Sunday, January 19, 2014

Don’t peak too soon – effective rehearsal planning for your next concert

The OK Chorale have just started back after a long Christmas break. This term we’re working towards our annual spring concert. I need to plan an effective rehearsal schedule.

Singing Safari at St Peter's 2013

Our singers are all amateurs with busy lives, so what’s the best way to organise rehearsals so we peak at the right time?

take stock before you start planning

Before you even begin to start planning your rehearsal schedule, there are several things you need to consider.

  • how serious are you? – you might be one of those choirs for whom the music is paramount and every single week is spent working hard to perfect each and every song. On the other hand, I hope you’re more like my choir (and many other community choirs) and try to balance fun with rehearsal. Take the work seriously, but don’t forget to have fun! (see Balancing fun with rehearsing for concerts)
  • there’s more to life than singing! – not every singer will be at every rehearsal. Don’t fret about this, it’s a fact of life. Work with it and don’t get frustrated (see Don’t stress about things you can’t control). Do you have a policy about the number of rehearsals a singer needs to attend if they’re going to perform in the concert? If so, make it absolutely clear to everyone in the choir.
  • over-rehearsed or under-prepared? – you need to get the timing right when planning your schedule. It’s no good spending six months preparing for a concert and everyone’s bored with the material and over-worked. On the other hand, don’t leave it until a couple of weeks before your concert before you start polishing the songs (see Over-rehearsed or under-prepared: which is better?).
  • policing the lyric sheets – have a policy for the use of sheet music and lyric sheets and stick to it. Let everyone know in plenty of time when they’re expected to put their lyrics away (if relevant) and don’t spring it on them at the last minute. How do you police this without being heavy-handed? What if someone really finds it difficult to learn the words? Make sure you have a contingency plan (see How to stop singers using word sheets in concerts).
  • know your venue – it may not always be possible, but for me it’s pretty vital that we have at least one rehearsal in the venue that we’re going to perform in. It gives the choir a chance to get sense of how much space they will have, what the acoustics are like, how cold it will be, where the toilets are, what parking is going to be like, etc. At the very least, measure it up and mark it out in your own rehearsal space.
  • what will we wear? – you may have a choir uniform, or you may simply have a dress code. Whatever your choice, make sure everyone knows well in advance in case they need to buy a special t-shirt or get their robes laundered (see I hate a choir in uniform).
  • work with what you’ve got – if someone is not present at a particular rehearsal, don’t leave a gap where they will stand. Assume they won’t be there on the day and work with what you have (see How will your choir cope if you don’t turn up?).
  • put support in place – not all the work can take place in rehearsal time, singers need to practice on their own. Make sure they have the correct resources available (I put all mine on-line): lyrics, running order, sheet music or recorded parts, full recordings of songs, etc.

my own rehearsal plan for a concert

This is how I do things (see also A day in the life of a concert).

  • choose the songs carefully – don’t make your concert too long. I used to do long concerts of two 45 minute sets with an interval. I now do two half hour sets. It’s plenty for an evening of entertainment. Always leave them wanting more (see How long is long enough?).
  • vary the presentation of each song – I get bored at concerts especially when I see rows of static singers with their heads in the music. I always try to find a different way of presenting each song whether it’s just the way the choir stand or by adding choreography or using smaller groups of singers. Be clear before you rehearse exactly what you want to achieve with each song and how you will present it.
  • tackle just a few songs each week – once you’ve decided on your set list (see Choosing the right songs for a concert and Choosing a running order for your concert), divide the songs equally into the rehearsal time you have available. This term we’ll be looking at three songs in depth each week.
  • give advance notice of your schedule – make sure your singers know what songs you’ll be working on the next week so they have plenty of time to prepare.
  • leave some slack – don’t fill up every rehearsal to capacity and leave a week or so spare. You never know what difficulties you may come across.
  • leave time for a proper run-through – I always use the last two weeks before a concert to run the songs in order, standing how we will be standing in the concert. One week we run the first half, and the second week we run the second half. That’s half an hour of material in each two-hour rehearsal slot.
  • if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – if a song goes well in the run-through I move swiftly on to the next unless any singer wants to look at something in particular. There is no point in rehearsing for rehearsing’s sake if everything is going well.
  • reflect after the event – if everything goes well you’ll be in the pub enjoying yourself and giving everyone a well-earned pat on the back. But try to find a few moments while the concert is fresh in your mind to make some notes about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you might do differently or better next time.

how do you do things?

I’d love to hear how you prepare for a concert, whether you’re a singer or a choir leader. Do drop by and leave a comment!

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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