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Church Choral Rehearsal Strategies

Hopefully I soon will have a job as a church choral director and I had some questions to help me as I start our! The rehearsals will be about 20/30 mins in the morning and about 1 hour at night (Sunday).
The 20ish minutes in the morning is to prepare the song for the morning service. 
I was wondering what is the best way to maxamize my efficiency in the 1 hour time in the evening?
I would like to be able to warmup, prepare the evening service song, prepare next Sunday morning's song and also maybe even sight-read another song. 
Please take into consideration that this is a church choir and not professionals! ;)
Replies (14): Threaded | Chronological
on June 25, 2013 6:43pm
I would organize your rehearsals thusly--
Sunday mornings (for warm-ups and preparations for morning service):
5 to 10 minutes of warm-ups including breathing exercises.  I often used a slightly less familar hymn (humming or ah-ing it to warm-up the voices as well as get a blend) that will be sung that morning as part of the warm-up.  The rest of the time, go over the anthem for the morning.
Sunday evenings (regular rehearsal and warm-ups for the evening service): 5 to 10 minutes of warm-ups including breathing exercises.  A less familar hymn to be hummed (or ah-ed--take your pick) to be sung that evening.  About 20/30 minutes of rehearsal for next Sunday's morning and evening services.  The last 15/20 minutes should be spent on that evening's anthem.
Several questions about this rehearsal situation come to mind.  Will your singers be the same people for both services?  And.....can you sing the same anthem for both the Sunday morning and evening services?
The warm-ups are important but you can streamline them a bit by using a hymn from the service that should be gone over, as the vocal portion. The breathing may be the most important part of all the rehearsals-----I have a breathing component in all of mine-----from my children's choirs, church choirs, community choir and the semi-professional group I now conduct. 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 26, 2013 3:25am
I would add only one thing to Marie's excellent advice:  take a few moments in your Sunday evening rehearsal to go through what you anticipate will be problem spots in upcoming anthems.  Rehearsing just a few measures of an anthem week by week will ensure your choir is ready to pick up the rest of the anthem when it's scheduled for the following Sunday.  It takes time for a church choir to get used to this approach since they'll be used to singing a whole anthem when rehearsing, but it pays off in being able to do more difficult repertoire for time to time without extra rehearsals.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 26, 2013 5:19am
Having been a church choir director for the last 12 years, I'd say to have your music picked and prepared by you is most important. When the director knows the score and the sound they want, this saves hours of rehearsal time.
Having said that, you will need to know your singers and a bit of their past in order to pick the most singable repertoire. You don't say how large of a group you will be working with. The larger the group the more you can rely on weaker members learning from stronger, so more difficult music may be chosen. I have never had more than 12 singers at any one time, so I need to spend more time on difficult repertoire and use it less often so as to not over-burden my singers.
As far as a rehearsal plan, Marie's suggestions are sound, although I don't believe you said anything about an evening service, just rehearsal as I read your query. Warm ups and reading of hymns, especially unfamiliar ones, is very important to keep the singers focussed and sounding their best when singing with the congregation.
on June 26, 2013 7:37am
You are right on target with your plans -- both are very short amounts of time, so your music must be pretty simple, unless you have some section leaders who either read well, or know the music in advance.   At both rehearsals you will need a warm-up to get elongated posture, low breathing and high voice working, but the evening rehearsal is also where you teach concepts, so one concept/skill each Sunday eve warm-up will provide building blocks for your singers. (9 note scales for transition, four part chords for tuning, cresc/decresc chords for dynamics, chords on five vowels, with a fermata wherever you indicate to teach them to follow your direction, etc.)  Eventually, you want to be several weeks ahead with anthems, so that on the Wed. night you prepare the evening piece, and read 1-3 pieces ahead.   You have two agendas:  preparing the music for the services, and training your choir (which makes it interesting and keeps volunteers coming back!).  Good Luck and have fun!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 26, 2013 8:11am
Hopefully, you'll have time each week to prepare a rehearsal plan you can hand out to the choir as they arrive.  It could be as simple as the order you plan to rehearse your anthems, but I liked having a 'thought for the day' at the top, followed by the reheasal sequence with broad goals.  After warm-ups, start with a new piece, then move to your anthem for next Sunday, followed by the anthems you started in previous weeks.  On the lower part of the page, list the schedule for the next 6 to 8 weeks, including anthems, special events, and soloists and other 'specials.'  The last few lines are for announcements, prayer requests, and other news.  It will help keep you all on task and avoid wasting time with repeated announcements.  Alternately, you could send the schedule and announcements in your weekly email...
I like to send a reminder email each week - usually on Thursday - with a demo recording, either by link or an attached mp3.  At the very least, it gets them to think about the anthem, but I have members who actively use this for a review.  I never get replies from this - unless I skip a week.  Then I really hear about it!
If you have a place for it, you could post the schedule in a grid on a marker board.  Allow room for your members to list when they will be out.  It will be very helpful in planning.
