Fall choral rehearsals have begun!! Oh, I love this time of year. (Whose idea was it to suspend most music-making during the summer months??)
Over the next several days, I’ll accumulate a lovely collection of choral scores which will be my constant companions over the next several months. I’ll have some of the scores for only a few weeks (anthems to be sung in church early in the season), but others will be with me throughout the fall as I prepare for concerts taking place later in the season. In all cases, the scores require some attention prior to rehearsals. I’ve found that I can get more out of rehearsal time if I’ve taken the time at home to prepare my scores and folders.
Be organized. If you sing in more than one ensemble, keep the music for each group in its own folder. Find a means of distinguishing each folder from the others, so you don’t end up at the Chorale rehearsal with your church choir folder. Organize the contents each folder so that you can find music quickly during rehearsal. This will depend on the rehearsal style of the conductor. For one of my ensembles, I keep the music in concert order, since the director tends to rehearse in order. For my church choir, the director refers to scores by their library numbers, so the music in that folder is arranged in numerical order. Sometimes the Director will specify how the folders are to be organized. If the folder contains more than a half-dozen scores, consider adding "sticky note" tabs to help you find individual items quickly.
Be prepared. Bring all your music to every rehearsal. Get to rehearsal early enough to pick up new scores (or other handouts) and get them into your folder in the proper places. Take a few minutes to glance through new music to find out where your part lies and to be alert to any divisi. Mark your name or initials (in pencil) on the front cover; it’s always nice to get your own scores back again if the music is performed again in the future. (This is especially useful in choirs where the scores are not numbered or otherwise assigned to individual singers.)
Be thorough. Some directors prepare “master scores” from which the singers are to copy into their own scores the director's instructions for breathing, interpretive dynamics, divisi assignments, etc. Be sure to get all these advance markings and annotations into your score before the first rehearsal. 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.)
Be responsive. Use your pencil. (Use only a pencil.) Mark all instructions, interpretations, dynamics, corrections, pronunciations, etc., from the Director that apply to your part. It is impossible to remember all the instructions; you must mark your score. Your attentiveness and care in taking down instructions will save 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.
Be responsible. Keep your music clean, protected, and in good condition. If your music has been lent to you, be sure to turn it in after the concert(s). The librarian, who most often volunteers his or her time, will be grateful! Most choral groups are on tight budgets, and music is more expensive than you might think. In some cases, older music may be out of print and cannot be replaced. Remember, too, that the music lent to you may have been borrowed or rented from another organization, and your ensemble is responsible for returning it on time and in good condition.
You might also be interested in my thoughts on “Getting the Most Out of a Choral Rehearsal,” posted here. That essay was also reprinted in April (with permission) in the newsletter of the Rawstorne Singers (based in Longton, near Preston in Lancashire, U.K.).
More of my essays on the life of a chorister, and more about choral rehearsals and choral music, may be found here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/Chorister