Directing the Chorus: Techniques for Choral Rehearsals

Directing the Chorus: Techniques for Choral Rehearsals

Unlocking the Vocal Magic: Somatic Voicework in Choral Rehearsals

As a newly minted Somatic Voicework (SVW) teacher, I never imagined I’d be using these vocal techniques in a choral rehearsal setting. But boy, am I glad I did! When I took on the role of children’s chorus director, my previous experience as a chorister and voice teacher suddenly came together in the most delightful way.

You see, my newfound understanding of vocal registers and age-appropriate vocal work has enabled me to guide my young singers through constructive warm-ups and exercises. And let me tell you, directing a chorus rehearsal is a lot like teaching a private voice lesson – just with a bit more energy and excitement!

I start each rehearsal with a series of fun and engaging warm-ups that help the kids explore the different parts of their voices. We’ll begin with the light, airy head voice, moving into a mix of chest and head in the mid-range using a “bratty kid” sound (trust me, it works!). Then we’ll venture down to the low, resonant chest voice with some jolly “Santa Claus ho-ho” exercises.

One of my recent discoveries is a wonderfully whimsical warm-up I call the “Wizard of Oz.” We start with the Cowardly Lion’s famous line in a low, open quality, then transition through the registers as we channel the different characters – the “great and terrible” Oz in chest voice, the Wicked Witch’s nasal cackle, and finally, Dorothy’s soaring “there’s no place like home” in head voice. The kids absolutely love it, and it’s a fantastic way to get those vocal cords fired up.

But it’s not just about the warm-ups. Throughout the rehearsal, I rely on my SVW knowledge to keep the young singers in top vocal form. I’ll sing the pieces myself, modeling the proper register and style, then have the children repeat after me. As they sing, I’m listening intently – am I hearing any unwanted pushed or strained sounds? Is the group blending well, breathing together, and cutting off in sync?

One of my favorite tricks is to randomly ask individual children to sing a phrase solo. Not only does this help them learn the music better, but it also allows me to discreetly check in on their vocal development. I never use these moments to critique technique, though – I stick to correcting notes and rhythms, leaving the technical feedback for our one-on-one sessions.

And you know what? Those solo opportunities are always a huge hit with the kids. They positively beam with pride when they get to showcase their talents, and it does wonders for their confidence. It’s a win-win situation, if you ask me.

Conquering the Conductor’s Curse: Breaking the Mouthing Habit

Now, I’ll admit, there’s one area where I’m still working on my choral directing skills: the dreaded mouthing of words. It’s a habit that I, like many other conductors, have struggled to break. But after reading up on the topic, I’m determined to conquer this “conductor’s curse” once and for all.

You see, the root of this problem lies in the fact that most of us directors started out as singers ourselves. The act of expressing music through words has been ingrained in us from the very beginning, and it can be incredibly difficult to let go of that physical connection.

I remember when I first tried to stop mouthing the lyrics during rehearsals – it felt like I was disconnecting from the music, and I worried that my singers would no longer feel the emotional expression they were so used to. But you know what? Once I got over that initial hurdle, I realized that my choir was actually listening and responding better without the distraction of my moving lips.

As one choral expert pointed out, the singers don’t often share the director’s perception of feeling “disconnected” when the mouthing stops. In fact, it can be incredibly empowering for them to take full ownership of the words and the music.

And let’s not forget the practical benefits of keeping our mouths shut. When the director is mouthing the lyrics, it can create conflicting messages if the different voice parts have varying words. Plus, if we happen to have a momentary lapse of memory, our singers might just end up forgetting their parts too.

So, with the help of some good old-fashioned gaffer tape (just kidding… mostly), I’ve been working hard to break this habit. It’s not easy, but I know that the payoff will be huge. My singers will be more engaged, more focused, and ultimately, more confident in their own abilities.

And you know what? I’ve even discovered a secret weapon in this battle against mouthing: the power of movement. As one choral director shared, deliberately incorporating movement into our warm-ups and rehearsals can actually help our singers connect their breath to their sound. Whether it’s waves for crescendos, popping bubbles for staccato, or shooting basketballs for ascending leaps, these physical cues can be a game-changer.

So, fellow directors, I challenge you to join me in this quest to break the mouthing habit. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but trust me, the rewards are well worth it. Your singers will thank you, and you’ll be one step closer to choral directing greatness.

