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This, of course, depends on when your next concert is scheduled.

It’s only January!

If our next big concert is in April or May, we are doing a major disservice to our students by beginning our program music so early.

When we properly train our choirs, there is no rational reason to prepare for concerts so far in advance. Assuming we have used the first half of the year to develop a rehearsal cultural, reinforce sight-reading skills, build vocal technique, and help our singers to develop confidence, our ensembles should be able to take on more challenging music in even less rehearsal time.

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Studying our school calendar & rehearsal schedule

If we take a look at our school calendar and compare the number of rehearsals leading up to our  Winter Concert versus the number of rehearsals leading up to our Spring Concert, we will gain a much better sense of our rehearsal reality.

Using my high school program as an example, I have 65 school days from the first day of school until my Winter Concert. Starting from the New Year I have 89 school days before my Spring Concert; that amounts to roughly 50% more rehearsal time in the Spring. Schools throughout the country have differing beginning/end dates as well as differing concert alignments; comparing the amount of rehearsal preparation for each season is helpful in understanding how to best utilize our rehearsal time.

Assuming our Winter and Spring concert will contain a relatively similar difficulty level as well as program length, it should require far less time to produce the same quality product; students should learn faster than they did at the beginning of the year, be more focused, sing with more confidence, have improved sight-reading skills, and our rehearsal routines should be more established.

Even if we stretch the choir in terms of difficulty, it should not take more rehearsal time than our previous concert. If it truly does require far more time, we have over-programmed. Allotting more time than needed will cause our students to become less focused and retain less as a result.

Over-rehearsing leads to Under-performing

I believe the most effective approach to teaching a choir is cultivating the big picture first. Students should understand the entirety of a piece and over time, dive deeper and deeper into the music. This approach allows all students to grow at their own pace and ensures a piece is learned with no potential “train-wrecks” at the concert. Using this method, the nuts and bolts of any piece are quickly learned while intricate details, understanding, emotion, and connectivity continue to deepen over time.

With this approach, at it’s fundamental level, there is rarely ever a “train-wreck” moment at any concert because the piece as always “fully learned” so early in the process. At a deeper level, students gain a heightened awareness that music can never be perfect. No matter how many hours we spend, there’s always a deeper layer to uncover.

This endless artistic quest is so important for our students to understand. This is one clear reason why a high school choir, college choir, and professional choir can all perform the same piece well, and yet the difference between each level presents itself quite clearly: vocal maturity, emotional maturity, depth of understanding, ability to communicate, etc.

When are we done rehearsing?

When have we rehearsed enough? When have our students maximized their time and gained enough depth to move on? When does our focus on details actually take away from the student’s overall experience and engagement in the music-making process?

While we are never really done with a piece of music, there does reach a point when our ensemble has maximized their time, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to move on. We should not be striving for perfection, as it doesn’t exist. We fundamentally want correct notes, rhythms, etc., but beyond that, the depth of the music-making process is endless.

Every ensemble has a certain level of skill, technique, focus, vested interest, vulnerability and desire. There comes a point in time when rehearsing the same piece is not as useful as moving on to something else. Sometimes more rehearsing becomes a dis-passioned repeat of what has already been done. As the choral director, we may still have much more to offer, but our current ensemble might not be ready to absorb the next layer.

Back to January

January, for many high school choral programs, is an extra month of rehearsals that could serve as a break from our traditional rehearsal mode. If we wait until February or even March to begin rehearsing our Spring Concert, we can utilize the month of January in a multitude of productive and unique ways.

Using an approach that is different from the two traditional concerts, can truly allow make this month special. January can instill individualization, cohesion, confidence, specific skills, passion, or anything we feel our group can best benefit from in a more concentrating way. This month can bring about a positive shift within our ensemble. When January concludes, besides gaining new perspectives, students will also recognize the need to focus as the Spring concert is planted firmly ahead on the calendar.

The January Approach

There are many different rehearsal approaches that can be specifically useful for the month of January. I challenge my blog readers to come up with a unique and productive way to utilize a month of rehearsal time that is not geared toward the far-away Spring concert.

My next blog will approach different ways to make the month of January special, rewarding, and become a building block toward the growth of our choir.

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