As I’ve traveled the state of Georgia for the past 10 years I’ve heard the successes and the horror stories of what goes on in choir rehearsals. With that in mind, I’ve wanted to share three of those statements that have been shared with me the most and give some insight on each of them.
- “He talks too much!” – If there is one thing I hear the most from choir members about their Music Minister or Worship Pastor it is this statement. When I pry deeper to understand what they mean, I discover that they’re saying exactly what they mean! Many choirs are frustrated because their leader talks for more than half of their rehearsal time (well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little but that is what they say!). Choir members say that he takes longer trying to explain what he wants and justifying why he wants it than actually singing to correct the issue.
My observation: Vocal demonstration is the best way to correct a problem. “Why” comes easier once they hear the difference. And any explanation shouldn’t take more than 2-3 sentences. Remember, rehearsal time is limited and your choir members are there to sing! They want to learn and you’re their teacher/model. Your singing voice is your teaching tool. Work to keep it in great shape. God has gifted you or you probably wouldn’t be standing in front of that choir. You sing and they’ll sing even better!
- “We sing the same songs all the time!” – This is a common complaint from both the choir and congregation. We all have our favorites and it is always easier to sing something you know rather than having to teach something new. For many, this may be because you’ve never learned how to teach a new song.
My observation: Some songs are worth repeating, don’t get me wrong. There are those that everyone loves and they need to be sung, however it is helpful to keep a record of when you use choir selections and not get in the habit of repeating the same songs each month. If you use planningcenteronline.com it will do it for you! Teaching a new song requires your preparation. You need to learn the song. Read and study the text – know what it means; make sure you know and can demonstrate the rhythms; be able to sing every voice part; determine when you want them to breathe and when they need to carry phrases. Also, decide how long it is going to take you to teach the song to them and plan to have enough rehearsals before you ever begin. All of this is important before you hand out the new piece. I usually allow 4-6 weeks to prepare a new song.
Once you place it in their hands, start by teaching small sections, like the chorus. Many of the songs we sing are verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. Although each chorus may be treated differently, you can point that out as you teach it. Break each voice part out, if needed. For the first rehearsal have them master the chorus. The next week, teach the bridge section and then the following week work the verses, while reinforcing what was learned the week before. On week four, learn the beginning and the ending and tie it into the whole piece. By week 5 you’re ready to try putting it all together and on week 6 it is ready to perform. This means you should be planning at least six weeks out!
- “All he does is come in and plug in a CD and we sing along with it.” – There is nothing wrong with singing with CDs. They give us the ability to hear a full orchestration when we may not have that in our local congregation. In many cases, however, this limits a groups’ ability to learn to sing harmonies.
My observation: CDs have become the Music Minister’s crutch! Due to limited rehearsal time, we hand out CDs for our choirs to take home and learn from them. We place songs on the web for them to listen. We may even share them on social networks. When rehearsal comes our choirs sing what they’ve heard. The problem is that now they are singing like the folks on the CD. Luckily, most of the CD recordings out there are good quality. The frustration for many choir members is that the various harmonies are never learned correctly. The Music Minister never knows if the harmonies are right or wrong because he can’t hear them over the volume of the CD. My suggestion is to use the CD to introduce a song, but then work as described in my second observation to learn the song. Your folks love to hear themselves sing, good or bad, as they learn. They like to “get it right.” Don’t add the CD back until it is performance time!
God has placed each of us in our choirs in unique roles as we lead our congregations. They deserve our best effort each week as we prepare them to lead our congregations. May God bless you as you lead His flock into the presence of The Almighty.