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Friday, March 29, 2013

Rehearsal Techniques II

  • Don’t talk too much!
  • By the same token, in varying pacing, there can be good times to let them sit back and talk about the background of the piece or something similar – it’s also efficient to take “pencil” time to give all markings for a piece or movement, rather than doing it piecemeal throughout your rehearsal
  • Don’t tell them what you’re going to do, just do it! (“I’m going to start at bar 12, then go to bar 16, after which we'll . . .” As opposed to, “start at bar 12”) – use fewer words!
  • Make instructions clear and concise, particularly about where you’re starting: remember to go from general to specific (page/ system/ bar,/ beat . . . or if you have bar numbers: bar 22)
  • A friend of mine has a system for giving starting places when everyone has the same score: 3-2-5 = page 3, 2nd system, bar 5. If you and your choir get used to it, it’s very quick and secure. It’s easy for them to remember 3-2-5 while they find their place
  • Instructions should be active, not passive
  • Careful not to mumble or use non-meaningful syllables (“uh”) – we all have our own habits, but occasionally monitor them by recording a rehearsal
  • Give only a few instructions at a time (too many and the choir forgets them)
  • A corollary to that is if you give an instruction (“don’t breathe after beat 3,” “tenors are late after the dot,” “eighth note rest at the end of the bar,” “subito piano on the downbeat,” etc.), then have the choir sing it immediately – you need to reinforce what you just said in a concrete way (and you’ll also know if they understood it or not)
  • Often with giving markings, you can save time if you plan, for example, consistent breaths with punctuation (“breathe/lift with punctuation,” “honor the commas,” rather than giving each individual breath) – one choir I know simply has the practice to breathe after every punctuation and they do it without fail—in this case, you have to tell them if you don’t want a breath with a comma or period
  • Feedback is important: positive whenever possible, but you also have to express to the choir what isn’t right yet and how to do it correctly
  • Make sure feedback is specific (e.g., “It’s not in tune” versus “when you sing the E to C# the C# is flat,” or “Basses are flat on that passage: the vowels are too dark”
  • And I’ll say it again: make sure that when you give feedback, you have the choir sing the passage immediately, and then check to hear if they do whatever it is you asked! Instructions by themselves (without doing by the choir) are rarely effective!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rehearsal Techniques I

General thoughts and principles (adapted from what I give my section leaders) about running good rehearsals:
  • Put your music stand low enough and flat enough that it doesn’t interfere with your conducting pattern (and people can see it!)
  • If you work from the piano, put the music desk down flat (for the same reason)
  • Make sure your own posture is a good model for the choir
  • More eye contact (which means knowing your score better!)
  • Learn to hear more (especially parts not your own)
  • Make sure, when rehearsing one section of the music, to make the transition into the next section or phrase before stopping to go back
  • When repeating the same section or phrase several times, make sure you ask more or give specific feedback—don’t simply mindlessly repeat
  • Remember to take away the piano as soon as possible, even in accompanied music (so that you know whether they can do it independently, and also so that you can more accurately hear what they’re doing)
  • Use modeling/demonstration—a powerful tool (but models must be correct! your singers will copy poor intonation or phrasing!)
  • You can also use choir members to model
  • Think carefully about what parts belong together musically and rehearse them that way (you may choose parts that are in duet, or those that have dissonances against each other—the musical structure will tell you what belongs together)
  • Have solutions already in mind to solve difficult note problems. Know why the problem might be there: is it hard to find the initial pitch? a difficult rhythm? difficult interval? tempo too fast?
  • Pacing is important: not too slow or too fast (psychologically, pace should vary)
  • When you stop the choir, don’t take too long before giving an instruction—make it concise and to the point—then get them singing again
  • Don’t leave one section sitting for too long a period of time
  • If you sing on a neutral syllable, don’t stay on the same one for too long, but vary them (it’s tiring to sing the same consonant/vowel for long periods). The same is true of count-singing