Everybody’s Doing It… and the Concert is Tomorrow!

By Brody McDonald

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Before we go any further, let’s assume good intent. Of course, everyone has a bad day. Maybe those singers who are off-course are having bad days. Maybe they are confused but embarrassed to ask questions. For the purposes of this article, we aren’t going to question motives. We are simply going to address behaviors.

There are many behaviors that set up success as a choir singer. Good posture, proper breath management, vowel formation, impeccable diction, the visual tracking of music, appropriately marking the score, and paying attention to the director are among them. That’s a lot of stuff to do! Frankly, it’s difficult. No wonder singers can sometimes either miss out on one of these components or find it difficult to do them all well. Nonetheless, it’s imperative that everyone tries.

One thing that I have found effective is to ask the choir, “If everyone in here was doing things, the way YOU are doing them, would the choir improve, stay the about the same, or get worse? In other words, what if we traded this choir for 50 of YOU?”

Of course I could say “great job” to some of the singers (and I do), or “everyone please fix X, Y, and Z,” (and I do) but by listing the many ways a singer must be involved in rehearsal and then asking THAT QUESTION… it’s a different vibe. It’s non-threatening. It inspires introspection and self-evaluation. It brings focus to the fact that every singer has value, and their contribution matters. It also highlights each singers’ responsibility to the group as a whole, again in a non-threatening way.

Another way to approach this is to ask “What if I (THE DIRECTOR) approached this rehearsal the way YOU are? Would you get more of what you need or less? I’m on this team. What level of engagement do YOU expect from ME?”

Everyone has a job to do. What’s good for ONE is good for ALL, and everybody’s got to do it.

The Concert is Tomorrow!

The day before a concert, my singers are suddenly VERY CONCERNED. THE CONCERT IS TOMORROW! They rehearse with more energy and attention. They ask questions that have been answered many times before. Questions like…

  • “Where is that cutoff?”
  • “Can you play my notes in this section?”
  • ”What time do we show up?”
  • “Is it OK if I wear (whatever it is)?”
  • “Can I be late if I’m coming from a game?”

Does this happen to you? Even after years of teaching, this never ceases to amaze me. It happened with the spring musical too. The calendar provided more pressure than I could. Does it have to be this way?

A friend of mine used to do this thing called THE PUSH. He would let certain aspects of rehearsal stay very relaxed for a long time. Talking was ok, poor posture was ok, etc. Then, two weeks before a concert, they had THE PUSH. In THE PUSH, everything had to be fantastic. I always thought, “This is a physical activity… so anything that’s good two weeks before the concert is good all the time, no?” After all, practice makes PERMANENT (not perfect).

When I started teaching in Kettering, my students used to steer into procrastination. They called it THE KETTERING MIRACLE. It referred to “everything being in bad shape but coming together at the last minute.”

My approach is to be consistent – to train as one hopes to perform. As humans, that isn’t always going to function at 100%, but it’s a goal. I can’t do THE PUSH. I can’t do THE KETTERING MIRACLE. I do THE WORK ETHIC.

I once read “to be productive, treat every day at work like it’s the day before vacation.” That made sense to me. Usually before a vacation there is a mad scramble to get projects done, so they don’t mentally weigh on a person trying to relax.

I have seen on several occasions (in bars and restaurants) the sign: FREE BEER TOMORROW. It sounds exciting but soon the gimmick is revealed…

I wonder if that’s a mindset we should develop: THE CONCERT IS TOMORROW. I might even make a poster for my classroom. We (singers and director alike) should strive to always rehearse like THE CONCERT IS TOMORROW.

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