Since it’s back-to-school/new concert season time, I thought I’d take a little break from my producer’s series to talk about the most effective way to start out your choir’s year. It’s something I started doing when I directed Wibi, and later with Onoscatopoeia. Choir directors of all types, this one’s for you.

If this is news to you, read on. If you’re already doing open rehearsals, please comment with any additional tips and tricks not mentioned here!

First off, what exactly do I mean by an “open rehearsal”?  Basically, it’s like a combination of a mock-rehearsal and choral workshop, a chance for potential choir members to get a sense of what the group is all about before they audition. It’s helpful both for you and for them for a number of reasons:

– they get a sense beforehand of what the group’s all about: they’ll either be that much more “sold” on the group even before the first rehearsal, or they’ll know it’s not their cup of tea, and will save you the hassle of having them audition only to drop out in the first month.

– they get to meet the director and the current choir members and make a connection with them: by the time you have your first rehearsal, you’ll already feel like you know each other.

– it makes their audition process less scary, since they’ve already met you (and hopefully think you’re cool), and you’ve already set a fun, un-intimidating tone.

– If they have a good time, they’ll spread the word and get even more people to audition.

Here’s a brief rundown of how I do my open rehearsals:

– First off, schedule it at the same time and place as your regular rehearsal: if they made the open rehearsal, then there’s obviously no scheduling conflicts. One difference: since this rehearsal is basically a teaser, plan on around 60-90 minutes maximum rather than your usual full-length rehearsal.

– Start off with a little introduction of yourself, the group, the executive and any returning members who are at the rehearsal. Make people feel at home right away! The first thing I always try to establish is some sort of connection with the singers. They’ll feel it… and they’ll get excited.

– Go into some warmups, or whatever your rehearsal routine is (and if it doesn’t include some good warmups… seriously, just wander through the CASA site and get some happening!)

– Next is the core of the open rehearsal: learning a piece. I usually like to choose something uptempo and fun, not too many parts (say, 4-6 parts) and most important, something that can be learned “by-rote” and taught, start-to-finish, in 30-45 minutes. No point in wasting paper for a single-use piece of music, and you want to sell them on fun learning, not wading through some complicated, dense notation right off the bat. There’s plenty of time for that later on in the year.

– If all goes well, everyone’s learned a new song in a short amount of time. Everyone’s excited, happy, and full of sense of accomplishment. They’re sold!

– Now, go into some more detail about the group, your plans for the year, and most importantly, your expectations. Let them know if it’s a casual, drop-in thing or an intense, competition-winning, miss-a-rehearsal-and-you’re-fired type of choir. They really should know before they audition: again, it will save your time and theirs.

– explain your audition process, and take questions… and direct them to the signup sheet. I usually try to start auditioning people right after the open rehearsal, and a few days following. Since you’re a week from your first rehearsal, that’s plenty of time to audition, make your choices, and send out notices well ahead of the first rehearsal.

An open rehearsal may be your single best recruiting, networking and time-saving strategy for the start of the year. Have fun with it!