As I write this, we’re in the middle of rehearsals right now for our 13th annual Family & Friends Choir musical. This is the one time of year we open our choir up and allow anyone who has the desire to do so to come and join our ranks for one musical. We invite other church choirs we fellowship with, of course. But we also invite friends, family members and even members of our own congregation to come out and participate. Because we open the doors to our choir during this time of year without regard to any previous experience or knowledge of singing in the choir, it’s not uncommon to have members participating who have never sang in the choir before.
Even if you’ve done it for years though, these kinds of “mass choir rehearsals” tend to be very intense compared to your regular choir rehearsal at your own church. There is typically a large amount of material taught at a mass rehearsal. Depending on the instructor, the number of songs being taught and their level of difficulty, these rehearsals can be as long as 2 hours, even more in some cases. As the clinician for our annual musical for the entire 13 years I’ve seen some pretty common problems that almost everyone has at some point or another during these rehearsals. Today I’ll cover the 3 tips for dealing with the most common challenges of these grueling, mass-scale rehearsals.
1. Preserve your voice as much as possible
Choir rehearsals in general are some of the most stressful environments you can place your voice in. This is amplified in mass rehearsals where, again, there is just so much more material to cover. So you should go into these rehearsal with vocal preservation in mind. First, take some time to warm up on your way to rehearsal. If you don’t know any warm-up exercises, simple humming can be a great way to get your cords going and ready for intense use. I wrote about humming in another blog you can read here.
At the rehearsal, remember you seldom need as much effort or “air velocity” as you think. I have a tendency not to ask my choir members to sing hard or full voice while we’re learning the parts. There’s really no need to be hammering away when you’re just trying to get your key. However, many clinicians do want to hear that full, strong sound while they’re teaching the parts. If you can do light tone production while your part is being taught and then sing full voice when the instructor calls for everybody to sing, you’ll do strenuous singing only about half as often than you would normally.
Again, every instructor is different, so if you’re being pushed to sing louder go ahead and use full voice. Just keep the volume and air velocity to a minimum as much as possible. More about that in the next tip.
2. Don’t over-do it on modulations.
If you’re participating in a mass Gospel choir preparing for a musical, there WILL be at least one song that requires the choir to modulate. However most of us exert way more effort than we need, and way too early. For example, if you’re singing a song where you’ll be modulating by rising higher and higher in half-step increments (very common in gospel choir), many choir members will almost double the amount of air velocity or effort just going from the first key to the second key. By the time you get to the 3rd modulation you’re practically screaming on pitch.
Instead, try approaching the next key with no more pushing or volume than you used on the one before it. Depending on how many modulations you have to do, this could keep you singing comfortably all the way up to the last one or two keys. Most of us exert this extra effort not because we really need it, but simply because we automatically think we do whenever we know we’re going to a higher key. Try approaching each new key like the one before and you’ll be surprised at how much more comfortable you are.
3. Be smart with your lyric sheets- don’t lean on them too heavily
By far, the most challenging thing about these kinds of rehearsals for most people is the sheer amount of material that has to be memorized and the amount of time it has to be done in. To help with the process, many instructors provide lyric sheets for all the songs. However, if not used properly lyric sheets can and often do, become more of a hindrance than a help. If you want to read a deeper discussion about why and how they become a crutch that actually hampers the learning process, read about it here.
The short version though, is this: If you look at your lyric sheets the entire night, you will likely leave rehearsal having not retained anything at all. In fact it’s very common for people who do this to be still struggling with even the easiest songs after 3 rehearsals.
The smart way to use lyric sheets is as a guide only. Use them when your section’s part is being taught so you know what the instructor is saying and don’t have to stop him/her to ask. But that’s it. After your instructor has taught your section’s part you should begin making an effort not to look from then on. Remember the instructor will be repeating these lyrics again and again as all the section parts are taught. Take advantage of those repetitions by watching and listening to the other sections and NOT your lyric sheets. You’ll find that by the time the instructor is ready for everyone to sing together you’ll have just about memorized the passage from repetition. That’s a very general explanation though. I definitely encourage you to read the article I referenced earlier about lyric sheets; especially if you participate regularly in these kinds of rehearsals or you use lyric sheets in your own rehearsals.
Got a big event coming up for your choir? Let us help. Book Shena or myself as clinician for your next musical, annual or appreciation. We’ll come in and help prepare your choir for the big day.