Rehearsing this Mozart concert efficiently
Americans, at least, have a pervasive choral rehearsal model: one night a week, 2-3 hours, maybe an extra rehearsal or two before a concert. Perhaps this started with church choirs, which are responsible for weekly performances; but it is a pattern most choirs follow. When I first began singing in Chicago, I had one night for Symphony Chorus, one for temple/JCC, one for church, one for Collegium, one for Grant Park, one for Chicago Opera Theater Chorus (not all during the same time period!)—and so it went. It kept me sharp vocally, and taught me to learn quickly, reinforced my flexibility. I was a professional, this was my job, and I had to make it work. Over the years, though, I began to question the wisdom of this model, especially for those singers who don’t aspire to be professionals, who sing in only one ensemble (and therefore one night a week). How efficient is it, to rehearse once a week? What percentage of what is taught and experienced on one Wednesday night, is lost during the ensuing week, and has to be relearned? Especially after I began singing in summer festival situations, with Robert Shaw and Helmuth Rilling, where singers are expected to sing six hours per day, six or seven days a week, over a short period of time, I began to question the effective use of rehearsal time. The latter, festival model, is incredibly efficient—singers and ensemble have no chance to forget anything from one rehearsal to the next, no chance to become complacent and stale, to let brains and voices become slack; they pick up right where they left off at the previous rehearsal, always moving toward the performance. Not only do they learn more quickly, I believe they enjoy it more, too: less repetition, less empty time listening to other sections drill, and, not surprisingly, more social interaction-- they see a lot of one another, both during breaks and after rehearsal, and constantly reinforce the “ensemble” aspect of what they are doing, feeding both interpersonal and musical needs. I have noticed this model being adopted more and more during the “non-festival” time of year, as well-- young professional singers are hired for an intense two-week period, prepare a concert and/or recording, give their all, then go home when it is done. These performances and recordings tend to be very high quality, though expensive to manage; and the singers appear to be the best of friends.
This latter model also resembles the pattern I experienced in college choir—five rehearsals a week of an hour and twenty minutes each, then a couple of weeks of intense, six-hour days before the choir left on tour. The more I thought about it, and realized that most college choral programs had nothing so intense as what I had undergone, the more clearly I understood that the excellence of my college choir was largely based upon the intensity of this rehearsal experience. Anything was a letdown after that—though it took me several years to understand why.
Chorale began, back in 2001, with the typical, one night a week pattern. Gradually, as our repertoire and season became more demanding, I added rehearsals—by adding weeks. Over time, I have come to feel this is not the best and most efficient way to do things, and have, in fact, shortened our actual rehearsal season, while keeping the same number of rehearsals—by adding Saturday rehearsals. I figure we will actually have better results, this way, than we would with the older, more traditional model. Usually we begin rehearsing the beginning of September; this year our first rehearsal was September 27. We will take six weeks off over Christmas, rather than three. The missing weeks are accounted for by Saturday rehearsals. Will I/we get away with this? Will the added time on weekends prove onerous to the singers? Really, I am attempting to move the definition of “amateur” closer and closer to “professional,” and it is new territory for us. Time will tell; the singers themselves will decide with their feet, whether this is to work or not.
In the meantime: we are in the midst of a “three rehearsals for the price of two” period, using it to crack open the larger, more complex movements of the Mozart Mass in C minor—Cum sancto spiritu, Credo, and Osanna—at the breakneck tempos Maestro Kraemer has requested of us. So much glorious music, coming at us so fast! The exhilaration of learning this stuff is mind-boggling. Great Music, Done Well.