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On Rehearsal Pacing

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Rubric for rehearsal pacing: using my special 'almost legible' writingRubric for rehearsal pacing: using my special 'almost legible' writing
This is the first of a series of posts about efficient rehearsal techniques, about ways to get maximum bang for your rehearsal buck. The ones that follow are about the Intervention and Enforcement Cycles, which I keep mentioning with a promise to get around to blogging about them one of these days. That day is nearly here, but talking about rehearsal pacing is a useful set-up, so I’m doing this one first.

This diagram gives a usefully quick and dirty way of assessing the pace of a rehearsal by mapping patterns of activity on the choir’s experience:

So, long periods of talking will slow down the pace of rehearsal, and if combined with short bursts of singing, will send your singers home bored. Short periods of talking, conversely, give less opportunity for the singers to disengage. Combined with short bursts of singing, you get a fast-paced rehearsal, or with longer spans of musical time it becomes more relaxing.

This (as we’ll examine in a mo) isn’t all there is to it, but it’s a very quick and easy way to assess what your rehearsals are currently like. The ideal you’re aiming for a combination of fast and relaxing - get a lot done with quick-fire work, then give people’s brains a chance to get traction on longer spans of musical time to let them re-group ready for the next intensive bit.

The pacing grid is predicated on a distinction of talking versus singing as representing passivity versus activity in the singers. That is a decent generalisation to use as a starting point for thinking about the quality of your rehearsal experience. But not all singing time involves active learning; not all director talking makes the singers passive. We then need to ask: Who’s doing the work, who’s doing the learning?

This picture illustrates a common experience in rehearsal:

The balance is not measuring body-weight, obviously. It is measuring active engagement, or what Doug Lemov refers to as ‘Ratio’ - the proportion of the cognitive work being done by the respective participants. Many a time a director will be working away like crazy, while the choir members are just kind of singing along. It’s a pleasant enough way - for the singers - to spend an evening, and they may talk fondly of how much they enjoy their conductor’s energy and enthusiasm. (The director usually comes home exhausted, sometimes with a satisfying, if partly deluded impression of having worked the choir hard, sometimes with a less pleasurable, but more accurate feeling of frustration about not having achieved more with all that work.)

But even if the choir go home having had a nice sing, they are missing out on the pride and satisfaction you get when you’ve really achieved something. So, pacing isn’t just about amount of singing/speaking time, it isn’t even about speed or energy of what your doing. It’s about the frequency of opportunities to improve or grow.

And that is the principle that underlies the next few posts: the Enforcement Cycle and the Intervention Cycle are analytical tools designed to help directors maximise these opportunities by eliminating our commonest forms of inefficiency in rehearsal.

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