About this blogger:
Dr. Lucas Tappan is a conductor and organist whose specialty is working with children. He lives in Kansas with his wife and two sons.
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When Christ gave the bread, he did not say, "This is the symbol of my body," but, "This is my body." In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, "This is the symbol of my blood," but, "This is my blood."
— Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia, writing in the 5th Century

A Practical Secret
published 19 February 2015 by Lucas Tappan

263 London Oratory School HILDREN CAN BE infuriating at times. How often have you announced the name of the motet your choir will be rehearsing next and one of your choristers shouts out “What did you say?” You repeat the answer to him and before you’re finished, another chorister asks “What was that?” You think that is the end of it and you begin working on the motet, only to notice three children looking at you with blank stares. When you ask them why they aren’t singing, invariably two of the three respond that they didn’t hear what you said (the third child tells you he never received a copy of the music, but on further investigation, you find that it is the very first piece of music in his binder, if only he had looked). John Bertalot is correct when he says, “Choir directors have to repeat instructions because the choirs have trained their directors. They have conditioned the director to accept their own low level of concentration so that everything must be said two or three times to enable everyone to hear and respond. I am in charge of this choir and they do things in my way, not vice versa.”

I have always found that rehearsals which move along at a decent pace, with little wasted time (including me talking) are the best rehearsals. More music is covered and choristers generally have a feeling of accomplishment. They don’t like to sit around while I repeat instructions multiple times for the benefit of those with selective hearing. (If I had told those choristers it was break time, every one would have heard it the first time and been out the door before I could repeat what I said.)  So … how do you recondition your choristers?

As Bertalot 1 writes “You first have to get their attention. You may have to do this in the old way, by repeating your call for silence. Then you tell them that from now on, when you tell them something you will do it only once.” Then you have to stand by what you said—NO MATTER WHAT! From personal experience, those choristers who never catch what you say will begin to ask their neighbor to repeat your instructions. This is when you start rehearsing the work immediately so that their neighbors are all singing and can’t respond. The chorister who didn’t hear you the first time will have to look at his neighbor’s music to find out where he should be. If you keep this up, those choristers with selective hearing WILL begin to hear you the first time. You will waste much less time and you will enjoy the new found energy of your rehearsals!

A Practical Secret: Condition choirs so that you have to tell them only once.

(Next week: “the Great Secret.”)


1   These insights come from Bertalot’s fabulous book, Five Wheels to Successful Sight-Singing.