Updated: Feb 26
A great choir is the perfect example of the principle of "synergy," when the "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." I love that as a choral singer I don’t have to be a perfect singer as an individual—that when my imperfect voice is combined with other imperfect voices—something much greater results than simply the sum of our individual voices. But I also find myself wondering what we can do as individual choir members to ensure that we are consistently making positive contributions to the choir as a whole. I have observed that there are practices that exceptional choral singers do which have nothing to do with music and everything to do with self-reliance as a learner. The observations I have noted below may seem obvious to many choral singers; however, I have also noticed that many choral singers haven’t adopted these habits yet and could benefit from implementing them into their choral learning.
10 practices of self-reliant choral learners:
1. They always mark their music when their conductor gives specific directions. The conductor shouldn’t have to take time every rehearsal repeating the same instructions over and over. In addition to marking instructions the conductor gives, self-reliant choral learners mark areas of their music that they repeatedly make mistakes on and spend time outside of choir resolving these issues on their own.
2. They pay attention when their conductor stops the choir to give instructions.
3. They learn their own part. I have observed that choir members who frequently use other strong choir members as a "crutch" tend to drag behind the beat. This is because the “follower” is milliseconds behind the person being followed. Also, consider that the person who is being followed may start feeling resentful and used, which leads to negative feelings between choir members.
4. Self-reliant learners learn their music well enough so they can look up at the conductor, particularly at the end of phrases and the beginning of phrases. They think of the sheet music more like a “cheat sheet” that can occasionally be looked at.
5. Although it is good to be able to ask questions from time to time, generally a self-reliant choral member will not repeatedly ask the conductor to go over their part, especially if it is a section the conductor has already gone over with the choir. If all the choir time is spent on learning notes and rhythms or repeating instructions, there’s little time to focus on artistry, style, and character of the piece. It’s not surprising that many prestigious choirs do not allow choir members to make requests of their conductor during rehearsal. For the average choir, there are times when it is appropriate to ask the conductor questions; but it should be done sparingly, efficiently, and clearly.
6. Lately I’ve seen people who follow along the line of music with their finger as they sing it. Actually, the eyes of any musician actually need to be looking a few measures AHEAD of where they are actually singing/playing so they can anticipate what is coming next. Forcing your eyes to stay right where you are singing will undoubtedly cause the tempo to drag behind the beat.
7. A great choral singer will prompt themselves to anticipate difficult sections, such as a difficult page turn. They might write in their music “TURN THE PAGE” to prompt them to turn it sooner, so they can quickly see what is on the next page. Sometimes it’s more appropriate for them to memorize the section on the page turn.
8. Seasoned choral singers know that they should never wear perfume or essential oils to choir or anytime during a day they will be in choir. However they do shower and wear deodorant.
9. They smile with their eyes.
10. They practice how they will perform. They don’t wait until the performance to feel the message of the music they are singing, or to add in dynamics. They know that they will perform it how they practiced it.
These observations are pretty small habits which I have noticed that can make a big difference when implemented by many members of a choir. I hope you find these suggestions helpful in your efforts to be a more self-reliant contributor to your choir!
by Hilary Ferguson
Hilary has sung with many choirs of many levels including, church, collegiate, semi-professional, and community choirs.