R&S Chair, Children’s and Community Youth Choirs
Engagement. We hear this buzzword a lot. Are you “engaging” your choirs in rehearsal? What does that even mean? They are singing, so they must be “engaged,” right? But we all can tell when our singers are not engaged. The bored face, the glances around the room, the slumped posture, the tuning out as soon as a different voice part is being rehearsed. So, how do you get them engaged? Here are some suggestions for you to try that work with any age, elementary through adult!
- Rather than tell them where the problems are in a particular section of music, ask them to tell each other (or tell you). Ex. “Choir, last time we rehearsed this piece, we had some problems. Take one minute to remind others in your section where some of the problem spots were for your particular part.” Then after one minute, “Choir, is there any place that you would like us to review for your section before we try it together?” This provides an opportunity for them to mentally review the material and audiate their part (a great form of individual practice), and to alert them to be aware of problems. They will tell you exactly what they need, and you will ultimately save on rehearsal time!
- Utilize peer critiquing. Ex. “Altos, please listen to the Tenors as they sing this section, paying particular attention to their diction. At the end, give them a thumbs up, thumbs in the middle, or thumbs down.” After the tenors sing, “Altos, how did they do? (show thumbs up, middle, or down). Can you specify what they did well and why? How about what they need to do better?” Then, of course, provide an opportunity for the Tenors to critique the Altos! This provides some friendly rivalry and competition, but also teaches the choir what to listen for and what they might need to improve upon within their own section.
- Point out interesting things for them to listen for that might not be in their part, and how their part interacts with those interesting musical events. Ex. “Choir, listen to what is going on in the accompaniment here. (Have the accompanist play.) How does this contribute to what we are doing in the vocal lines?” Then, of course, be sure that you are drawing their attention to the accompaniment at that particular spot when they sing with the accompaniment.
- Use questioning to lead them to understand the music rather than telling them about the music. Ex. “Choir, I am going to sing this phrase two ways. Tell me which way you like better, and why.” Then model the phrase musically/unmusically, with good diction/poor diction, round vowels/collapsed vowels, or any number of comparisons so that by comparing, they will understand what it is you are working towards. Ask them to tell you why they prefer one over the other.
- Discuss how phrasing influences the meaning of a text and let them be part of the interpretive process. Model a phrase with text emphasis on different words, and discuss which phrasing they prefer and why. This may take a few minutes, but my experience has been that when a choir is involved in the process, the group seldom has to be corrected on the phrasing again!
- Always insist that they sing musically – even when doing warm ups, reciting text, or singing solfege!
These are some of my favorite techniques that help keep the choir engaged in the entire rehearsal process. I have found that these approaches give the choir more ownership of their music, provide more engagement in the rehearsal because there is always something to listen for, and ultimately, save rehearsal time!