The Art of Rehearsal Planning
As a piano-playing teen, I was recruited to fill in for the organist at our small, rural neighbourhood church, and then I took over the task when she retired. We always had a small choir, between six and eleven souls, and conducting was done with the occasional one-handed gesture or nod of the head by someone playing the accompaniment. This may sound familiar to many musicians across Canada. As opportunities came along, I was blessed with conducting two larger choirs. Having chosen an academic career in science rather than music, my struggle to figure out how to properly manage rehearsals and conduct was real. It was clear a mentor was needed. Private conducting lessons with someone local and skilled in the art has opened up a whole new world.
Rehearsal planning is tedious work. Lessons with my mentor began with methodically analyzing a piece of music and marking it up with different colours to emphasize introductions, cues, tempo, dynamics, etc. The piece was broken down into teaching blocks, with notes of the similarities between them. We discussed what to teach first (not necessarily the beginning of the piece) and how much to teach in one rehearsal. As homework, I repeated this exercise for the other pieces the choir was to learn. Then rehearsals were mapped out, with sections of each piece slotted in to be taught each evening. By reviewing the rehearsal calendar, rehearsals could be designed such that the choir would be prepared for upcoming performances. As well as the planning, a host of other issues were discussed that go along with managing a choir.
This approach to planning has been rewarding for everyone involved and has alleviated much stress during rehearsal time. If you are someone who doesn’t have a background in conducting music and struggles with choir rehearsals, you might try finding a mentor who is a professional conductor or who has studied conducting (and who perhaps teaches music at a high school). Spending some study time with this person may well be worth your while and may give you and your choir a whole new outlook on the choral experience.