When I had smaller church choirs, I didn’t always have a plan for rehearsal. I tried, but gave up, because it would be a regular occurrence that I would be missing a section or have one in the voice part I planned to work with and so on. Now, at my current congregation, I have a much larger choir, and have had to plan in more detail. Having a plan is essential to a good rehearsal, even if we have to alter the plan in the middle of rehearsal.
So where do you start? Warm ups, I hope. After a long day, doing some physical warm ups to get your choir prepared to sing is a very important thing. From the physical, I work into the vocal warm ups. Of course by the time evening comes, it isn’t that the voice needs warming up, but it’s more of helping the choir get in the head space of singing properly, and you can easily work on technique problems, like diction or rhythm.
How do you work on a piece of music? You can start from the beginning, and go with soprano, then alto, then tenor, then bass. I try to mix things up with my group. I’ll have them sight read through a piece fully, then pick one or two spots that I know are going to be issues, and have heard them as issues, to come back to and fix. Or, I’ll take the piece apart and focus on specific sections. All of this comes out of score study and preparation. I sit down with the music and mark it up thoroughly, as well as singing through each line to hear where the potential problems may come. Then from there, I plan how to work on each piece.
My rehearsal is about an hour on Wednesdays. In that span of time, my plan is to warm up my choir, get through three to four pieces, and work on tidying up the problems and challenges in them, and then at the end of our rehearsal, we close in prayer. I get prayer requests from the choir, and pray for them aloud at the end. This may something you’re not the most comfortable with, so you could have one of your choir members pray, or just end with a prayer. To me, that is an important bonding part of the rehearsal, knowing that we gather together as brothers and sisters in Christ to not only sing and make music, but to encourage and support each other.
The last two points I want to touch on is talking and pacing. For me, one of my biggest struggles has been talking too much. If there’s a problem that needs fixing, don’t preach about it for 5 minutes, give a short explanation, and have them do it. I think as I’ve grown as a choir director, I’ve improved in that area. Which leads to better paced rehearsals. I try not to spend more than 15 minutes on a piece, just to help keep things moving. If there is a need for it, I’ll do it, but as a general practice, I try to stick to 12-15 minutes on a piece, so that there is variety. I won’t typically have my choir sing the entire song either, just focusing in on various sections.
All of this comes down to your plan and choice in creativity for your choir. Yes, making a plan is much more work on your part. But it is worthwhile. It keeps the rehearsal on task, which may potentially limit the side conversations (it doesn’t end them in my case!) and bring a more productive rehearsal, and the opportunity to work on different techniques to better your choir’s sound. So get your plan made and write it out. You’re going to see a difference in what you do!