Choral rehearsal tracks, for many of us, have been indispensable throughout the pandemic, but I believe they will play an even greater role moving forward, post pandemic. I think choral rehearsal tracks are here to stay and could revolutionize the traditional choral program, provided they are used in conjunction with continued training in vocal technique, aural skill development, and sight-singing.
Web-based programs such as Sight Reading Factory (the program Choral Clarity endorses), are amazing tools for maximizing in-class sight-singing while using limited rehearsal time. Additionally, Sight Reading Factory allows the opportunity to create customized homework assignments so our students can further develop their skills at home (check out Chris Munce’s Choralosophy podcast episode on this topic).
Yes, any singer will be better prepared with their choral repertoire by listening to a professional choral rehearsal track but the students who will most effectively benefit are the ones who are on their way toward developing those aforementioned skills. As these singers engage with a choral rehearsal track, they will likely use their vocal technique, ear-training skills, and sight-singing skills to recognize pitch relationships and decode the provided information on the written sheet music (notes, rhythms, accents, dynamics, phrasing, etc). If students aren’t developing these fundamental skills, the rehearsal tracks may become a note-plunking crutch and, in turn, lessen the effectiveness and impact of daily rehearsals, as singers may perceive the “real” information from the tracks and not from us.
I believe, moving forward, more and more successful choral programs will make choral rehearsal tracks an integral part of their choral curriculum. Rehearsal tracks are already a standard learning tool in the world of contemporary A-Cappella, a deeply intertwined field that is constantly evolving. In fact, much of what contemporary A-Cappella has already been doing is trickling back into the choral world, and I’m loving this choral evolution.
Here are the 6 reasons why choral rehearsal track usage should spread AFTER covid:
1. They are an amazing home practice tool for differentiated instruction
Depending on the choral rehearsal track company you use, there are many different ways to differentiate practice at home. Here are 4 different ways students can utilize rehearsal tracks. I will be describing this further in my next blog post.
- Listening to their part alone
- Listening to their part in one ear while hearing the other parts blended together in the other ear
- Listening to the balanced recording (all parts blended together) while singing their part
- Listening to all parts EXCEPT their own part
These varied options can reach students of all development levels within the same choir.
2. They can help to lead sectionals without the teacher present
When there is no student who is musically capable of running an effective sectional on their own, a choral rehearsal tracks can step in and work wonders. An entire section could first sing along to the professional solo track and then progress to the other track recordings as listed above. This could empower a student leader to organize and “run” an effective sectional.
3. They are a rehearsal tool when the teacher is absent
When choral directors are absent, rehearsal track recordings could be a solid way to keep the group actively working toward their goal. If you don’t have students who can lead a rehearsal or a music substitute to fill in, it’s really easy to have a student run your lesson plan that consists of using choral rehearsal tracks. One idea would be having the students sing to the balanced recording and then have each section get a chance to sing alongside their part-recording where their part is EXCLUDED; in other words, each section gets a chance to “hold” their part while all other parts are singing with the demo.
Another effective tool to make this even easier is to take all of the individual audio files and import them into a DAW (soundtrap, garage band, etc). From there all the parts are lined up and it’s easy to have two parts or three parts going at the same time, or stopping and starting from different spots in the music. I believe student leaders are capable of importing the audio files and equally capable of running a rehearsal this way.
In fact, the day you are absent could be a day to introduce a brand new piece with choral rehearsal tracks; it could be a fun challenge for your singers to see how much they could learn “on their own”.
4. They are the perfect tool for making a virtual recording
Yes, you heard me right. I believe virtual choir recordings are here to stay. Why do I think that? I describe a virtual choir, by definition, as all vocal lines being individually recorded in isolation. I believe there are many positives to this relatively new art form. Just as the choir world has added pop a-cappella as an important component to many successful choral programs, I believe virtual recordings will become another part of the choir evolution. The Kinnison Music Co. has a fantastic blog post on 9 Reasons to Create a Virtual Choir. I love this blog post because none of the 9 reasons are related to the pandemic or a desperation to make something happen. These are real, tangible reasons why virtual choirs should continue to exist beyond this trying time.
Similar to #2, I recommend importing the individual audio files into a DAW (digital audio workstation) and asking all singers to record while listening to professionally sung vocal track in their ear. If you want to personalize the recording to your ensemble, you can manipulate the audio tracks in your DAW (garage band, soundtrap, etc), by changing tempos, dynamics, or adding ritards, etc. If you are looking for even more personalization, I recommend asking your section leaders to record their part to the already modified professional track. From there, the rest of your singers can sing to your section leader’s voices, rather than the professionally recorded rehearsal track.
5. Your strongest singers/section leaders will have a higher level of singing to emulate
Most of your choir members look up to your top singers and section leaders, but who do your section leaders have as their vocal role models? When practicing with a professional choral rehearsal track, your top singers will now have more room for musical growth. As a result, those singers will sing with more shape, articulation, and musicality, which will lead the ensemble to an even higher place of musicianship.
For those choral directors who believe this is a detriment because you have your own interpretation:
I believe when your top singers hear a higher level of musicianship, they will innately understand the art form better and internalize, above all else, musicality; this will aid them in their ability to respond better to your interpretative idea.
6. The use of these tracks should free up extra time in rehearsal to teach more than notes and rhythms
If students are expected to practice with these tracks at home, there should be no time spent note-plunking in rehearsal. When it comes to learning the actual repertoire, our singers could either be reading the sheet music in class, learning by rote in class (for songs that are intended to be learned this way), or they could be learning their part at home using choral rehearsal tracks.
By eliminating note plunking and putting more expectation on our singers to utilize the tools they’ve been given, we should have more rehearsal time to make a true impact. I believe we can use the extra time to focus on the backstory of our selected repertoire; our singers should learn about the composer/arranger, the poet, discuss the poetry, focus on the reason why the music was created, the history and style behind the genre, and anything else that will bring authenticity to the music-making experience.
In my previous blog post, Is Using Choral Rehearsal Tracks Cheating?, we discuss how rehearsal tracks provide independence for singers who already have an understanding of pitch relationships and can read music, but provide dependence from singers who rely on the tracks to give them the notes and rhythms. Professional choral rehearsal tracks provide so much more than notes and rhythms, but students who don’t have foundational skills are likely to only pick up pitch and rhythms as opposed to shape, dynamics, and articulation.
In the world of contemporary a-cappella, many of the highly skilled arrangers provide killer rehearsal tracks that give so much life to their music. Until recently, I thought the choral rehearsal track industry had been lagging behind in their both the quality and authenticity of their rehearsal tracks. In my opinion, the first company to provide the same level of quality and authenticity in the choral world is Kinnison Choral Co. I reached out to them several months back because I was blown away by the quality of their choral tracks in comparison to our rehearsal choral track that I current use.
As a result of our conversation, I asked them to collaborate with Choral Clarity and offer our readers a 10% discount off of any track (code: choralclarity21 at checkout). Move over, they are offering a special deal, only for Choral Clarity readers: a LIFETIME membership for unlimited tracks for a $1199. This membership is not listed on their site.
If you are interested in hearing their quality, just go to their home page and listen to their demo.