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Golden rules for rehearsing a choir

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There’s lots of good advice out there for rehearsing choirs, but I’ve been trying to work out which ones are really important. I’ve made myself stick to three, since that means I can’t include just everything that’s a good idea, but have to actually prioritise. You may choose to disagree – I’d be interested if you could give your top three golden rules in the comments.

  1. It’s about the choir singing, not the director talking
    Just about every book on directing I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a bunch of them!) includes this somewhere, usually in capital letters with lots of exclamation marks. And it’s so true, and it’s so easy to break.
  2. Reinforce the behaviour you want repeated
    I like this one very much. It is absolutely key to a choir developing and maintaining good habits, and a great way of keeping morale high. So, when it stays in tune, say ‘hey, that stayed in tune!’. When the sopranos really nail their top note, say, ‘hey, sopranos, you really nailed that top note!’. Give somebody something to feel proud of about what they just did, and they’ll keep doing it. Treat your singers like dolphins: when they do the trick, throw ‘em a fish. (Dolphins, to the best of my knowledge, do not respond terribly well to scolding.)
  3. Make a difference
    This one comes from Abraham Kaplan, who points out that the point of rehearsal is to change things. Even if you don’t get what you want first time, and have to make further changes to get there, this is better than just repeating things all the time. Sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how little rehearsal time we can spend actually following this rule. It’s like that gentle parody of a gospel tune, ‘Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die’ – everyone wants to get better, but nobody wants to change.

So, what are your top 3?

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