How long should a choir rehearsal be?

As I begin to write this post, it occurs to me that I’m not sure I actually know the answer to this question. But I feel it’s worth considering some of the factors which might influence the decision behind setting a length of time for choir rehearsals.

For the purpose of this post I am considering a normal weekly rehearsal rather than any extra rehearsals which might occur for example immediately before or on the day of a performance. Having done a little research prior to writing this, and talking to a number of other choir leaders, it would seem there are two factors which generally determine the length of rehearsals. 1. That’s the time it’s always been for as long as anyone can remember so we don’t question it, or 2. It was a committee decision based on the cost of venue. Interestingly none of the people I spoke to said it was for musical reasons as advised by the choir leader.

I currently lead 4 choirs. Two are run by committee, and two are workplace choirs. My two workplace choirs both rehearse for an hour a week. To my mind this is just about long enough to make a rehearsal worthwhile. However, with workplace choirs time is always going to be a precious commodity. Indeed one of my choirs rehearses at lunchtime so I am always very conscious that people are giving up their lunch hour to come and sing, so therefore it’s important to make every second count.

Choirs run by committee always represent a number if challenges. In my case both these choirs rehearse for an hour and a half in the evening. Personally I feel this is a little short. It’s doable but does mean you are always compromised by lack of time.

So what do I think? Well firstly, as I have shown I think it’s possible to have choir rehearsals of any length. Providing you are aware of the limitations then a rehearsal can be planned to deal with this. For choirs with shorter weekly rehearsals it’s sometimes a good idea to have the occasional longer session on a different day – perhaps a workshop or just a more intense and focused rehearsal. If it was entirely my choice however, I would always aim to make a rehearsal two hours long. I’ve even been involved in choirs where the rehearsal is 2.5 hours with a 15 minute tea break half way through.

To my mind two hours means you can spend 15 minutes doing a proper warm up at the beginning, the you have 90 minutes of focused rehearsal time with the final 15 minutes being given over to either a ‘warm down’ or just a chance to sing through a couple of songs rather like a mock performance.

As I said at the outset, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this question. The most important thing is to plan carefully for the time you have available to ensure the choir rehearsal has a beginning, a middle and an end. Additionally it must serve a purpose and have goals which your choir members can identify with. I always hope that my singers leave a rehearsal having a. Enjoyed themselves and b. got something of value from it.

I would be interested to hear your views on this subject, either as a choir member or choir leader. What factors influence your rehearsal timings? Who decides for how long you rehearse? Do you have different methods for coping with different length rehearsals?