Why Dress rehearsals?
Over 40 generous colleagues sent replies to the question of "Why
Dress Rehearsals" for a chorus of adults with disabilities.
We heard from conductors of choruses at all levels, from kindergarten
through adults: childrens choirs, school choruses, church and
synagogue choirs, community choruses, universities, professional
choruses, and a chorus of people in their 70's, 80's and 90's.
Replies came from throughout the United States and as far away as
Beirut and Bangkok!
Others of you may have a need to advocate for your singers on
occasion, so I'll post a compilation. Apologies for the length. This
represents approx. one-tenth of your comments. Additional responses
are welcome, especially if you live outside the US!
Some of you found and especially appreciated Alice Parker's wonderful
essay about how Joyful Noise's members are affected by the
opportunity to sing together:
Can you help me explain to administrators with no music background
why dress rehearsals, warm-ups and time in a venue are important to
I conduct a chorus of people with disabilities. Our host institution
intends to cancel our upcoming dress rehearsals and concert warm-ups.
Administrators "think that practices should stay at one per week." We
hope that these administrators may be persuaded by arguments of
normalization -- I.E. that people with disabilities deserve the same
opportunities as other musicians or performing artists.
Would you help us identify some norms?
SURVEY QUESTIONS - RESPONSES EMBEDDED:
1. DO YOU HAVE AN EXTRA OR "DRESS" REHEARSAL FOR CONCERTS:
(a) not usually - 3%
(b) sometimes - 0%
(c) most of the time/almost always - 5%
(d) always - 55%
(e) sometimes (or always) more than one - 37%
* 92% always or more than one.
* The one "not usually" from another chorus of adults with
disabilities, due to group-home staff's reluctance.
2. CAN YOU USUALLY SCHEDULE A DRESS REHEARSAL IN THE SPACE WHERE YOU
Always at least one - 51%
Yes, usually - 44%
"Often can't but ideally would" - 5%
* 95% usually or always have a dress rehearsal in the performance venue
3. DO YOUR ENSEMBLES ARRIVE EARLY FOR PERFORMANCES? HOW LONG IN
ADVANCE OF THE CONCERT START IS YOUR CALL TIME, IF YOU HAVE
PREVIOUSLY HAD A DRESS REHEARSAL IN THE CONCERT VENUE?
Average call time = 1 hour 11 minutes in advance of the concert start.
IS THIS DIFFERENT FOR AMATEURS VS. PROFESSIONALS? ADULTS VS. CHILDREN?
The consensus is that amateurs need more time than professionals, and
that children need time in the space more than adults. However, time
in the space for children's choirs and school choirs is often
scheduled as multiple rehearsals, with shorter call times before
4. IF YOUR CHORUS HAS NEVER REHEARSED OR PERFORMED IN A VENUE, HOW
LONG BEFORE THE CONCERT DO YOU USUALLY GATHER FOR WARM-UP AND SOUND-
8% indicated that they have never given (or would never give) a
concert in a space where the singers had not previously rehearsed,
and others indicated that their choirs only did this on tour, never
Average call time = 1 hour 46 minutes, if no previous rehearsal in
the concert venue
5. CAN YOU HELP US EXPLAIN TO NON-MUSICIANS WHY DRESS REHEARSALS,
WARM-UPS, AND TIME TO ACCLIMATE TO A NEW VENUE/SURROUNDING MAKE A
DIFFERENCE IN THE SINGERS' WELL BEING? (LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE IS NOT
LIKELY TO BE CONSIDERED RELEVANT.)
Many wonderful responses from Choralist colleages. Lots of passionate
support has been offered. I've divided a few excerpts into categories:
SETTING SINGERS UP FOR SUCCESS
"Dress rehearsals and performance warm-ups help singers to feel more
confident and comfortable in their surroundings. They reduce
performance anxiety and help all singers to perform at their best,
which increases self-esteem and positives feelings within individuals
and the chorus as a whole."
