Pick 'N' Mix Rehearsing

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Sometimes you find yourself running a rehearsal in a completely new format and it works.

I recently found myself needing to plan a Magenta rehearsal in which the primary need to be met was the capacity to maintain a breadth of repertoire in our heads. Our newest material had been absorbed and had its first performance, and we'd given recent and detailed TLC to those parts of established repertoire that had needed it. So in the week before we started our next new material, our biggest challenge was in making sure the fruits of this work were accessible at will.

Now, we could have spent the evening simply singing through our entire repertoire. That would have been boring and tiring and would have given use the opportunity to practice in mistakes. So, maybe not.

What we did instead combined my usual multi-dimensional approach to rehearsal planning with the games of lucky dip we played with last year as a method to learn lyrics.

In one hat, we had slips of paper with names of songs on them; in another, we had descriptions of rehearsal processes. We'd pick a process out of one hat, and then a song to apply it to from the other. The processes included:

  • Singing with our eyes closed
  • Performance mode
  • Toggling between singing out loud and silently
  • Duetting the last few bars
  • Singing the first page very slowly
  • Toggling between singing to a bubble and a 'vvvv'
  • 'Sitting, Standing, Kneeling'
  • Imaginary performance
  • Varying the tempo as we sing
  • Toggling between singing expressively and mechanically
  • Sing the starts of three songs, with feedback from choir members

Many of these were processes we use anyway, although some of them were added at half-time when it became apparent we were going to need more processes than I had brought with me. What they all did was make us dig more deeply and more actively into our memories, and act upon each song as we sang it, rather than just singing along with our memories.

Now the main reason this worked well was because it was well suited to the choir's needs and capabilities at that moment. If we had recently-joined members, it wouldn't have worked, as they would not yet have the body of repertoire to draw on; likewise, a half-learned song could not have gone in the pot.

It also struck a good balance between the familiar and the surprising, allowing singers to draw on skills previously acquired while still needing to be flexible and think on their feet. The former supported confidence, while the latter stimulated a helpful dose of adrenaline to light us up. Indeed, I noticed an extra zing to my own experience of the rehearsal - it was an interesting experience to lead a session while not knowing what was going to happen next.

One of the questions that always comes up when we have had a new experience is: are we going to do this again? And it's never an easy question to answer. On one hand, it was a good experience, but on the other, how much of the value came from the fact that it was a new experience? But it's certainly one to learn from, and even if we never do exactly that format ever again, there will be new ideas that we would not have had without it.

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