There are as many different ways to approach a choir rehearsal as there are choir directors. Some directors are highly structured and plan their rehearsals that way, down to the exact number of minutes to give to every part of the rehearsal. Others are more free flowing, taking things as they come. We all have our own preferences about how to organize or plan the rehearsal.
In my travels this summer, I've made a point to talk with choir directors about how they approach their rehearsals, and I have been surprised by the number of directors who said they never gave it much thought. It seems as if many of us do little more than throw a half-dozen choir anthems in a folder along with a list of hymns that might be sung on Sunday. I remember one young man in particular. He had recently graduated from college and was enjoying his first full-time job as a schoolteacher and his first church music director job in a medium-sized United Methodist Church in a large city. He expressed surprise at my question. "What do you mean, structuring the rehearsal? What's to structure? We just sing through the next couple of months' anthems and Sunday's hymns."
For that new, young director and for anyone else who might be interested, here's one way to approach a rehearsal. There certainly are others, and I'd enjoy hearing your alternatives.
Plan the Rehearsal
Write out an outline of the rehearsal. Include what you want to cover and in what order, and place an estimated starting time out in the margin to help you keep on time.
How do you welcome your singers? Do they come early and visit? drink coffee? get their music in order? share the week's highs and lows, stories, gossip? It can be a group-building time.
Do you use vocalizes? exercises? hymn fragments? a different focus and technique for successive stanzas of one of Sunday's hymns? The warm-up accomplishes two main things: (1) bringing each individual voice into the whole ensemble and (2) easing the voice into singing, preparing it for the strenuous task ahead.
Rehearse Sunday's Hymns and Songs
Don't just sing them — rehearse them! Sing in unison to learn or remember the melody, find the odd leaps, get the breathing and diction correct. Sing the harmony. Review which stanzas are unison and which are harmony. Have choir members write in their hymnals. Practice phrasing, volume, tempo, expression. How should they lead the congregation? Are there instruments playing along? alternate keyboard harmonizations? descants? interludes? modulations? special voicings? Include upcoming hymns for future weeks if there is something unique or challenging that you may need more than one week on.
Choral responses for introit, prayers, doxology or gloria patri, benediction, Communion or baptism responses.
Start two or three weeks into the future, work your way back to this coming Sunday. Continue with future music as time permits, including upcoming major music for Christmas or Easter. I recommend timing your rehearsal so that you begin rehearsing the main music for Sunday between one-half to two-thirds of the way through your rehearsal.
Some directors end with worhip; others include it in the middle of the rehearsal. Too many don't include it at all. Include a time to share a Scripture, a very brief meditation, prayer requests, celebrations, and a prayer led by either the director of someone in the choir. Some choirs have a different person each week do this. Others have one person do it regularly. Choir members want and need this experience. They look forward to it. The director saying, "And let's have this final sing-through of Sunday's anthem be our benediction" doesn't fill the need for the individuals and the group to worship and be nurtured.
Include a time following the rehearsal to allow the singers to let down, unwind, laugh, drink coffee, and eat snacks — more group-building — even a time to talk about the shortcomings of the director or the music!
The rehearsal isn't over until you've thought back through it and made some notes. What worked well? What could have been done better? Why? How? What should we do differently (or the same) next week? What do I need to do between now and Sunday morning?
You may have a similar game plan, or you might want to adopt or adapt this one. But as with almost any endeavor, planning ahead will make it a better experience for everyone.