
First Presbyterian Church
Bonita Springs, FL
Fort Myers Symphonic Mastersingers
Fort Myers, FL
FUMMWA Florida Chapter