Setting a Course for Success: First 15 Minutes of Rehearsal by Prof. Robert Ham

The most important part of rehearsal is the first fifteen minutes. This is true for many events: books we read, shows we go to, and concerts. If we're not hooked in the first fifteen minutes, its an uphill battle.

These minutes must be filled with successes. The first early-accomplished goal is to start on time. Each minute is precious to our rehearsals, so start on time every time.

The second goal is to create an atmosphere conducive to singing and learning. What's in this atmosphere? A sense of joy and accomplishment based on clear instruction, positive feedback, high expectations and no-failure formulas.

I start every rehearsal with a back-rub. This is not original, but it works. It's my signal that we're starting and that it's time to begin focusing on the task ahead of us. Of course this creates fun and togetherness as well as mentally reminding each participant that we're in "rehearsal mode." People who arrive late often run through the door to get in on the backrubs.

I regularly make friendly comments during this time like, "Enjoy this. It's probably your only backrub of the day."

This is followed by a few minutes of warm-ups. Model good breathing technique, maintain eye contact, and smile a lot. Never underestimate the power of a smile. What you model for your choir. they will reflect.

Then it's time to get down to business. Present instructions that are short and easy to follow. That might go something like this:

Director: "Please sit up straight and hold the music so you can see me. (They do this.) Great. Now everyone look at the soprano line and sing the first two measures. (They do this.) What was the largest interval you sang? (someone responds.) Good. Let's sing just the interval on 'tah' listening carefully to the pitches."

From the least singer/musician to the best, everyone has been able to participate without failure. Further instruction is given and before you know it they're making music.

Expect the choir to do the simple things correctly. If we respond positively to their efforts, they gain confidence. Keep the pace moving with proper intensity and the music will become glorious as they sing their best for you.

Statistics show that when people feel successful 80% of the time they will feel good about themselves and stay committed. Successful rehearsals produce successful results and will bring people back over and over.

These suggestions are typical of the sorts of choral tips I'll be contributing on a regular basis to Christian Sound and Song.

Prof. Robert N. Ham is Chair of Fine Arts and Choir Director at Bethel College. He also directs the adult choir at Clay United Methodist Church, South Bend, Indiana. His e-addreass is: