How long should choir rehearsals be?

I realise this post has the potential to open several cans of worms!  There are many factors affecting how long rehearsals should be and of course what’s right for one choir may not be ideal for another.  My purpose here is not to try and find a particular length of time which works for all choirs but rather to look at the factors which might influence how long rehearsals should be.

Regular Rehearsals

Possibly the most important thing any choir can do is ensure rehearsals are regular.  The majority of choirs I have been involved in rehearse on a weekly basis for a fixed amount of time. That way your choir members can plan around those times which should help keep up attendance figures.  If you have regular rehearsals of a fixed length, this will also help when it comes to planning for concerts, as I will discuss later on.

How do you determine rehearsal length?

There are many factors which will ultimately determine how long your rehearsal is. One of the main issues is likely to be venue availability and cost, both of the venue and your accompanist.  Generally anything from 1 – 2 hours is a good length for rehearsals, perhaps slightly longer if you have a mid session break. But do bear in mind that singers get tired and there comes a point where rehearsals can become less productive the longer they go on.

Keep focussed

Very much related to time and length of rehearsals, is the content of the rehearsal.  Ultimately content is king as the saying goes.  I have always believed that the ideal length of a rehearsal is one in which you can keep the choir focussed.  Singing is hard work and naturally after time singers get tired.  The important thing is to be able to spot this and not push on regardless.  There comes a time in every rehearsal where you will end up doing more harm than good by carrying on.

What about when gigs are approaching?

There is a tendency for choirmasters to panic when concerts are approaching and often for extra rehearsals to be put in place.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and of course it will depend on your choir and the standards you are trying to achieve.  I have always wanted to do this, but most of my choir members simply can’t give up any more time than they already do. So then it comes down to effective planning.  If your choir meets weekly and you know well in advance when the concerts are, it’s simply a case of planning several rehearsals at a time to ensure you have covered your concert repertoire in good time before the concert.

Obviously this all seems so simple when you write it down and I’m well aware that in practice it can be a very different situation.  There is of course nothing wrong in having extra rehearsals leading up to a concert particularly if your choir members are able to accommodate this.

Can you over rehearse?

I’m sure many choirmasters would like to tell you that there is no such thing as over rehearsal. But I’m afraid my personal opinion is yes, you can over rehearse a choir.  And more over than that, I would go so far as suggesting that you should never be perfect in rehearsal.  I’m sure some of you are now throwing things at the screen and hurling abuse at this ludicrous statement, but bear with me here.

Let’s face it, ultimately you want your best performance to be the one in the concert. And more importantly, your choir want to give their best performance in concert.  So therefore it’s not a good idea to use up this performance in practice. Ok I know, more shouting at the screen – how do you “use up” a performance.  Well, ok perhaps you can’t. But, from experience I have often found choirs perform ever so slightly better in performance than in rehearsal.  A lot of this I put down to adrenaline and the excitement of the performance – even if some choir members are suffering from a bit of stage fright initially.

The key is to be prepared.  Provided that your choir knows what they are supposed to achieve in the concert performance, you may just find that they all give just that little bit more in performance and if you were 95% of the way there in rehearsal, you may just find it’s 100% in performance.  And before you ask, don’t even get me started on people who talk about 110%. There is no such thing. The End!

So just how long is this piece of string?

As I said earlier there is no one time fits all.  But in my humble opinion the optimum rehearsal length for say a community or amateur choir is probably somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours.  Professional choirs may in fact rehearse for less time but more frequently. There are no rules and it’s just a case of seeing how your choir responds.