The Rhythm of Rehearsals

by Chris Cherwien

Planning and executing effective and enjoyable rehearsals is an art! Too often, I am tempted to do other work and not carve out time to thoughtfully plan each choir’s rehearsal. Experience is my friend but should not be an excuse for skipping this important work. When we only have one rehearsal per week, we have to make the most of every minute. It feels like so much to do and so little time to do it in. We have to prioritize and map out the allotted time. There is a rhythm to the rehearsal that allows the singers/ringers to warm up their brains/voices and move toward the most challenging pieces. Effective rehearsals model a beautiful musical phrase.

Start with preparing the space for an effective rehearsal to take place. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure your space is adequately lit and the temperature is comfortable.
  • Make sure the folders are loaded with each piece of music you will be rehearsing. Set out hymnals for all. Prepare extra folders in case a new person appears!
  • Write the rehearsal order on the whiteboard. My choirs appreciate knowing what the rehearsal will look like. This also keeps me on track and reminds me to move on if I am spending more than my planned time on a piece.

Now on to the rehearsal itself. Each ensemble requires a different lesson plan. These suggestions are specifically for adult vocal choirs, but many would apply to other choirs as well.

  • Greet your singers with a smile and an appreciation for their presence. It is important to remember to slow down, especially when rushing from one rehearsal to the next!
  • Vocal warmups are something I believe in as a singer and conductor. Most of the time it is about getting my body and brain into the space of making music and not so much about warming up my instrument.
  • As part of our warmups, we always sing a verse or two of the hymns for the coming Sunday. Don’t skip this! Leading the congregation’s song is the most important thing our choirs do. The anthem is important, but singing the hymns and liturgy are at the top of the pyramid.
  • Next up is a piece that they know fairly well but needs to be reviewed and polished. We sing it through and then work specific trouble measures.
  • Now we are ready to get to work on the most challenging piece. Dissect it by speaking the text in rhythm or singing the notes on a syllable. Spend enough time on this so that your singers feel confident that they will be able do it well.
  • Work other anthems as time permits and end with a piece that they love and does not require a lot of energy. They are tired and have given you a lot after their workdays.
  • We always end our rehearsals with a prayer.
  • Stay and be available to visit with your choir members. This builds relationships and enhances music making.
  • If you have an accompanist, thank them for their good work. Their work is also an art and not to be taken for granted.

I wish I could say that I do all of the above every week. We all have good weeks and not-so-good weeks. My husband always asks me, “How did it go tonight?” My response is usually, “Some rehearsals went well, and some could have been better.” The most important thing to remember is to not be hard on yourself if things don’t go as planned. We have to be kind to ourselves! Our goal is to help our choirs bring their very best to give God praise.

Welcome, encourage, smile, and love the people you are privileged to lead!

Posted on Jul 12, 2023 9:00:00 AM
Filed Under: Music Ministry,

Chris Cherwien

Written by Chris Cherwien

Chris Cherwien has been a church musician for over 38 years serving congregations in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. In all three cities Chris founded/co-founded summer music and arts camps for children and youth. She is currently the Director of Worship and Music at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has been the alto section leader for the National Lutheran Choir since 2012. Chris and her husband Paul have three grown children and four grandchildren.