Choral season has begun, and here is my description of The Ideal Chorister. These ideas are for EVERYONE, regardless of level of ability or experience. I know beginners who are better Ideal Choristers than professional singers, so I hope this list is useful for everyone!
The Ideal Chorister!
Arrive on Time (or before) for rehearsal
It takes time to build a safe, creative atmosphere, but only a second to destroy it. Habitually coming late to rehearsal pulls focus from our work to you. I know that people get stuck in traffic or have to come straight from work or a child situation, but persistent latecomers aren’t showing respect for others, and are often the ones who would benefit most from the voice training and stress-busting warm up.
Please note, before rehearsal is not the best time to ask your director a question or chat. There are a lot of moving parts for a successful rehearsal and he/she is preparing mentally for the marathon that it is.
Pitch In to the Best of Your Ability
It’s all too easy to let your choir director or other singers in your section do all the work. Yes, the director is in charge, but the final result depends on every single individual in the choir. It’s no good thinking that your fellow singers will back you up and cover you through the bits you don’t know that well. If every singer in the choir thought that, there would be no choir. Everybody has a place in the choir or you would not be here.
Please try to attend regularly, to know your part, to stay aware of rehearsal schedules, to listen to the director and so on. Those of you who wear hearing aides, please do wear them, adjust them frequently and carry an extra set of batteries!
Develop Self-Awareness and Self-Monitoring
Many people walk through life not really paying attention. Or they are focused on things that are not in their best interest. Or they are aware of everything and can not focus on their role as a chorister! Become aware of when you are humming your part when you are supposed to be silent. Become aware of how your constant chair shuffling is distracting to others. Turn off your cell phone, of if you must take a call, excuse yourself quietly and walk out of the room to talk.
Please do not cross in front of the director after rehearsal has started.
Please do not wear perfume or scented creams or lotions. Many people are allergic to these things and have trouble breathing around them.
Self-awareness means being present and engaged in the moment. This can be developed by focusing on the warm ups each session which assists in the transition between your busy daily life and the joy of being in a choir. Many church choirs don’t really have an effective warm-up because the conductor is a keyboard artist and responsible for covering a huge amount of material. YOU have to take charge of your warming-up before rehearsal, perhaps in your car before you arrive.
Always have a pencil and lightly mark your score with everything the conductor wants. If you are singing by rote or by ear, use memory games to remember what you are asked to do with the music. You can even draw a “music map” to show repeats, dynamics, word changes, etc.
Sometimes it can feel very uncomfortable to be in the middle of a learning process. When you first start to learn a new song it can feel frustrating that you can’t hear or get your part. Even when you’ve been singing a song for a while, you might still keep tripping over some of the words.
Try not to get frustrated, but give yourself up to the process and trust that it will come out right in the end. Your director has a vision for the song that you might not understand, and you have to trust that the process is going somewhere good. In this choir, feel free to make mistakes. That is one very important way to learn.
Practice Empathy, not Sympathy
Stay strong within yourself but respect others. We don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life, or what they have experienced. And don’t try to be helpful unless someone asks. Your attempt to be helpful might tick someone off, and your job as a chorister is to tend to yourself.
Develop a sense of the whole
While you are focused on your own part or hearing the voices immediately around you, try to get a sense of the whole choir. Hear the harmonies working and observe the balance of voices.
Ideally you can hear your own voice, but never louder or more pronounced than the voices around you. If you can not hear yourself, you are singing too softly, and if yours is the only voice you hear, tone it down. This is relative, of course. Some voices are larger and more present than others, while other voices are insecure or ill-produced.
While I do not have a huge operatic voice, it is a very present lyric soprano, and I usually have had to sing medium-soft (“mp”) as a base-line, most of the time I am singing in any kind of choir, which takes a great amount of flexibility and energy. There will always be ill-produced sounds that can be heard louder than well-produced singing. As a colleague of mine says, “Ugly will sound louder than beautiful every time.”
It’s not up to me or you to sing louder than ugly, frankly. It is up to us to allow music through us.
Keep on Smiling, Keep on Smiling
Maybe this is the most important aspect of all. Find the humor in any situation. This includes in the person standing next to you who constantly sings the wrong note – loudly! Exist in a relaxed, alert and playful place.
This is the place where music-making and learning, in other words, THE MAGIC, happens!