Magenta Rehearsal Protocols
This post started out as noting some info I wanted to share with the people who are starting with Magenta this New Year. And as I typed, facts blossomed into explanations, and I thought: you know what, I could publish this as a blog post rather than just sending it round by email, just in case anyone else finds it useful. Most of how choirs develop, after all, is by people sharing their ideas, and other people thinking, ‘Oh, I could just adapt that for my lot, and it would exactly meet such-and-such need.’
So, to our new singers: you will have already seen these things happening when you came to observe a rehearsal before joining. These are the protocols and rationales that lie behind the behaviours you observed.
Every week, on a rota, one of us performs a song of their choice to the group as a solo. It is a delight and a wonder to be sung to, and we learn a lot about each other’s voices and ways of being thereby. We also have a very clear protocol for feedback:
Say what you liked, and/or what you learned
There is no need to make suggestions, in this context, as to things that could be done better, as the soloist themselves will be fully aware of the things they would have liked to do but didn’t quite manage. They are probably focusing on this too much, indeed, so it is important that they are informed in detail and with love about all the things they did beautifully, expressively and impressively.
It is also very good for all of use to practise noticing and specifying artistic success, as that is what will feed our own development as performers.
A frequent rehearsal device we use is to have a succession of people standing out front to listen/watch the group, and coach us. We use this device both for working through songs, and for rehearsing starts and ends of songs.
Here, the protocol is:
- Say something you liked. Be specific, so the singers know what they need to keep doing
- Make a suggestion for something to add or improve. Phrase this as thing to do, not as a description of something that was wrong. E.g.
- ‘Please can everyone smile,’ rather than, ‘Not everyone was smiling.’
- ‘The ‘e’ vowel needs to be more tall and forward,’ rather than, ‘The ‘e’ vowel was too wide.’
- ‘The start needs to be more purposeful,’ rather than, ‘The start was underconfident.’
We will then repeat the passage and you can tell us how well we followed your instructions, and if it made a difference.
Duetting all combinations of pairs of parts is another of our regular rehearsal methods (and I have written about its rationale in more detail here).
Here, you just need to say what you heard. Anything you heard. There are no wrong answers: if you heard it, you heard it. A beautiful match of tone, a badly coordinated consonant, a bari twiddly you’d never noticed before, a wrong note, an iffy vowel, whatever. We’re not going to try and fix stuff here, we just want people to open their ears and listen and inform each other of what they picked up.
The key thing in duetting is to contribute. If people wait around for others to say things, they whole exercise takes too long and gets bogged down. If we all pipe up with stuff nice and quickly, things keep moving and we all learn a lot.
Certain members of Magenta have trained me over the years to publish in advance what music we will be looking at each week, so they can get it out and remind themselves of how it goes before they get to rehearsal. Clearly, this wonderful habit benefits us all, and we really do feel the difference when we all remember to do this. (Conversely, we can all tell when we haven’t!)
A small, but powerful, extra element of this is to have all the music for those items out of our folders and ready before the rehearsal starts. It is surprising how much difference this makes. It is not just that we lose a couple of minutes every time if people are rummaging around in the folders looking for the songs, but the waiting around gives everyone’s brains a chance to wander off out of their musical focus.
So, even if you haven’t got yourself organised actually to go through the music before rehearsal, make sure you arrive in time to get it out of the folder before we start.