Remote Rehearsing: Some Specifics

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So I thought I had probably gone on enough about this, until a chat with a friend, who said, amongst other things:

I don't want to burden you but I feel like if you were to post something quite directive with specifics on what functions to use on Zoom (which is surely what everyone is using) with some sample vocal activities that work with those, you would really be the hero of the moment and carry barbershop forward while there is serious floudering going on

It may be that there is only the one person in the world who wants more from me about this, but this is for her. Anyone else is welcome to share though :-)

First, to the Zoom questions. I’ll focus on functions we have used so far, with the odd link into the Zoom help. Everything I know about how, pretty much, has come from there, with the odd supplement from some helpful youtube tutorials.

We are using the base-level paid-for version. There is a time limit for the free version of 40 mins, intermittently enforced, and if you have people coming in a bit early to check their tech works, then you can find yourself booted out of your session earlier than you planned. It’s also quite a time-waster having to restart repeatedly, so having everything work out of one, time-unlimited main room is much more streamlined.

Functions we use include:

  • Break-out rooms, for section practices, small-group seminar-type work, and exercises in 2s and 3s.
  • Screen-sharing, mostly so far for video material, but we’ve also used the white-board function within the music team, and there’s scope for all kinds of things that so far have not come off our to-do list into real life, e.g. song-mapping, music theory
  • Inviting someone to co-host makes life easier when there’s a lot to do. One of you can manage the next set of breakout rooms while the other shares a video for example
  • Recording sessions is particularly useful for individual voice coaching, so people can watch back and see/hear the difference that changes in how they do things makes.

Our range of activities is very much a work-in-progress, and I’ve written a bit about some of them already (for example the coaching-duetting process).

I’ve mentioned section rehearsals, but possibly not how we’re doing them. This is the protocol our sections have been working from:

Section Leader: demonstrates a short passage (1-2 phrases), then names who to sing next
Singer 1: sings same passage
If they sing it accurately, SL names next singer
If they make any mistakes, SL demonstrates it again, then names next singer
Singer 2: sings same passage
…and so on round the group

The point being that each person should have heard it accurately immediately before they sing, so they are less likely to repeat each other’s mistakes. Advise starting with more experienced singers, so that the less experienced get to hear it more times before having a go.

Once everyone has had a turn, SL returns to those singers who had made mistakes on their first attempt and gives them another go – with any luck they will have improved having heard it more times! If they are still making errors, it is at the SL’s discretion whether to stay with them and work it a bit more, or advise them which specific bit they need to work on in private practice.

Then move onto the next phrase.

This will initially get through the music quite slowly (especially in larger sections), but it will compensate in terms of depth of learning.

The Section Leaders have been reporting back with quite specific points about which bits in the music needed attention, and the kinds of help individual singers needed, which I take to mean that the process is working quite effectively. Errors are getting corrected, and – here is the magic bit – things corrected in a previous week are staying corrected, so that to me sounds like a good use of the time.

We have also had used parallel small-group sessions in which someone shares a video for discussion. I have been enjoying the imagination people have brought to this. One person played a chorus performance with the sound off and then the sound on to focus discussion on visual performance for example. Another person brought two performances of the same song to compare, someone else of two different ensembles to compare ‘unit sound’ and ‘not unit sound’. Part of me is concerned this format could become formulaic after a while, but when I hear of the interesting things people are bringing in for discussion I worry about this less!

The overall experience is much less like conducting a rehearsal, and much more like teaching a musicianship class. When you are leading a group of singers in real time, you have that immediate aural connection with how everyone is getting on and you are continually adjusting in real time as part of the ensemble. Remote rehearsing is much more about setting up learning activities and letting go. It makes much less difference what you, as director, do in the rehearsal, but it takes a good deal more planning in advance so the structures and activities are in place for the participants to operate for themselves.

So I hope that helps. It is daunting having to completely reimagine how you do stuff, but the fundamental situation is that the people like each other and have an interest in common. I like to aim for us all to come away feeling we have achieved something, as that helps us feel good about ourselves, but those things tend to be much more localised and specific than you’d be celebrating on a regular chorus night. And if we do nothing else but create space to enjoy each other’s company, with something pleasant to do to pass the time, we’re winning.

Thank you! I love it!
Will ponder further and share.
Immediately struck that (a) it's ok to have a different sort of rehearsal (b) diligent work is possible (c) letting go is a necessary element :). PS sorry I made a typo in my message XD xx

I'm glad you find it useful!

As you will know from reading this blog, my capacity to see typos is somewhat limited...

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