How to Eﬀectively Run Choir Rehearsals According to Katherine Bartol
There’s no way around it: playing and creating music is hard work. Whether you’re playing an instrument or singing in a choir, it’s a challenge to learn all the right notes, play your best, and do it all in an ensemble. It can be just as much of a challenge to teach music; being the ringleader in charge of ensuring that everyone is producing their best sound possible while still having fun and bonding together is certainly a diﬃcult task. With that being said, Katherine Bartol, a professional singer, conductor, pianist and vocal coach, has some tips to help you be an eﬀective facilitator of choir rehearsals.
Plan and Prepare Accordingly
Katherine Bartol states that the ﬁrst step in running a successful choir rehearsal is to come prepared; she further states that this means planning to a very detailed extent up to several weeks in advance. When introducing each piece of music, always address the stylistic characteristics as well as the meaning and diction of the text. Think about what sections of music the group is going to sing and what warm up exercises are needed for each section, as well as what supplies you can use for your students’ success. Use professionally recorded examples and computer-generated or transparency scores of the music on a screen in front of the room. Plan each rehearsal with an itinerary in order to keep everyone aligned and on track. When you show up prepared, you communicate to everyone that you are willing and able to lead the group down a speciﬁc path that you have laid out for them. The singers will accomplish the music much more quickly and efficiently if they are aware of the goals of each rehearsal.
Maximize Singing and Positivity
When the rehearsal begins, focus on making sure every second is engaged with as little downtime as possible. Downtime is required to rest the body but it can easily disperse the focus of any group and derail the productivity. While teaching the music to one voice part, the other sections should also learn the music to that part and sing in their appropriate octaves. They can physically rest while you fine -tune the sound of the actual voices in the part, but they should be asked to listen and critique various musical elements; such as the sound blend, notation accuracy, articulation, and dynamics. It should be explained to the singers that they are members of a team and need to help each other learn their parts and build their musicianship to the highest possible level. By developing the musical ear and reading skills of the whole group at the same time, you will advance the over-all ability of the ensemble and prevent disruptive talking or idle time with smart phones. Keep the group singing, and in addition, look for ways to build them up. Katherine Bartol suggests that you be encouraging and enthusiastically emphasize what they are doing well in the moment. With continuous positive reinforcement, your group will become excited about the upcoming performance and will be much more willing to work hard.
Listen and Critique Eﬀectively
Sometimes you need to take a moment to provide some constructive criticism when things aren’t sounding as good as they could. Katherine Bartol states you should listen intently to the pitch and rhythmic accuracy, articulation, dynamics, and tone in order to provide the clearest, most detailed picture of what you are asking your singers to do. When it’s time to actually speak the words of criticism, keep it as short and to the point as possible. This will help maximize the time spent singing and ensure that the emphasis is on what the group is doing right, not what they are doing incorrectly. Explain that you and they are building a work of art together. By allowing the singers have ownership in their work, they will be much more motivated to achieve excellence. Teach all of the musical elements during the reading process. Too many choir directors teach just the notation first then go back and try to add dynamics and articulation. This is actually teaching the music “wrong” when you do not include all of the required elements. It is much more effective to include all dynamics and articulation when teaching the notes and rhythms.
Focus on Learning and Innovation
Finally, Katherine Bartol states you need to remember that you are learning right alongside your students. While they are learning the pieces and how to perform together, you have the opportunity to learn the best ways to teach them. Always be looking for new and innovative ways to be a leader and don’t be afraid to try them out. Design warm-up exercises with specific technical skills needed for the sections of music you plan to teach during the rehearsal. Self-evaluate regularly and ask yourself if you are doing your tasks to the best of your ability as well. With all of the suggestions here in mind, as long as you are diligently using these guidelines for each rehearsal, you are providing the most positive, focused and productive environment for your ensemble.
Katherine Bartol has taught music from primary to university level. She specializes in the Kodaly method.