“Comedy is not funny. Comedy is hard work and timing and lots and lots of rehearsals.” Larry Hagman
It’s now been over a week since our spring concert. It was a lovely performance, for the most part, but some things happened during this concert cycle no one could have predicted. After losing a bass and his mezzo spouse to a job transfer as rehearsals began, we were able to *borrow* a bass and his mezzo spouse from another choral organization for the rehearsal cycle. Our tenor soloist for Brahms’s Zigeunerlieder, op. 103 had vocal issues the day of the concert. We all pitched in, covering as best we could by singing along with him (even me!) to give the line strength. We had a little better than average audience turn-out and all enjoyed the post-concert reception. After 18 months of preparation, it’s over and auditions begin again this week.
We all understand numbers; how much money was taken in and audience numbers—behinds in seats–or what concert revenue means. Black and white, there is no arguing with numbers. But what makes a difference, as far as many of my choir members are concerned, is how the unexpected was handled and how much—or little—their opinions matter to the organization as a whole.
I began *de-briefing* my chamber choir soon after our first concert ten years ago. After that first concert cycle, I wanted to know how this new (to our community) sort of ensemble worked for the singers involved. I wanted their honest opinions and decided to interview them, one-on-one, or asked them to respond to an emailed questionnaire. During that first post-concert de-briefing time all but one married couple, who were kinda pains, responded to my request for feedback and my de-briefing questionnaire. And that married couple decided not to continue singing with us, which was just fine by me. Many of the responses I did get from my first group of singers have formed the groundwork for what our ensemble has evolved into today.
I have learned a lot from my choir members during the past ten years. I have gotten great suggestions for repertoire (I plan about two years in advance so am not always able to jump immediately on their ideas) as well as recruiting ideas and venue help, plus pats on the back and support through some difficult situations. I respect them and they respect me—it’s a mutual admiration society!
My singers know if they don’t understand a situation while it’s happening during rehearsals (and I don’t offer an explanation at the time), they can ask what happened during their de-briefing. This is especially true when I have had to ask someone to leave mid-rehearsal cycle, though most know why I’ve done what I’ve done. They are free to complain about something (too much German this concert!) or *tattle* (Gerald just didn’t practice enough until the end—we’ve would have been better sooner if he had) but most of my singers don’t. Letting them air their grievances (one-on-one and privately to me) during the de-briefings have cut down on that sort of thing during rehearsals. It is well worth the time it takes to do the de-briefings for that reason alone!
I am perfectly aware my de-briefing strategy won’t work for large choral organizations or for church choirs or in academic settings. We usually have between eight and 15 singers during any one rehearsal/concert cycle, so one-on-one debriefings work for us. It makes a difference in retention of our best people, a hugely important issue with a small ensemble such as ours. I want my singers to feel invested in our chamber choir. And I listen to them, and not just their singing.