ritual

I hear a lot of choirs warm up, and I run a lot of warm ups. Some choirs do the same warm-ups in the same order every single rehearsal; but I was taught that I should customize the warm up for each rehearsal to be more efficient, accomplish more with each warm-up, and keep the choir flexible and adaptable.

Having just gone through the ritual of Christmas, I have to say that I see some major benefits that translate to the same-warm-ups-every-time approach. There is power in the comfort of repetition. There is something grounding and centering about knowing that, as soon as we come into rehearsal, we will follow this, for want of a better word, liturgy.

Churches know this. They’ve been capitalizing on it for centuries.

Radio stations know it. They play us those same songs every day from Thanksgiving to Boxing Day, and we love it. Amazon offered to stream Christmas music at me while I shopped.

So why shouldn’t choirs? We use the power of comfort and predictability of ritual to draw the singers into the ceremony of rehearsal. But we, like churches and radio stations, must to it consciously and by choice, with purpose.

What we should not do is just repeat the same thing over and over again because that’s what our teachers did, or because we don’t know what else to do. If we use repetition, it has to be stuff that works.

This is the compromise I’ve reached for now: I have a ritual I use based on the best I know of group vocal pedagogy. It encourages the best I’ve found so far of kinesthetic awareness, breathing, listening, phonating, and resonating. I start with those, then get to stuff that relates specifically to the repertoire and techniques I need to focus on in that particular rehearsal.

But I think a little repetition is nice. Not too much–nobody wants to hear “Frosty the Snowman” on December 27th–but that good feeling that comes from repetition and predictable ritual  is part of the pleasure and power of choral singing.

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