Posts Tagged ‘choir rehearsals’

Christmas music

Posted: November 17, 2014 in arranging, choral
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Arranging Christmas music….every year I believe that I won’t have to do it next year, since I’ve already amassed a pretty substantial library of choral arrangements of Christmas music. And yet, somehow, each year I find ways to inflict more work on myself, just because I think this song would sound nicer if the alto part was x , or if only the piano part was y.

This is entirely my own fault, and in this instance it’s not arranging, really, just meddling with existing arrangements. Now this is kind of the musical equivalent of taking someone else’s recipe and simply changing a few ingredients – not an original or particularly creative piece of work, but requiring some industry nevertheless, and probably a few drafts before you get it right. Why change the ‘ingredients’ at all, you ask?  Well maybe the ones you have in your cupboard are a bit different, and you have neither the means nor the inclination to acquire expensive, specialised  ingredients you’re only going to use once. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, you just think that the ingredients you do have will work better – this bass line was written for a section with a limited range in mind, for example, whereas the basses under my direction actually have a great range and are well able for a more adventurous line.
It’s not just perfectionism on my part, I think most choir directors would agree that it’s always better to go the extra mile for superior musical results. Besides, Christmas is a very, very busy time of year for choirs and if you’re involved with a few of them, you can be prepared for a month or so of little else. So you’d better be pretty keen on those arrangements at the start of the season, because you’re going to be royally fed up of them by the time New Year comes.



I’ve been re-evaluating some of my rehearsal strategies this week. Four and sometimes five nights each week I run rehearsals with different choirs and vocal harmony groups, but it’s quite important for me to remember that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ type thing. Far from it. Every ensemble has its own culture and work ethic, and of course some of the groups I work with are professional and some non-professional.  The Gospel Project is a group comprised of professional singers, and I’m accustomed to being able to walk in to rehearsal, throw some complex harmonies at them and have the singers reproduce them pretty quickly. Another group I work with are highly committed amateurs and again are able to learn parts relatively quickly, or at least put in a lot of private practise time outside of weekly rehearsals. I have to be careful that this doesn’t lead to unrealistic expectations on my part when it comes to some of the other groups I work with; one is a group of complete beginners for whom the world of singing harmony is quite new and naturally they learn more slowly. Another group again is happy to show up and sing whatever can be managed in rehearsals but there is no culture there of individual practise outside that time. This is further complicated by the fact that many people regard singing as something you can either do or you can’t, and consequently don’t respect the idea of practising it.

It leads to some interesting questions regarding the role of the musical director; should you always attempt to push an ensemble to newer and more ambitious goals? In a recreational – as opposed to professional – singing environment is the optimal goal always a great performance, or is the process of learning and rehearsing just as important? If the choir are quite happy with things the way they are, do I have the right to insist that they should be doing better? Reaching for  higher standards enhances the experience for some singers and has the very opposite effect as far as some others are concerned, so this is not an easy thing to get right. There’s also the matter of how I fit into it as a professional musician with high standards  – the choir’s standard is a reflection on me, but they are my employers, so shouldn’t I serve their needs rather than my ambition? Who am I really doing it for when I demand more of the choir?

What a week. I’m used to running around a lot but these past few days were extreme even for me. Teaching, gigging, rehearsing Portmarnock Singers, The Gospel Project, Sandymount Gospel Choir, squeezing in a few committee meetings in between and, sadly, singing at a funeral on Thursday morning. And travelling from one of those things to the other. (The thing nobody warns you about when it comes to being self-employed is how much time you will spend just getting from one professional appointment to another – in Dublin traffic this is no joke! I sometimes envy people who go to work in the same place every day. Especially when I’m on the way to weddings in hard-to-find country churches……)

Highlights of the week for me:

1). Being introduced to a cracking Karl Jenkins piece, Adiemus,  which I’m going to be doing with Portmarnock Singers:


Can’t wait to get stuck in to this in rehearsal on Monday.


2). A very positive rehearsal on Tuesday with Sandymount Gospel Choir. As with many other areas of life, September is the time when choirs kick off again after the summer and new people often come on board – happily we’ve got a good few new choir members and, more importantly, they’re fitting in well and bringing new energy to the ensemble.

3). I discovered the existence of this organisation – the Wedding Band Association.  This is a long overdue initiative proposing a kind of Code of Practice for the wedding band industry in Ireland. I take my hat off to these guys; musicians tend not to be too wonderful about organising ourselves but this is a positive exception. Self-regulation. A great opportunity for honest, hard-working wedding bands.