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Talking in rehearsal?

 This has surely been addressed before, but...
What phrases, signals, etc., do you use to get/keep people quiet in rehearsals?
Replies (20): Threaded | Chronological
on February 21, 2012 10:54am
my really evil stare. (:-)
on February 21, 2012 10:58am
Eric - Since you didn't indicate what age group your choir is, I'll give you my basic guidelines for talking during rehearsal.   
1.  No talking when the director is talking to the choir or to specific sections.
2.  Do not talk when you're supposed to be singing, when another section is singing.
I explain that when another section is singing, the director has to be listening very carefully and can't be distracted by talking within the choir.   The choir members can talk before rehearsal, in between songs, and when music is being passed out.  
If this doesn't work, simply stop the rehearsal and stare at the people talking until they get the message.  I'm not sure signals or signs would work, because as a director you need to be concentrating on the rehearsal and the choral sound, not giving signals to talkers.  Just my opinion.
on February 22, 2012 6:16am
I tend to be rather more vocal about it, perhaps inappropriately so:  I'll say, "Please!!!!" and stare at the parties involved (I direct adult choirs), or if it gets REALLY egregious, I'll say, "Please be courteous to the other section while they're going through their material.  You'd want the same thing if you were going to go through this."  (I have to say in passing, and here I'm not PC, it's usually the ladies who offend - sorry, sops and altos! :-o )  If it gets REEEEEEEEEALY bad, the "hairy eyeball" comes out - guaranteed silence, usually followed by a laugh.  But if we're talking kids, get used to it.  I suspect even the directors of those lovely English mixed men and boys choruses and the Vienna Boys Choir have their moments with the guys.
on February 22, 2012 6:23am
1) Never talk over the babble. Always speak to the chorus with a normal but projected speaking voice.

2) If they don't hear you are are still jabbering to a neighbor, wait in silence. This always works.

