Friday, April 4, 2008

Getting the Most out of a Choral Rehearsal

Most community choral ensembles rehearse only once a week for two or three hours. Professional choirs may rehearse together only a few times before each performance. In any case, singers can do much to maximize rehearsal time.

Be on time. Arrive at least 10 minutes before rehearsal begins. The scheduled rehearsal time is the director’s start time, not the singers’ arrival time. Look for new music or other handouts that you should pick up. Get these as soon as you come in; put the music in the right place in your folder. If there is a break during rehearsal, keep track of the time allotted and return to your seat as soon as the Director signals that rehearsal is about to resume. Stay for the entire rehearsal unless you have cleared an early departure with the Director.

Be respectful. Be respectful of the music, the rehearsal process, the Director, and your fellow singers. Turn off any noise-making devices. If you must receive a call during rehearsal, let the Director know ahead of time. Set your device to vibrate only, then leave the room discreetly and return as soon as you can. Do not wear any perfumed products. Be clean; practice good physical and dental hygiene. If you have ever suffered by having to sit or stand very close to a noisome chorister, you will understand. (Look up noisome; it does not mean noisy.)

Be prepared. Bring the right music, organized in program order or in the order that the Director has specified for the rehearsal. Have at the ready a sharpened pencil (or two); your calendar; any supplies you need during rehearsal (water, tissues, cough drops); and a professional attitude. If, like me, you can’t stand a dull pencil, consider using a mechanical pencil which will stay sharp.

Be thorough. Be sure to get all advance markings and annotations into your score. While marking your own part is of primary importance, consider taking time to edit all the other voice parts, too. There are at least three good reasons for doing so: First, your voice section may be asked to sing along with another voice part. If your score is fully marked, you’ll be ready! Second, you will benefit by learning more about the score and how the voices work together. Finally, singers who may use your score in the future will thank you. I like to use “sticky notes” to record instructions that pertain only to a specific performance, such as sit-stand cues or notes about performance-specific cuts. Look to a future essay for more thoughts about score preparation.

Be ready to sing. Warm up at home before coming to rehearsal. Choral warm-up exercises (if they are done at all) are an opportunity to come together as an ensemble, to meld our voices into a unified sound, and to focus our intellectual and artistic selves on a common goal. Some choral directors eschew vocal warm-ups altogether, choosing to use stretching or mental exercises, or nothing at all. Do not count on rehearsal warm-ups to get your voice ready to sing.

Be mentally attentive. Give your full attention to the Director, even when your part isn’t being rehearsed. Learn from what is being taught to others. Respect others’ desire to listen and learn. Minimize talking during rehearsals. If you cannot see the Director well, move your chair. Negotiate with your neighbors so that everyone can see. It is the responsibility of the singers in the back rows to position themselves to see around the front row singers.

Be physically attentive. Use good posture when singing, whether standing or sitting. When sitting, sit forward on the chair, with both feet on the floor; many singers like to position one foot forward and one foot back, as this extends the torso vertically and facilitates the breath. The forward posture has another benefit: it keeps one alert, focused, and ready.

Be responsive. Use your pencil. Mark all instructions, interpretations, dynamics, corrections, pronunciations, etc., from the Artistic Director that apply to your part. It is impossible to remember all the instructions; you must mark your score. This will prevent the Director from having to repeat instructions at subsequent rehearsals. Consider marking in your score the instructions for other voice parts, too, so that you can understand the Director’s interpretation of the entire score and better understand how your part fits in. Some singers like to make tape recordings of rehearsals for later study; if this appeals to you, check with your Director for permission to use a recorder during rehearsal.

Be responsible. Take responsibility for your personal musical preparation between rehearsals. Choral rehearsals should never be regarded as opportunities to learn music; rather, they are opportunities for the ensemble to receive the Director’s interpretation and to learn how to present the music, and this interpretation, together. I use “sticky notes” during rehearsal to flag “sticky spots” that need my attention outside rehearsal. This method makes my private practice sessions more efficient, and provides a small but visible reward as the “sticky spots” are mastered and the sticky notes removed and discarded.

Be receptive. Be receptive to, and supportive of, the Director's instructions, corrections, part assignments, seating or standing arrangements, etc. Be willing to try the Director's musical or textual interpretations even if you don’t agree with them; you might learn something.

More of my essays on the life of a chorister, and more about choral rehearsals and choral music, may be found here:


  1. Sarah,
    I was most impressed with your blog on the subject of "Getting the most out of a choral rehearsal" and wondered if you would grant me permission to reproduce it in my choir's monthly internal newsletter (circulation of 24 copies). Mt email is
    Thank you,
    Andy Humphreys

  2. Hi Sarah,
    I read your 9-11 post on ChoralNet, which took me to your blog, which then took me to your post on getting the most out of a choral rehearsal. May I have permission to reproduce this for our choir's "Welcome Back" packet?
    Thank you!
    Jane Schaefermeyer
    Salt Lake City


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