On Asking Questions in Rehearsal

‹-- PreviousNext --›

At last year’s A Cappella Spring Fest I ran a session for choir members about how to get the most out of rehearsals. It was partly about how to prepare for and review rehearsals in between to consolidate, but also about things you can do during the rehearsal itself. One specific item we covered was about asking questions in rehearsal – when and how to do it. I’m coming back to write about this now because I’ve had several conversations about it recently and so it seems a good moment to share those discussions.

From a director’s perspective, questions from choir members are a mixed blessing. On one hand they give you really clear information about the singers’ needs, and how the whole process is being experienced from within the ensemble. This is information we want and need. On the other hand, they slow the rehearsal down by increasing the talk:music ratio, and their timing often distracts the whole choir from the rehearsal focus of the moment.

So, the question is: how do we gather that vital information without breaking the flow of the rehearsal?

The key is for the singers to triage their questions into the urgent and the merely important (nobody ever asks unimportant questions). Urgent questions are those that you won’t be able to make music unless you get an answer: where are we starting?; I can’t find my first note; which song are we doing? If your question is urgent, ask it.

Merely important questions are the ones about rehearsal content: where are we coming off in bar 4? How should we pronounce the vowel in ‘night’? Should we be quieter here? These are all musically substantive points that need addressing at some point – but just because you have noticed it now doesn’t mean that right now is the best time to address it.

When these questions arise, the best thing is to hold them – make a mental note but don’t interrupt the flow of the rehearsal with them. One of three things will now happen. First, your director may get onto it within the next ten minutes, after they’ve dealt with whatever they are focused on right now. Second, the question may just resolve itself as people self-correct on the risers. Third, the issue may remain unaddressed at the end of that part of the rehearsal.

In that third the case, you need to take your mental note and bring it to your director. Quick chats in the break or after rehearsal work for this, as does dropping them a note the next day before you forget. They can then plan to address them in a focused and organised fashion, so the issues get proper attention without blowing something else off-course.

A particular point to note: if your question is about what other singers are doing, it is by definition not urgent. You can still get in at the right place, even if someone else is holding onto the last note of the phrase too long.

This has an importance beyond just the effect on rehearsal pacing. Pointing out others’ errors, unless you are working within a rehearsal protocol such as duetting that explicitly invites mutual feedback, is poor etiquette. It erodes trust within the group, and reduces the sense of psychological safety we all need if we are to take artistic risks. We all need to be free to make mistakes without feeling that criticism could come from any quarter. Commenting on other singers’ difficulties makes them more wary, and thus impairs their tone quality. You ask the question because you want the music to be better, but thereby you risk making it worse.

Speaking as a director, I love it when people get in touch to ask about specific details in the music we’re working on. I only have one pair of ears and a single brain, so however good those ears are (they’re not bad), there’s a limit to the amount of musical information they can handle at once. I love getting input from all the other ears and brains at our disposal as it allows me to go into a rehearsal with a detailed to-do list that I know will help chorus members feel increased confidence and security once we’ve addressed them.

So, please keep hearing all these details, and please keep letting your director know you’ve heard them. But please not while they’re trying to rehearse your choir – wait until they can give your point the attention it deserves.

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.

Archive by date

Syndicate content