Classroom Management: Harmonizing Chaos and Keeping the Beat

Let’s face it, working with a room full of excited young singers can sometimes feel like herding cats. But fear not, my fellow choral directors – I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that can help you navigate even the most chaotic rehearsals.

One of my go-to strategies is the good old-fashioned “call and response.” It may seem simple, but it’s an incredibly effective way to refocus a chatty group. I’ll use a variety of calls – from a simple “one, two, three, four” to a more intricate rhythmic pattern – and have the kids respond with a predetermined answer. It’s a quick, non-disruptive way to bring everyone back to attention and keep the rehearsal flowing.

Another approach I’ve found success with is what I like to call “rehearsing the rehearsal.” At the beginning of the year, we practice the art of standing with our folders, ready to sing. If anyone starts to get a little too chatty during this process, we simply start over until everyone can stand poised and focused. It may seem like a waste of time, but trust me, it pays off in the long run.

And let’s not forget the power of a good old-fashioned reward system. My sixth-graders absolutely love the “Posture Police” game, where I’ll have a student or two walk around during rehearsal and hand out stickers to anyone demonstrating great singing form. It’s amazing how quickly kids will start sitting taller and following directions when they know they might get recognized for it.

But perhaps my favorite trick for keeping the chaos at bay is all about movement. As one director wisely shared, using deliberate movement during warm-ups and rehearsals can actually help our young singers stay alert and engaged. We’ll make waves for crescendos, pop bubbles for staccato, and even shoot imaginary basketballs for those soaring leaps.

And when it’s time to perform, I have a little chant that we practice throughout the year: “Feet, feet – stomp each foot down. Hips, straight – point to each hip. Shoulders, back – touch the left and right. Head, tall – pull an invisible string from the top. Chin, down – check that it’s parallel to the ground. Eyes, on you – two fingers to your eyes, then mine, and freeze!”

This little routine does wonders for getting the kids into the perfect performance posture, and they love repeating it with me before we take the stage. It’s a surefire way to turn chaos into calm, focused energy.

So, my fellow choral directors, remember – classroom management is more art than science. It requires flexibility, reflection, and a healthy dose of creativity. But with a few tried-and-true techniques up your sleeve, you’ll be well on your way to harmonizing the chaos and keeping that beat.

And who knows, you might just earn some sainthood status along the way. After all, as they say, “teaching middle school puts one at the front of the line for sainthood.” But hey, at least we get to make beautiful music together, right?

Bringing It All Together: Empowering Young Voices

As I reflect on my journey as a children’s chorus director, I’m struck by the incredible power of combining my Somatic Voicework expertise with my passion for choral music. It’s been a truly transformative experience, and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with the world.

You see, the beauty of Somatic Voicework is that it’s not just about technique – it’s about unlocking the natural expressiveness and potential of the human voice. And when you apply these principles to a choral setting, the results can be nothing short of magical.

I’ve witnessed firsthand how my young singers have blossomed, both in their vocal development and in their overall confidence. By guiding them through targeted warm-ups and exercises, I’ve helped them find and strengthen their unique vocal colors and textures. And by fostering a sense of ownership and pride in their singing, I’ve empowered them to take charge of their own musical growth.

But it’s not just about the technical aspects, either. The movement and play that we incorporate into our rehearsals have done wonders for keeping the kids engaged and energized. And those random solo opportunities? They’ve been a game-changer in building self-assurance and stage presence.

And you know what’s really exciting? The Musical Theater Center where I work has been a driving force in amplifying the voices of young performers like my choir. With its robust education and performance programs, this organization is truly committed to nurturing the next generation of musical theater artists.

So, as I continue on this choral directing journey, I can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude and excitement. Not only am I getting to share my passion for vocal artistry with these incredible kids, but I’m also contributing to a larger movement of empowering young voices.

Who knows, maybe one day, some of my former choristers will grace the stages of the Musical Theater Center, sharing their hard-earned skills and boundless creativity with the world. And that, my friends, is the true magic of this work – the knowledge that we’re planting seeds that will bloom into something truly extraordinary.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a rehearsal to run. These young voices aren’t going to empower themselves, you know. But with a little Somatic Voicework, a dash of classroom management finesse, and a whole lot of heart, I know we’re going to make some beautiful music together.

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