Sight-reading in chorus rehearsals is different from sight-reading on our own.
If you’re thinking that you’ll always have the music ahead of time, it isn’t going to happen. From time to time you will be sight-reading in rehearsal.
Sight-reading choral music has its own requirements
It’s about the rehearsal, not the piano part.
Any choral score has more staves than most piano music.
Singers need to hear their parts clearly.
Singers need to hear anything else that helps them sing their part.
We can omit whatever is going well in the chorus. (When the soprano part is the melody, that can most likely be omitted. It is the easiest to hear, and the singers will “get it” the most quickly.)
We don’t need to expect to play everything. Ornaments and arpeggiated chords, for example, can confuse people on first hearing.
The rehearsal is better served when we know what comes next. Singers benefit from hearing any changes.
Bass lines are good to play. They give singers something to build their harmonies on.
What we need to know before we play
Use the time the conductor takes to introduce the piece to the chorus. Look through the entire piece for repeats and key, meter and tempo changes.
If you must play immediately, look ahead while holding long notes. You can turn pages long enough to check something out quickly.
While playing, look for entrances, difficult vocal leaps, changes in meter, key, tempo, 2nds between parts, lines that switch parts, syncopation ~ anything unusual. Then be sure to play everything you found.
Adjustments we must make
Sight-reading with a conductor requires that we forget about ourselves. Believe it or not, this is conducive to playing a good rehearsal.
Fingering, possible mistakes, even our own comfortable tempo must be of no concern. We should be fine with all that by now, knowing that its place is in our practice sessions. In rehearsal, it is crucial to let go and not get in our own way.
Our focus is on the conductor as well as the entire room and the sound of the group.
A piano reduction in an unaccompanied choral piece (where the piano part is marked “for rehearsal only”) is the singers’ parts. Right now you’re saying, “Whew! I’ll play from that!” Right?
Not so fast!
We cannot rely on reductions exclusively.
Read the parts too, as you’re playing. Repeated notes in vocal parts may be tied in a reduction. Singers need to hear their parts accurately. That may involve syncopation. A voice part may have important notes playing off other parts rhythmically.
There may be a piano reduction that someone made for you. Is it accurate?
During graduate school, I played rehearsals for The Philadelphia Singers. The group was preparing Poulenc’s “Figure Humaine.” The piece is scored for 16-part double chorus with no piano reduction. Although the assistant conductor had written out a piano reduction for me (after the 2nd or 3rd rehearsal), it was full of errors. (Poulenc isn’t so easy!) I already knew the score and had been playing from that. So, after playing a few bars with mistakes from the reduction, I switched back to the original.
When the conductor, Michael Korn, wanted to make a starting place clear at one point during the rehearsal, he assumed I had been playing from the reduction. Since the layout was different between the reduction and the score, he came over to the piano to point out where he wanted to begin. He was astounded that I had been playing 16 parts from open score. I felt it would have been a waste of rehearsal time not to.
Our job is to facilitate rehearsal. Other concerns such as fingering or “performing” the music (with all the notes) should not be part of sight-reading in a chorus rehearsal.
How do you approach sight-reading in chorus rehearsals? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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