Our first rehearsal of the season
Chorale held it’s inaugural rehearsal of the 2015-16 season last night! It was great to be together again, to catch up with one another, to greet our new singers (ten of them), renew relationships with former singers who have returned for this season after a hiatus. Librarian Amy Mantrone distributed packets of music for the current preparation, all punched and stamped and numbered; Drew Boshardy arrived early to help figure out how to set up the chairs; Mike Byrley directed the storage of said chairs at the conclusion of the rehearsal. Mary Bellmar and Peter Olson brought a wonderful spread of food for singers to eat during break. We took time for every member of the group, new and returning, to introduce themselves. Choirs work better when they know and like each other—and food always helps.
First order of musical business, as always, was to place the singers in a workable, “rough draft” of a seating chart, based on vocal characteristics, musicianship, musicality-- all aspects balanced to aid in helping the singers to be comfortable making their best sounds, their best contribution to the choral product. I use a short passage from a chorale, which I have the singers perform over and over again, in different combinations of voices, until I come up with an optimum unison. Several singers, especially the University of Chicago students (who don’t begin classes for another week) were not present; I made my best guesses as to where they would fit, and will refine the placement once they are back. Choosing appropriate singers through auditions is the first important step in establishing Chorale’s distinctive sound; equally important, though, is this placement procedure. I make choices that suit my ear, my ideal of choral sound; once placed, the singers become accustomed to singing with the people around them, and modify their personal habits to move toward a common approach. A different conductor would make different choices in placement, and come up with a different sound from the same set of singers.
Placement accomplished, we opened our folders and read through a few of our pieces with the help of Kit Bridges, our accompanist. We didn’t really have time to break the pieces down and rehearse them intensely; rather, we accustomed ourselves to singing together, and I had a chance to hear the group, myself, observing our sound, our reading, our expressiveness. I took mental notes about our strengths, our weaknesses, made plans about what we would focus on at our next rehearsal. Much of our current repertoire is divided into far more vocal lines than just your standard SATB; and I tend to make divisi assignments as we come to them and I have a chance to hear balance, moving voices around, adding extra singers where needed, rather than just come up with a divisi formula at the beginning of the rehearsal period and use that formula each time something is needed. We made some of those decisions last night, but they were guesses; I’ll have to hear them with the missing singers, to be sure the balance is what we want.
After rehearsal, many of us went up the street to Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap and continued the opening festivities later into the night. It was a happy first rehearsal for all of us.