"I have never held a performance (in my 30-year career) without a
"I would never dream of giving a concert with any ensemble without a
rehearsal in the hall no less than two days before the performance."
"I have been singing....omiLord...52 years now - started in a boy
choir at a very young age!! ...and we have always had a warmup/
rehearsal in the performing venue. Except that time in the
blizzard....but that's a story for another time."
COMPARISONS WITH ATHLETICS - STRETCHING BEFORE TRACK MEETS, FOOTBALL
SCRIMMAGES, RACE-CAR TEST LAPS:
"The vocal cords are muscle tissue and need stretching just like
triceps for flexibility and agility and proper performance of a
sport, as well as to avoid injury."
"Singing is like inner athletics. In fact, it takes more careful
preparation because the muscular and mental coordinations are much
more refined and internal."
"Warm ups are crucial ... an athlete stretches, a singer vocalizes."
"Athletes must get a feel for the playing field and get pre-game
jitters out of the way."
"Don't baseball players have to adapt their game to each different
ballpark they play in? Don't they warm-up hours before game time?"
CONFIDENCE & ACCLIMATING TO A NEW ENVIRONMENT
"A venue that is different from the usual rehearsal space provides
many distractions. [Without proper preparation,] a great deal of
discomfort and anxiety is added to the performance."
"Performing in public is already somewhat stressful. To do it without
the assuring pre-performance routines of proper dress rehearsal and/
or warmup in the performing space is even more stressful."
"People need to physically walk through the space ... this applies to
my adult church choir with doctors and lawyers and my school choirs
with valedictorians and special needs kids."
"Unlike basketball teams, we encounter a great variation in working
circumstances when we move to a different venue. Imagine a
basketball team's reaction if they were suddenly thrust onto a court
that had drastically different dimensions than their home court, with
carpeting instead of hard floors, etc."
"[Without preparation] they will be distracted by adjusting to all of
those logistical considerations instead of being focused on their
singing. Even on the optimistic side of it: a new venue can be
distracting in positive ways, for its unique architectural features,
the artwork represented in it, the views from the windows... One
does not go into a new building and ignore it. One apprehends one's
environment before operating in it."
"All singers need time to get their voices in order and become
comfortable in a new performance environment before they can even
begin to create art. One needs to remember that choirs are creating
something out of nothing, using only their bodies, minds, and souls."
ADJUSTING TO A NEW ACOUSTIC:
"In an unfamiliar venue, new acoustic qualities will give different,
unfamiliar aural feedback, causing disorientation."
"Every place is completely different to sing in. The acoustics of a
hall make singers sound different to themselves, it can be hard to
hear or to see cues."
"The sound of one's own voice can change dramatically in self-
perception from room to room because of acoustical differences, which
can be shocking at first. As a professional singer, I realize that
even I get much more nervous in a space that I have never sung in
before than one that I have at least had the chance to sing in for a
"Even accomplished ensembles can become disjointed when attempting to
sing in a venue where the sound is radically different from what they
are accustomed. This creates levels of insecurity, which can not only
damage the performance, but significantly reduces the joy of
performance. And that is the bottom line...we sing to produce joy -
for ourselves, for our companions, and hopefully, for our audiences."
COMPARISONS WITH PUBLIC SPEAKING
"Imagine an important presentation on a business trip. Anyone who has
ever addressed a group should recognize the value of a little time to
get one's thoughts in order."
"Debate teams, theatrical groups, team teachers, seminar leaders,
prosecution and defense teams, and athletic teams all have some sort
of "final" rehearsal for important presentations."
REPETITION AND REINFORCEMENT:
"Especially for an ensemble that rehearses only weekly, the extra
rehearsal right before the concert is crucial to make everyone
comfortable with the music (it takes a while to remember what you did
last week so you can perform in a relaxed way, as well as do your
" ... especially amateur singers that rehearse once per week ... need
the reinforcement of singing through the repertoire before the
concert, or at least starting them each several times, and being
reminded of the difficulties in the pieces ... allows them to
approach the performance with confidence and elan (as opposed to
performing with anxiety)."
