As seen in The Harmonizer, March/April 2019 "Harmony University" issue, pg. 25
Full Performance Rehearsals
Author Gene (Doc) Spilker outlines rehearsal techniques for creating a truly engaged performance.
How can singers give a truly engaged performance if they have never rehearsed a truly engaged performance?
If vocal technique is meticulously rehearsed above all other elements, your group will often only get a technical result. Indeed, we often rehearse in an order that consists of 1.) words and notes; 2.) musical shape and phrasing; 3.) general clean up and polish. After this work is done, it’s now time to add a “visual plan”... but only if time permits. Perhaps backstage, moments before a performance. Do we hope performance comfort strikes like lightning on stage for the first and only time?
In everyday conversations, unless the visual and vocal parts of a person’s message both come across as authentic manifestations of a single message, something will feel "off.”
In performances, your visual expressions should likewise match the emotional content demanded by the lyric and message. If a song's primary instruction for the lyrical delivery has been “make sure not to scoop and don’t flat," the emotion you’ll communicate, regardless of lyrics, will become “executing vocal technique.” Your messages feel off, and the audience may experience concern, fear, or even disinterest.
In rehearsals, pair strong vocal technique with strong performance by coordinating visual muscles with the music.
Individual lines can have quick images paired with simple vocal instructions. Example: the song “Heart of my Heart” might be a journey about my spouse of 50 years, as we sit at the breakfast nook on a warm Sunday morning. “Light of my light my darling” is when she passes me the cereal with a quiet half smile. “Say you’ll be mine” is when she and I look into each other’s eyes and we gently hold each others hand at the table.
Remove the pressure of getting the notes and words right. When the lead and bass are duetting, have your tenor(s) and baritone(s) perform at zero volume with the highest intensity of emotion —the same conditions of the performance but without worry about vocal technique. Work through all duets the same. The energy should be felt together and consistently. Particularly strong performers may stand out front and model possible visual choices while everyone is engaged at the same time.
Record your group and play it back with no sound. What do you see? Feel? Think? Have singers stand in two lines, facing each other, and lock eyes as they perform. Use coaches that address performance, and notice how improving your performance improves your music and singing…it’s all connected!
Staying in the moment when rehearsing minimizes onstage surprises. As you practice how you want to be perceived by your audience, your performance muscles will develop and grow.
About the Author
Gene (Doc) Spilker is a third-generation barbershopper, performance judge, coach, chiropractor, educator, posture geek, and overall music enthusiast.