It takes hard work for a choir to reach that magical point where the whole sound becomes something more than just everybody’s vocal parts!
The work you do in rehearsal – and between rehearsals – is critical to achieve that magic. You really can contribute if you make some of these actions your regular practice:
Record the final run through of your section on your smart phone or dicta-phone. But wait till it’s the actual run through that the Choir Leader [CL] has approved, otherwise you’ll end up with several recordings and some confusion!
Warm up your voice at home before practice. Often the CL will be keen to get right into the material – your preparation at choir may be cut short as a result. Even the best CLs are guilty of this!
Regularly practice scales in the key of the songs you are learning. You can do this on a piano – or a piano app! If you don’t read music, you can even ask the CL or accompanist to tell you the key; they’ll be happy to know you’re doing your tonal work!
Spend 30 minutes daily going through your parts. By doing this, your vocal muscle memory will ‘kick in’ at choir – you won’t be one of the members saying ‘can we do that again please?…’
Make friends at choir. Its easier to sing with people you get along with. Your ear and general focus will be better if you feel relaxed and at ease in the company, and able to take risks (like singing with more power or perhaps trying out a new part).
Take a pencil and make erasable marks on your own sheets (not pen marks – sometimes the ideas change!). Make marks that you will definitely understand when you look at them several days later!
Create your own glossary. You’ll see words like triplet, legato, piano and crescendo etc. very often; so, if you don’t understand a term, look it up, put it to the test by saying it in a sentence to do with your singing, then add it to your list.
Practice to a recording of the choir rather than relying on your memory. It seems obvious, but learning an inaccurate key can throw you off once you are in the actual rehearsal.
Practice sight-reading or attend a class separate to choir if you have the time. There are on line sight-reading classes if you cant get out to one. Many CLs use sheet music and even if you can remember the melodies by ear, it’s very helpful to have a score reference.
Try out various parts if any of the songs are too much of a challenge for you (alto, tenor, soprano etc.). There’s no point feeling uncomfortable; choirs are for enjoyment as much as they are for performance. Take that risk of speaking up if you need to sing a different part, then just give it enough time to feel familiar!
If it’s a pop, rock and soul choir, listen to the originals of the songs you are working on, so you can hear what the choir leader hears and grasp more deeply the energy or the feel of the song.
Avoid getting irritated by members who don’t learn their parts. You don’t know what pressures they have outside in their busy lives. It’s more positive to assist them where possible if they’re singing your part (in a break time perhaps) – and another way to make friends!
Rachel Bennett is a London-based vocal coach and singer songwriter. She is the lead singer of her band RAIE and they have played at venues including London’s Hammersmith Apollo, The Roundhouse, The Albany Theatre, The Forge and Map Café. She has been a Musical Director for various theatre companies and has worked as both a singer and coach for record companies in studios across London. She currently teaches singing at Goldsmiths College on the Popular Music Degree and at Rose Bruford International Drama School. You can learn more about Rachel on www.raiemusic.com