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Rehearsing 800 singers

Recently I asked for advice on conducting a mass choir (in my case 800
singers). Thanks to everyone for their excellent advice, which is
summarised below.

Roz Whaley
Director of Music
Arundel School
Harare, Zimbabwe

Be yourself. Know your music (a given). Know what you want and multiple
techniques to get the desired results. Talk as little as possible.
Demonstrate and ask them to echo what you did. Be sure you have a lavolier
mike that works.

Dr. Terry Barham.
Director of Choral Activities
Emporia State University
Emporia, KS 66801
620-341-5436 (ph)
620-341-5601 (fax)

Do everything in a big way, smile and laugh a lot and keep the ball rolling.
Dead spots - eg. as a pianist adjusts
her music - can be deadly. If the music calls for a beat - consider having
a good drummer and bass player (eg. for gospel music).

Larry Nickel
web site:
Mennonite Educational Institute
4081 Clearbrook Road
Abbotsford, BC
V4X 2M8


Be very upbeat and move very quickly from any "words" you need to speak to
the group at large to some well thought out and fun warmups. You'll win the
kids very quickly if they're enjoying the vocalizing.

Give clear, concise directions, and try to avoid redundancy in your
explanations. Many clinicians choose to run through all of the music from
start to finish at the beginning of the first rehearsal. This will let you
know what songs need the most work and where the problem areas are.

As for motivation, be yourself, but also be kind and encouraging. Try to
avoid negative comments about their varying levels of preparation. Kids
will work hard for you if they think you feel they have what it takes.

Talk to a few of your colleagues about the possibility of helping you with
sectional rehearsals early in the game. It has been my experience that when
you bring a large group of students together, many of them are well
prepared, but there will be quite a few who are not. On your initial
run-through of the music, mark the sections you think will need sectional

Vicki Taylor
Dir. of Choral Music
Orangewood High School and Orangewood Pres. Church

My experience with massed choirs is that those who teach the music have
little stake in the result and you may wind up teaching it yourself to be
certain of its accuracy (not to say of its beauty!). You may wish to arrange
for rehearsals with just SA and then just TB to nail down the parts. Once
you are certain they know the music, put them together.

As far as the confidence factor goes--if you are confident of your skills,
music, etc. , you will not have to worry about cooperation. You will move
with certainty to the music and keep them so pre-occupied that there will be
no time for questions as to your competence. Always be ready with the next
request as you finish the last phrase. You vary the rehearsal with
technique so that the singer is captivated by your ability to combine sound,
manipulate line and shape an ensemble identity.

Gary Fisher
Toronto, ON Canada

I have watched from within the choir how the Latvian conductors handle
eleven thousand+ singers (adults) SATB at the song festivals there. They
stand on a specially built stage 10 ft high and make full body movements,
are absolutely clear and mouth or even act the words with their arms. There
is iron discipline (certainly no talking), and instructions are conveyed
over loudspeakers by an assistant, not the conductor. There are 3
rehearsals. There is a book specially published with the songs in the right
order so there is no shuffling of papers.

Paul Madgwick

You might want to rethink the "have it memorized" rule--unless all the
singers are accustomed to this from past experiences. Let those who have
it memorize, sing that way. Tell those that don't have it memorized, hold
the music. You lose nothing. Some other directors may disagree, but you
are the boss. Do what will give the singers a chance to have a successful

Dr. Terry Barham.
Director of Choral Activities
Emporia State University
Emporia, KS 66801
620-341-5436 (ph)
620-341-5601 (fax)

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