- April 10, 2017 at 10:57 am #535796
Any ideas on how to get singers to take their heads out of their music scores? A good proportion (bad proportion?!) of our chorus members continue to rehearse and perform as if they’re searching for a contact lens on their music. I’ve tried joking, cajoling, stern lectures upon viewing videos of performances…all to no avail! The only effective solution I’ve found has been to have everyone sing off-book, but because of time constraints in preparing a great deal of complex material, this is impractical for a whole concert–not to mention engendering a lot of protest. Only if I were a beautician would I be happy to have to overlook so many scalps!April 11, 2017 at 9:03 pm #535839
I’d suggest the classic: conduct a sudden, drastic tempo change when you start to notice a particularly egregious lack of eyeballs. Those who are paying attention will stay with you, everyone else will have a hilarious train wreck. You can then stop the chorus and ask the rhetorical, “you know why you all crashed, right?” Done properly, this is actually pretty comical, so it has the advantage of getting the point across while giving everyone a little laugh break. But make sure you pull that one early in rehearsal. If you wait until you are already frustrated and tense it will look like you are vindictively sowing destruction as punishment for a lack of obedience. Reassure your singers that you will never do that during a performance, then reinforce that you can’t help them if they don’t watch you. That if they watch, yes, you ARE giving them cues and subdividing beats for them in the places that will help them.
You can also work small sections (and I mean really small) off-book. The idea is to build their confidence that they do know the music well enough to get their heads up more, so make sure you do this in a way that everyone succeeds, or it will backfire. When you need to work a small section for rhythm, have them run the relevant measures once with music, and then ask for books down, eyes up, and run it again with them really watching you. Mouth the words to them and calmly conduct all the little subdivisions or accents that will help them get the rhythm down. The pitches aren’t written on your forehead, but if it’s a rhythm problem, they will discover you are the best help they can get, (assuming they get their heads out of the music). Ditto small sections where you want expressive tempo or dynamic changes. Have them run it once with music, so it’s fresh in their minds, then put the books down. You can also sing a line to them, and have them echo it back to you without books while you conduct to learn difficult notes. Never do more than a couple of measures at once. If they stumble because you work too long a section, you will lose trust, cause frustration, and waste time. Make sure you know the music well enough to have YOUR head confidently out of the music for this, or you are setting a very poor example. If you look uncomfortable, have YOUR head in your score, or fumble some notes in this exercise you will lose the trust you are trying to build. This shouldn’t be the way you run the whole rehearsal. Just an occasional thing. Run two measures, then let them have their music again while they are flush with success. Point out how quickly they just fixed a mistake because they were watching, and you could help them, and then move on with rehearsal, hopefully with more eyeballs.
And yes, have a friend video performances on their phone, upload it onto youtube as a “private” video, and send the link around. When they are busy singing, the singers don’t realize how bad the problem really is. They will when they see the video. You don’t need to tell them that’s why you filmed them. No one needs to feel shamed when they’ve just finished a concert. But they’ll see themselves from the audience’s point of view and they’ll suddenly understand why you are making such a big deal out of this.
Good luck!April 11, 2017 at 9:04 pm #535844
Hi Mary —
I’d suggest a two-pronged approach Prong 1: when working through a problem spot, finish up with a few closed-book run-throughs. Make it part of the routine. It may be a little rocky at first, but it will smooth out as it becomes simply part of the drill. Prong 2: select a relatively easy piece that will be performed from memory. Once it’s basically learned. start running through it closed-book frequently and at different times during the rehearsal. What happens is that the group as a whole will know it sooner than some individuals — the collective memory. It’s one of those times when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At the next concert you’ll be able to to two pieces from memory., and your singers will take pride in it.
Good luck and best wishes.
email@example.comApril 11, 2017 at 9:09 pm #535860
Here’s what I do. It isn’t totally successful, but it helps. The chorus practices holding their folders in a position, sitting or standing, so that they can see me and see the music with only up-and-down eye movement, no head bobbing. It’s worth a try.
Director, Southwest Women’s ChorusApril 11, 2017 at 9:09 pm #535864
When my head is down, theirs is down. When I’m up and out of music, I’m able to remind them and show them they can do it without their music! It seems like a duh thing I always should have known, but when someone pointed it out, it made a huge difference to be aware and practice more.
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