Keep your Sunday morning time simple and stress-free.  You already know you will not be able to actually rehearse on Sunday morning; don't do it.  Just use the time to warm up and do a quick review, usually a single run-through.  You do not want to train members to think they can just drop in and sing on Sunday mornings.  (I had a couple who tried until they complained about being lost due to an unexpected DS al Coda.  Before I could say anything, my oldest member told them bluntly, 'If you'd come to rehearsal Sunday night, maybe you'd be prepared.')  Take care of rehearsal at rehearsal on Sunday night, and they will have a joyful experience Sunday morning.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 26, 2013 2:39pm
Do start and end with a short prayer. Obviously, learning the music is important, but fellowship and the opportuntiy to pray together is what makes those of us who serve God through music different than any other musical group. For my groups, we end about 5 minutes before I intend to be done, and I take requests. It is great to bond together and pray together. Don't make it just about the notes and lyrics on the pages. Connect it to our relationship to God. Tough to do in a short period of time. There's some great ideas shared, some I will be implementing as well! But, the best thing to do is have your rehearsal time scheduled out for you and the choir. That way, they know what's coming next, and it keeps you on task. Blessings to you!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 27, 2013 5:00am
I second the suggestion to touch on the more difficult parts of upcoming a music for a few minutes a week, well before you will sing it at a service.  This is a great way to get more challenging music into your choir's repetoire.  It gives you time to change plans if something turns out to be more difficult than you expected.  And it gives your choir members a chance to ask for help privately if they know they need it.  Slowly, but steadily improving the reading ability, tone, and general musicality of your choir is the way to go.  And working far in advance allows you to do that without causing panic or a train wreck.  
I would also suggest that you make a point of being available for a few minutes before and after rehearsal for anyone who is having trouble with a particularly difficult part, or has a question.  Be sure your choir members know that you are happy to help them and that there are no stupid questions.  Be approachable.  If one person can run a tricky line with you ten times for 2 minutes before rehearsal starts, that can allow for a huge saving of time during actual rehearsal.  You will now have one person in the section who really knows that tricky spot, and they will keep their fellow singers on pitch, in rhythm, and stop a potential trainwreck.  Everyone else will pick up the part correctly over time from them.  We often end up with little mini sectional rehearsals in our choir when everyone in a section agrees that they are having trouble with a particular piece and arranges privately to meet five minutes early so they can run through just their part together.  It makes a huge difference in the way time is spent during the actual rehearsal.  
Sending around links to youtube recordings of upcoming music is also great.  Not everyone will use them, but again, enough people will, that it will save you some time in rehearsal.  There are many excellent singers who don't sight read well or play the piano.  Giving them a chance to take their music home with them and read along with a youtube video helps them get the music in their ears and gives them a non-stressful way to take responsibility for knowing the music on Sunday morning.  Over time their reading will improve.  
Best of luck and have a wonderful time.  The choir is often the closest group of friends in a church.  
on June 27, 2013 6:42am
This is a really excellent thread! I have been an assistant conductor for a number of years for a number of varying ensembles and will finally be stepping into my first head conducting position at a church next month and I have found this thread to have a lot of excellent advice. Thanks to one and all.
-Jerron J
on July 1, 2013 8:40pm
I would like to make a suggestion whereby the participants in this discussion, indeed, all choirs, can offer great assistance to each other  in facilitating the learning new repertoire.
A couple of writers have suggested using mp3 files of existing recordings or links to YouTube videos of same to assist singers. A fair number of church choir directors have found my part-predominant recordings are an invaluable aide in learning the works I have available. (Handel's Messiah, Bach's Magnificat, and Vivaldi's Gloria,)
Sadly, this is a very small catalogue. Happily, I just launched, last month, my new web site whereby choirs of all kinds can now easily record part-predominant tracks on their computers and offer them for sale on my web site to others who would like to learn the music.
May I invite you all to record the performances of your choirs, and use the best recordings as  "foundation" or "bed" tracks to easily produce part-predominant tracks on your computers using the recording module on my web site. Please look at the videos on my home page,, and at other information for content providers at this link.
(If you have very talented singers in your choir, they may be interested in creating a catalogue of very high quality teaching tracks by singing along with pre-approved NAXOS choral recordings. See
Jim Taylor
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 2, 2013 6:45am
I think Jim has  a great idea. However, when I tried to log into his website www.singharmony, I keep getting "entering dangerous website" by the Trend software, which I have successfully used for the last two years.  Does anyone know why this website would be listed as "dangerous"? Thank you and good luck to Jim.
Mark Downey
on July 3, 2013 9:38am
Hi Mark
Have you tried the web site in the last two weeks? I did have a problem with my old site that my hosting company seemed unable to resolve. I now have a brand new site and new hosting company. Please let me know if the warning appears on this one.
on July 2, 2013 6:47am
That Naxos idea is pretty cool.
on July 3, 2013 8:41am
What excellent suggestions and plans.... I would just like to emphasize how important it was for me to give the choir a "coming attractions" list of upcoming choir tunes (assuming you have "sermon topics" ahead of time) and to be working at least three weeks ahead, so the current rehearsal (Sunday PM) is spent on "finishing" this week's anthem, not thrashing through it for the first time.
on November 23, 2013 5:33pm
This is just a quick tip, but get a portable whiteboard and list the music you'll be working on in the order it'll be worked on. You can save a lot of time by letting the singers put their music in the proper order BEFOREHAND. It's amazing how much time can get wasted waiting for that one person to find the little octavo that's stuck behind or inside a bigger octavo!
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