on March 1, 2012 5:56am
Yes, especially since  "talking over the babble" models poor voice care.
on February 22, 2012 9:54am
Ditto David, Ruth and Malcolm - if you want to stop the talking, stop talking! I usually fold my arms as well to indicate that not only will I not give any instructions until the clamor dies down, but I will not do any music either. On the other hand, I also agree with Ron about letting them get it out of their system. In my church choir setting, these folks look forward to seeing each other and a certain amount of visiting is going to happen whether I want it or not. I just remind them from time to time of the end game - to produce an excellent offering to God. They usually buckle down and get the job done. Ok, I admit that I also remind them that God is listening to everything! A little guilt trip can go a long way. ;)
on February 22, 2012 5:41pm
What?  Singers like to talk?  As a former public elementary school teacher, it was my experience that the classes that were the most chatty were the best singers and the quietest classes were the best recorder players.
In addition to the comments already posted:
To get the choral singers' initial attention or at other times when you have given them permission to relax and talk, sing an [u] or "ooh" on an A or similar pitch with some kind of moving, flowing hand gesture, such as circling the mouth to add focus to the [u] sound.  If needed, gesture for them to stand.  One of my current choral directors does this and it is very effective.
Master the "teacher look".  This look can include staring if necessary, but it is always calm, authoritative, and shows that you are perfectly aware that they are talking.  Do not smile when doing this.  Raising the eyebrows can also be used with the look.
Never insult the talkers.  One does not need to get angry if one has full self-control and knows how to exude authority in a positive manner.  
Also, try a silent rehearsal - or at least 15 minutes or more of silent rehearsal.  That means no one in the room talks, including the conductor. Only singing, hand gestures and a few things written on the board, such as measure number is allowed.  The director needs to explain this in advance.  Amazing things happen to their listening skills.
And is it always necessary to have complete silence all the time?  One student who sings in one of the very best university choirs I've heard recently tells me that the conductor allows texting.  When I visited a rehearsal recently, I did not see the texting, but they were very focused and made excellent progress.  It was a room filled with positive energy.
on February 23, 2012 10:01am
There are many reasons why people talk during rehearsal. Among the reasons is that the singers are not engaged in the rehearsal process. If they do not have a reason to listen to another part, they tune out, and when they do, they find other things to do.... like talk to their neighbor.  But if you include them in the rehearsal process, engage them in understanding the importance of knowing how the parts fit together and work together, engage them in problem solving musical issues and making musical decisions, then there is no reason to talk, because they are always part of the rehearsal process, even if they are not singing. This also helps to develop the overall musicianship of the individuals and the ensemble as a group.  It requires a shift in how one thinks about rehearsing, both on the part of the singers and the conductor.
Pacing and planning are also important. If your rehearsals are thoroughly planned - I often spend as much time planning a rehearsal as I do leading the actual rehearsal - and the pace is kept quick and lively, there is also less opportunity for talking.  
Just my two cents!
on February 23, 2012 12:43pm
This is, admittedly, a challenge in all age groups and situations!  ;) 
I reminded my choral students that talking has pitch.  "Would you break out into another song, in a different key, with different rhythm, etc., and not expect it to distract the ears of those workng?" This helped some. 
Another related phenom we had was, indeed, individuals breaking into their "own" song while another group rehearsed.  We coined the word, "Sungling' - singing/mumbling - "anything not assigned by the director".   I added it to the rules on the wall.   Apparently the ownership of 'their" specific choral word helped them to curtail the habit. (I never came up with one for talking...  ;)
I agree with Joy, and do understand the (sometimes weighty!) extra planning time that entails. Specifically, a scavenger sheet encouraging them to look for signs and symbols in the music, [this can be general, to be re-used for any/all songs] singing "loo", or staccato "dee[dih]" lightly on their part, while the rehearsing group sings full out, and preparing for word-memory are all things that can be done.
Often, they have a slight confusion/difference of opinion as to how a passage/word/note is to be sung.  (Sometimes a legitimate confusion, sometimes due to not listening to you at first. ;)  They are "helping" each other.  Upside is it can promote leadership and fellowship.  Downside is while it  not only confuses the sense of home pitch, they may be giving the wrong answer, and distracting from the current instructions.  I learned to move toward the talking section, and say, "Is there confusion?".  This is usually met with quiet, shaking heads ("no"), or a leading person bringing forth the question/issue.
Best Wishes!
on February 24, 2012 5:15am
Like Lucy, I find that the most intense bits of hub-bub are when the singers are actually focused on something in the music - often checking with each other over details of something they have just sung, especially at the stage when the music is somewhat familiar but not yet fully learned. I have learned to keep out of the way at those moments - they are all focused on their own questions and not ready for more input. Indeed, sometimes, I will build in a 30-60 second review slot after running a passage to flush these questions out of their system - at the end of it, they will have fixed many of the details from the run-through, and will have a clearer idea of which bits they need my help with.
Other than that, the trick is just not to leave white space for people to start gossiping in! This means (a) always being ready to move on so there's no slack in the pacing, and (b) organising things so everyone always has something to do. If one part needs help, for example, I'll often have everyone sing the passage - both for moral support for the struggling part and to develop everyone's insight beyond the confines of their own line - but it does have the advantage that nobody gets to be 'off-duty'.
Oh, I just remembered I wrote a blog post about this a while back:
on February 24, 2012 6:21am
Hello All  - 
I've gotten some fine ideas from you.  Thanks!  I work with a community children's chorus, grades 3-5.  We play a lot of games, spend time brainstorming a a group, and of course, sing.  I do have some singers lacking perfect self control who blurt things out and interupt the flow.  In order to be clear that their bahavior needs to change in accordance with the present activity, I have purchased two large bandanas, which I throw on the floor in the middle of our circle so that everyone can see them.  The red one is for when we are listening and talking and singing as a group.  The blue one is for when we are listening and singing as a group.  When we play games or have other down time, there is nothing on the floor.  The key phrase above is "as a group".  I always make the transition from red to blue with their consent. 
on February 24, 2012 1:52pm
I ask singers to listen and follow along closely as I work with one or two other sections so that they can jump in at any moment with their part. I may go from A alone to A/T, then B, then S/B, then SATB. I vary the sequence and move quickly. This keeps everyone involved. I've done this with all age groups.
on March 1, 2012 6:18am
I like this, Ruth!  ..espceially how it teaches part interaction/relationships.  I will try it at my next opportunity.  Thanks!
A similar activity - which is great for any age group/skill level, including absolute beginners - was demonstrated by Sue Ellen Page at a Choristers Guild workshop several years ago. It is called "The Rhythmic Orchestra".   First, determine if there are at least 2 who are skilled at finger-snapping.  Divide the group - minimum 2 per group - into 4 groups (3 if you have no skilled snappers).  Demonstrate the Salzburg stomp (leave ball of foot touching floor, and just stomp one heel), the patchen (med-light thigh-slapping), clapping and snapping.  Each group is assigned one of the four (or 3). They are to do their group activity on your beat/at your eye-contact-direction only - when you switch groups, they stop.  At first, give each group about 8 - 16 beats, until they follow your tempo.  Then shorten it, varying the order.   If they are ready, switch from duple to triple, then back again.   It really hones the director-watching skill, is fun, requires nothing but bodies and brains.  Ms. Page's question was, "Besides watching and steady beat, what have I taught?"  After we stammered a few possible answers, she replied, "That I am in control." :)
This is great for the first day of a music community's gathering - especially if they have stress/embarrassment re; their singing voice.  Later, the groups can be assigned notes, intervals, passages, etc.
on February 25, 2012 7:05am
I teach my students (MS, HS) on the first day, to stop talking when I put up my hand and then lower it in a slow "decrescendo" gesture.  It gives the attentive students a chance to hush the other students, and it teaches everyone what a decrescendo is. Works like a charm.
on February 25, 2012 7:10am
...oh, yeah, I stumbled on an idea once on a day when I gave the students a few minutes of study time. I drew various musical expression marks on the whiteboard--including a descrescendo, pp, p, mp, subito p, niente, etc--and when the students started getting noisy (imagine that!), I would make a big scene out of walking to the board and pointing to one of these expression marks. It worked beautifully! And, it reinforced the meanings of all these musical terms.
on February 28, 2012 6:05pm
Yes, the evil face works, but what I find with students, and even elderly choirs, is to just sit there quietly. They will calm down and look at you like "Why aren't you stopping this." My response is then to say "I'll wait" in a calm voice with no expression what so ever and not say a single word or make any movement until they are done talking. Then I move on as if nothing has happened at all.
Now, I have found that the trick with younger students is planning! Plan to keep things moving, have several pieces at one time. If you notice that their minds are wandering, move to something else and come back to what you were working on. Generally, I plan on going over so much in one rehearsal that they dont find the time to talk or allow their minds to wander.
Same thing works well also for the elderly... However, in my experience, being a young conductor myself, the more "senior" choirs like to get in there and start telling you how to do things. Thats usually what they end up talking or arguing about in rehearsals. Finding a way of moving on QUICKLY which doesn't offend them is the key!
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