We’ve all been there. It’s like pulling teeth sometimes to get the choir to sing. A dreadful experience, indeed. We church music directors want our choirs to enjoy rehearsal. We think about the rehearsal all week long. Meticulously structuring it in hopes of achieving good results for Sunday. But what state is our choir in when they arrive?
Maybe they had a bad day at work. Perhaps the sad, tear-drop sized rain makes them sing flat. Sitting in dense traffic before rehearsal sure doesn’t help anything!
These are the realities we face.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take when programming to help reduce stress and make them want to rehearse!
1.) Strike a Healthy Balance Between Simple and Challenging Pieces
I don’t know about you, but I love a good challenge! It’s encouraging for me to know that I’m making progress on a difficult piece. It means I’m growing musically.
Our choirs have similar feelings. I don’t believe they want every piece to be super easy, devoid of challenge. Programming only simple pieces does a great disservice to our choirs. I’m not saying that programming simple music is wrong, or that programming challenging music is the only way to go. I’m saying that we directors need to strike a healthy balance between the two.
First things first, every piece we program should be creative and feel inspired. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean boring and dull, and challenging doesn’t necessarily mean fresh and exciting. (I speak a little more to this point HERE). But when only confronted with difficult music, our choirs quickly tire out. That’s why striking a healthy balance is so important.
Consider a 1:3 ratio, one challenging piece for every two less demanding pieces. This ratio works well for choirs unaccustomed to challenging music. Strategically structure the rehearsal in a way that provides rest between difficult pieces.
2.) Be Realistic When Programming for Your Choir
I love searching for music on J.W. Pepper! I could easily spend hours sifting through the vast choral library. Tell me, have you ever found and introduced a piece to your choir that’s just too tough? I sure have! I’m sad to say that I’ve done this more than once.
Sometimes we directors (this director) allow our aesthetic preferences to take over. We program pieces that WE want to hear and become frustrated when our choirs don’t rise the occasion.
I’ll never forget it. A younger version of myself once ran across the regal and reverent Psalm 148 by Gustav Holst. Mesmerized by the intensely beautiful vocal lines and rich, sonorous harmony, I decided to purchase the piece and introduce it to my choir in rehearsal the following Wednesday. With slight heart palpitations and butterflies in my belly, I began to teach the opening passage.
I’m not talking about the kind where you tell the choir, “Okay, that opening passage is difficult, but we’ll nail it next week!” It was clear to me that I had overreached their abilities.
We must be realistic in our programming. Trying to take our choir somewhere they’ve never been too soon can spell sudden disaster. Working up to the occasion by strategically sprinkling in a challenging anthem or offertory from time to time is a wonderful way to help our choirs grow and feel successful while doing it.
Let me tell you one more story.
I landed my first church choral director position and began my graduate studies all in the same year. Needless to say, It was a busy year, and I learned a lot. I decided to compose a piece and present it as a gift to my new choir. One piece turned into several. I wanted to show off my composition chops and really wow them! Boy, were they ever wowed! I threw every compositional device I knew into the music – fugue, canon, syncopation, augmentation, retrograde inversion – they were all there. That first rehearsal was a humbling experience.
I’m happy to say that I’ve since modified the music, and it is now accessible to many church choirs.
3.) Consider Changing It Up
The notable theologian and author, Leonard Sweet says,
The fact that [our churches] are bastions of boredom, rather than bursting with creativity and the release of the arts is such an embarassement.
We serve a creative God. Creating is a natural response to the Creator!
It’s easy to get “stuck in a rut.” It’s important to guard ourselves against this same old same old, run-of-the-mill mentality and change it up every now and then. Consider introducing a fresh new hymn arrangement to your choir. Or commission a composer to craft a vibrant, creative piece that points to the Creator.
New and well-crafted music can infuse energy in a lifeless rehearsal!
I hope you’ll try out these tips. I believe you’ll notice a huge difference in your choir’s engagement if you do! Energy and excitement will become a regular part of your rehearsal. Don’t get discouraged if your rehearsals feel lackadaisical from time to time. Sometimes when it rains it pours! But these rehearsals will occur less frequently when you begin implementing these ideas.
I’d love to hear from you! Have these tips helped you? Do you have any tips or suggestions? Leave a comment below!