Managing and moving along a choir rehearsal in preparation for Stake Conference can be a most challenging and difficult assignment. Many Stake Conference Choirs are made up of seasoned singers as well as novice singers, know-it-all musicians as well as wanna be's, good sight-singers as well as pitch-wanderers, and good old friends and supporters who may not have any singing ability. So just how do you manage a rehearsal to keep everyone engaged?
1. The first order of business is to choose music that will have the best hope of success. Take stock of your assets: Do you have a good accompanist, preferable one who can play the organ? Are there good singers from the Wards who will support the Stake Choir? Will you get a balanced group to sing SAB, SATB, SSATB, etc? How many singers can you expect? What is your budget for music? Is there a THEME or musical style you need to stick to or be aware of that will work with organ accompaniment? Do your skills as a conductor match the difficulty level of the music you choose? (Most of the time, you will be instructed to pick a hymn and your singers should have some familiarity with at least the melody of it.) Pick music that will fit within your projected parameters.
2. Check out your performance space. How many singers will fit in the loft? Will you need mics and stands and a sound engineer to run things? Are you planning to also have extras such as a string quartet or obligato flutes or a vocal soloist? Where will they stand or be set up? Will they need microphones or lights or music stands? Where will you stand to conduct the group?
3. Study the music --- EVERY PART! You should know each line of music and how they interplay with each other and the accompaniment parts.
4. Look for the traps --- large jumps, close intervals, unusual or awkward voice leading, counterpoint, dynamics, intricate articulations, tempo marking changes, fermatas, breath marks, surprises on page turns, lyrics with problematic vowel issues, and the list goes on. MARK them in your score!
5. Good Advertising may include LINKS to allow prospective choir members to listen to the music ahead of the rehearsals. But don't expect that the majority of the group will come prepared. This may however turn out to help them as they review parts on their own.
6. After an Opening and a few Warm-ups, begin the rehearsal with the most unifying section of the piece. It could be the ending, a chorus section, or a motive that gets repeated in each part or is sung unison. You need to allow the group to get a feel for their own sound UNIFIED as well as your choral expectations. If it is a completely new song, you may have the pianist play the notes first. Once they get this part down (with accompaniment) imagine how relieved they will be when they encounter it during the run-through!
7. You may feel that you need to "pound out the notes" or "rehearse each section individually." But that slows down the rehearsal for everybody! Usually, you have enough singers with good "ears" that they will want to rehearse their Parts in CONTEXT with the other voices. Save the "pounding" and "rehearsing separately" for the most intricate sections and even then only do STRATEGIC STRIKES. (You could also assign helpers to take groups out for SECTION REHEARSALS.)
8. WOODSHEDDING is a process of guiding the singers through a piece as they pay attention to certain things like dynamics, breathing, tempo, bringing out the moving parts, blend, balance, and so on. The conductor may say, "This time we are working particularly on unifying our target VOWELS on the diphthongs --- high (hah---i), fire (fah----ir), kind (kah---ind), power (pah---wer)." Be sure to send encouraging messages through your facial and body language as well as brief comments.
9. KEEP THINGS MOVING and DON"T TALK TOO MUCH! Give brief instructions on very particular things and make sure you include each section fairly. Listen for problem spots, and keep track, but have a plan for fixing them in an orderly way. Be careful not to take too many questions and advice from the group that will get you off track. If there is a train wreck, assure the group that they can do better the next time. Then GUIDE THEIR LISTENING so that they can fix the problems.
10. Interpretation depends very much on Balance and Blend, but more importantly on singing with the Spirit. Make sure that you aim every instruction so that the group will be able to share the music with the proper message and invite the Spirit to testify.