What’s important when you come back to your ensemble after a break?

by vernsanders on January 4, 2011

A large number of worship professionals take at least one Sunday off after the Christmas season. So what’s important when you come back to your ensemble after a break?

Some of it depends upon whether your primary goal is social or musical. If the former, then you’ll need to plan some time for everyone to “catch up.” Same goes with musical stuff. Even if you were fortunate (or forward looking, or driven) enough to spend some time on Epiphany/Lenten music during the Christmas season, the odds are there will need to be some “catch up” time musically.

I’ve learned to plan something that is familiar or easily accomplished for the first Sunday (or two) after a big festival Sunday. I believe that people, and especially amateurs, can’t sustain high intensity stress and pressure for an extended period of time. There needs to be “seasons” – even if only a Sunday or two – where people can relax a bit musically.

That doesn’t mean that I encourage or allow sloppiness or uncaring about what happens on Sundays after Christmas or Easter, just that there is no need to schedule a double chorus 19 part 8 minute anthem in Russian for a typical church choir that hasn’t had a rehearsal in two weeks.

I’ve also learned something over the years the hard way, much as Mike Singletary, the former coach of the SF 49ers just learned a week or so ago. If you tend to be an intense personality, your work needs to be done in rehearsal. Getting agitated on “game day” just works everybody up about all the wrong things.

When it comes to Sunday, your demeanor needs to be calm, and your efforts aimed at worship. Very little can be fixed in a short “warm up” rehearsal before a worship service or concert. It is ok to give verbal notes, or add some “spit and polish” to a short problem spot, but it is generally counter productive to try to intensely focus on some problem that hasn’t resolved itself. That just makes everybody anxious…and when they come to that spot, in some psychological sense, they are agitated about it. At the best they concentrate and get it right, but more often than not, they will fail because they are afraid to fail, instead of just letting their rehearsal training take them through it.

So I work them hard in rehearsal, but I also spend time getting them to relax and trust their instincts and training. Then, on Sunday, my role is to affirm and compliment. It doesn’t work every time, but it sure saves a lot of drama and anguish in the ensemble.

Do you have a different strategy? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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msfv January 5, 2011 at 11:30 am

I love the “game day” quote! So true!

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