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As featured in The Harmonizer.

The Long Game

So many singers show up to a quartet or chorus rehearsal without music, and at widely varying levels of preparation. Many have few concrete notions of the rehearsal plan or how they could have shown up fully prepared. After the rehearsal, they spend a week with no homework, no expectations, and consequently little to no preparation. Next week’s rehearsal is a virtual repeat of the last week, with similar results. Does this sound familiar and de-motivating? In order to have effective rehearsals, you need to think bigger than this one night! Think about the long game.

Begin with the end in mind.

Long-range planning.
Always have a target: the show, fall contest, a certain performance level, the CD recording the chorus is planning—anything. Communicate to each singer where you are headed and how each rehearsal points to that target. Without this communication, there can be no direction, and without this direction, no goals met. Rehearsals, entire seasons, and even years are lost by chapters that have no clear vision. Look at benchmarks in the months leading to your target goal, and complete advance planning for how to accomplish this.

Mid-range planning. Consider all of the critical steps, support elements and expectations necessary to reach your goals along the way. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely, and therefore help organizations structure the work necessary to achieve long-term outcomes. A goal with these attributes is simply more achievable than a general one. (see for more)

Rehearsal planning. To develop your next rehearsal plan, use a strategy called BDA: Before, During and After actions (see In our barbershop context, BDA relates to communication, delivery, monitoring, and reflection for improvement.

Before rehearsal
, the team considers what must be done and any challenges that may arise in rehearsal with difficult passages or elements. Strategies planned to approach these challenges might include sectionals, working with tracks, demonstrations or modeling.

• During rehearsal, the team uses these strategies and carefully monitors their effectiveness, asking if we accomplished our objectives. If not, why not?

• After rehearsal, the music team should meet up to debrief what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to be fixed for next rehearsal. In the one or two days that follow the rehearsal, musical leadership should communicate via phone, email, or social media with a recap of celebrations and areas of improvement. Besides a recap, members are also given assignments to prepare for the next rehearsal, spelled out in detail. Leadership holds everyone accountable for sticking to the times on the schedule prepared ahead of time.

Individual accountability. Each singer must have a clear understanding of his strengths and areas he needs to grow. The individual singer must be given specific feedback in what areas are in need of attention. Without specific and caring feedback, your singers will not improve. In some choruses, this assistance is accomplished through a recording submission or feedback process, private vocal instruction, or even riser captains and section leaders monitoring performance along the way. Whichever method you choose to give private feedback, you must be sure that the ownership is on each individual member to carry his share of the workload and better himself.

Specific and immediate detailed feedback should be afforded every singer, along with clear support on how to improve. This feedback, coupled with BDA strategies, will support your SMART goals and help you achieve your overarching goals.

Jim Emery Great Northern Union Chorus