GROUP DYNAMIC AND ENSEMBLE:
"A dress rehearsal enhances and strengthens the group dynamic and the
ability to work together."
"The members of the ensemble collectively have the opportunity to get
used to listening to each other and tuning to each other's voices in
the new space. This is really important!"
PERFORMING AS AN EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY:
A performance is presentation of all that has been learned/acquired
etc for a particular period of time. Art is one of the few
educational areas where we put something together and then give to
the public for scrutiny. We need to be given every opportunity to
make the performance the best it can be. When teachers are planning
standardized and AP testing the students are given practice tests,
techniques for test taking, etc. This is the same for choir.
SPECIFIC NEEDS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES:
"I have an adult son who has autism ... we have used Carol Gray's
"social story technique" as a way of helping him adapt to new
situations since he was very young. .... we use the term "dress
rehearsal" and "warm-ups" when we "talk him through" and prep him for
many different, occasional events."
"For people with disabilities (I have a son with ADHD), a dress
rehearsal in the performance venue is even more necessary, for many
of these people will already have trouble focusing and concentrating
on a day-to-day basis."
"This is even more important with a group with disabilities - they
need to know how to get on and off safely and where they are going
and what it looks/feels like in order to be comfortable for the
""Those with disabilities need more time, as they move more slowly."
"Those with a physical disabilities will want to familiarize
themselves with things like accessible entrances and washrooms, and
how to navigate the performance space with their wheelchairs."
"For persons with intellectual disabilities, repetition is key to
them orienting themselves, remembering what to do, and being
comfortable. They may need more than the normal number of rehearsals
in the performance space to relieve unnecessary stress."
"Everyone feels better when we have plenty of time to work out the
inevitable glitches, many of which no one can anticipate until we
practice our program in the performance space. One singer in my
chorus informed me of her learning disability, and let me know that
she needs a lot of lead-time to get used to changes. This applies not
only to learning music, but to our performance venue as well."
"I conduct a 75-voice chorus of men and women who are 70, 80, 90
years old, many with miscellaneous physical disabilities. We always
have at least one rehearsal in the performance space, sometimes two.
In addition, the call on performance day is two hours before
performance, so that we can rehearse for one hour in place and
practice coming in and out. In order for them to really enjoy the
performance, which is the culmination of many hours of practice, they
need to feel comfortable about the logistics (as well as review
trouble-spots and warm up their voices!). Sight lines in a
particular venue often have to be accommodated at the last minute,
changes made in singing position, etc. The older or more infirm one
is, the more upsetting these necessary changes can be."
Joyful Noise is very grateful to the following respondents, and will
try to reply to more of you individually in the next few days:
Cynthia Powell, Jennifer Birnbaum, Paul Meers, Donald Freed, Juli
Bridgeman, Jeffe Huls, Bradford Kinch, Craig Collins, Jeff Vallier,
Michael Wade, Steven Szalaj, Marie Grass Amenta, Patricia Smith, Mary
Beth Wallig, Charles Sullivan, Cherwyn Ambuter, Matthew LaPine, Jon
Washburn, Robin Kearton, Barbara Hedlund, Ruth Treen, Xiangtang Hong,
Anne Matlack, Elliot Levine, Christine Wineberg, Kristina Boerger,
Rob Kennan, Meagan Smith, Jennifer Breneman, Jessica Harbeson, Meg
Papadolias, Edie Yeager, Jena Dickey, David Schildkret, Carol Ward,
Virginia Hancock, Hallie Tibbets, Bob Fox, Martha Sullivan, Lisa
Fusco, Julian Bryson, Joyce Keil, Michael Ehrlich & John Ferguson.