Polishing a Performance

There are just 7 rehearsals before our first concert, and I’m not quite panicking, yet.

I know the choir is going to sound great. They have learned the songs well and know all the words and notes. There are still a few more pieces of music to learn, but I know they will do that easily and beautifully.

The hard part is making them understand they also need to LOOK great. And that they will sound better if they look better.

How does that work?, you may ask.

Starting with some basics: standing on the risers. They walk in, stand in a row, and sing. Sounds easy, right? Well, first they need to be arranged by height so they can all see me. Then they need to space themselves evenly so everyone can see them. Harder than it sounds when attendance fluctuates wildly and people have to come and go during rehearsal. Throw in there the fact that these are middle schoolers, and while they are much more mature about these things than I was at that age (cooties, anyone?), there still is a whole world of little issues about who won’t stand closer to each other, who needs to not stand next to someone because the giggles never stop, and who would absolutely die of mortification if they were forced to stand in the front row. Everyone needs to be positioned so they can see the conductor, who is supposed to keep them together, and also positioned so that they are singing out to the audience and not into the back of someone else’s head.

Okay, we get that worked out. Now, how to stand: arms straight at sides or held in front? Feet together or apart? Stand up straight or lean slightly forward? Good posture ensures good breathing which then ensures good sound.

Add some choreography. Does everyone have to move exactly the same way? Right hand, left foot – no,no, your other left! Or is there some artistic license to their performance? Depends on the song, so the rules change with each piece of music. Movements can’t block the sound coming out of their mouths. Props? Oh, yes, don’t forget about those. Who carries them out on stage? Can they be used correctly and conveniently? Does everyone know their cue when to pick something up, put something down, or pass it down the row? Everyone needs to have these things in their head, practiced to the point of not having to think about them, so that they don’t interfere with their singing.

Between songs, you can’t just relax and start talking to your neighbor. There may be some repositioning needed as different songs have different mixes of parts to sing. How do you get those singers in place, quickly, quietly, and without looking like chaos? Moving bodies to keep voices together is a necessary evil in a beginning choir, but it keeps everyone singing the right notes at the right time.

How do they get onto the stage? How do they exit? And how do we fit the time to practice this into the super-tight 50 minutes we have each rehearsal? And, the most difficult question, how do we convince the students that all this really IS necessary and important and that it is not an invitation to chatter or goof around?

Because, having been through years – dare I say decades? – of performances, I also know there is one thing that happens to the majority of every group on stage: stage fright. Ranging from mild butterflies in the tummy to knocking knees to flat-out panic, it is a normal reaction to suddenly finding yourself in front of a large group of people all awaiting to hear and see what you can do. Knowing how you are supposed to walk, stand, breathe, sing, move, sing, and finally walk off the stage again reduces the nervousness, by taking away the question, “Am I doing this right?”

The confidence that comes from looking good transfers to the voice, and focuses the mind on singing well. Q.E.D. they sound better by looking better.

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