Online Journal


In the first two instalments of Choir Training for Beginners, Sub-organist of Manchester Cathedral Jeffrey Makinson looked at auditioning and the early stages in choir training, how to stand, warming up and simple vocal techniques. In this issue he looks at a number of tips you can use during a choir practice and relate some of these to an excerpt from a work Jeffrey composed in 2000 for the Manchester Cathedral Voluntary Choir, 'For the Fallen'. The whole piece involves much solo writing for tenor and bass, and includes a central four-part chorus, so for your needs, the whole composition will probably be inappropriate; however, it will provide you with an idea of how to prepare a rehearsal, as well as give hints on how to approach particular issues regarding technique, pitch, dynamics etc.

Before you start:

Before attacking any piece of music, it is worthwhile thinking in terms of the following general points:

  1. The choir trainer MUST at all times be adaptable and quick off the mark to rectify individual problems as they occur. I cannot tell you what these are going to be, since they depend very much on your choir's ability. Always have a stock of ideas up your sleeve. If it starts to go horribly wrong, don't worry…abandon what you are doing and return to it later.
  2. Teach the children the music in short sections, two phrases at a time at the most. With longer pieces, it might be an idea to start with the last phrase and work backwards, but in this instance the music is very short, and so it can be approached easily from the beginning.
  3. Choir trainers have an infuriating habit of talking about the music far too much…I remember one who went on so long in an unbelievably boring drone that the choir became more lacklustre as the rehearsal progressed! I won't need to tell you what the end result was like. So, keep it snappy and keep them singing!
  4. Always check to make sure that your choir isn't becoming bored…if it is, have some strategies to hand to perk them up a bit: a musical game is quite effective, especially if it is based around something you are trying to perfect in the music. You could also change tack and work for a while on another piece. But remember always to return to the material so as not to diminish its importance to your choir.
  5. Don't overwhelm your choir in the first instance: it is better to achieve a little to a high standard than to try to do too much in one go. Small sections will develop their sense of short-term memory much quicker than by asking them to work on a larger canvas.
  6. If you are conducting, don't be too self-conscious, since others' perceptions of what you look like are never as bad as you might think.
  7. Fix problems as they occur: a mistake left uncorrected is a mistake practised.
  8. Lead by example…whether this be by singing it to them yourself, asking a strong member of the choir to demonstrate it or even playing the melody through on the piano.

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