Is It Time For A Change? By Prof. Robert N. Ham
Change is a natural antidote for complacency or boredom in rehearsal. Often a change in routine can generate a spark of enthusiasm that refreshes and renews an otherwise slightly stale rehearsal. Even more, change can bring excitement to every part of a choral ensemble.
What choral director has not had to deal with intonation problems? One solution is to change the key in rehearsal and sometimes even in performance. This technique is especially useful in a cappella singing. Raising the key one half step can help to stabilize pitch. Flatting can often be remedied in this way.
Change your seating formation. Now and then IÕll tell the choir to stand by another person who sings a different voice part. This usually has the effect of energizing the sound as people not only have to hold their own part but they want to sound good next to the other person. This also gives people a chance to hear how their part sounds with others. When we stay in our sections we sometimes donÕt hear four parts; we hear a lot of our part. ItÕs exciting to discover the new sound. This also is a great way for people to get to know one another better. Often there is a new respect for each other as we make music in this manner.
Try standing in a large circle and singing. Not only do we get a new dimension in sound, but we get to see other peopleÕs faces instead of the backs of their heads. It is amazing what eye contact or a smile can do for the countenance (and sound) of the entire choir.
Move to another room and sing. The acoustics of a room dramatically affect the sound produced. If moving to another room helps people hear themselves it is well worth the change of location.
Assign different sections to sing the descant (on certain pieces). It doesnÕt always need to be the sopranos. Have sopranos and altos switch parts from time to time if the range is reasonable. This will challenge the sopranos to read an alto line and will give the altos a chance to sing the melody more often.
Move the entire rehearsal off site. Going to a home to rehearse can bring an element of warmth into the rehearsal. Singing around the piano brings us closer together and invites a sense of ÒfamilyÓ to the practice.
Start at the end of the piece and work toward the beginning the style or the interpretation of the piece for rehearsal only. Practice the entire piece in a staccato manner. Change the tempo. Vary the given dynamics. Sing only on the vowels adding consonants later. Each of these encourages people to pay attention and engages their minds to meet the new challenges put before them.
If you usually start rehearsal with devotions, end with them instead. Vary the order in which you rehearse for a change of pace. If you usually do a large group prayer divide into small groups for prayer, sending groups all over the church. If the choir does an audible prayer do a silent one. If the director usually prays have someone from the choir or the accompanist pray.
Every year my choir takes a retreat. WeÕve gone to the same place for about eight years in a row. This year weÕre trying something different. WeÕre changing the format and the location. It is my hope that this change will breathe new life into our retreat. Yes, change can be good from time to time. LetÕs see if change refreshes us as we give ourselves to God through music.
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, South Bend, Indiana. E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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