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Axel Theimer conducting Kantorei, a profession...

Axel Theimer conducting Kantorei, a professional choir based in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An excellent question!
The first thing that popped into my head was,
“However you can!”

Perhaps the rest of this post will be more helpful.

The piece

Poulenc‘s “Figure humaine” is an unaccompanied choral work for double chorus, scored SSATBB. The parts often divide, at times into 14 parts. There is no published piano reduction.

How it happened

Having just received a call from The Philadelphia Singers, I needed to learn the parts quickly from open score. Somehow, after looking closely at the music and playing through it 2 or 3 times, that worked.

Having a first-rate conductor and a professional choir, all expecting to hear the pitches, provides excellent incentive!  And the job paid very well.

Along the way

This was far from the first time I had heard, sung, or played Poulenc’s music. That prior experience certainly formed a basis of certain expectations about Poulenc’s writing. (When you’re expecting to hear a tritone, you don’t go for a 5th.)

Playing from a choral score

Playing parts for a chorus rehearsal has nothing to do with any other type of playing, such as producing legato sound with good fingering.

This may sound completely outrageous, but it is what I do:

  • Stop thinking. Whenever you allow thoughts about the possibility for mistakes, you will make many more of them. So stop analyzing and just play.
  • Play what you see.
  • Go for the chord, not the exact parts.
  • Play the 1st chord, then hold it with the pedal.
  • As soon as you have played the 1st chord, move your hands to the next chord as quickly as possible. You will be “over” the notes, ready to play, early.  The accuracy comes from being early.
  • Your hands/fingers should be in chord position.  Being in the general area on the keyboard is not enough.
  • Always look ahead. There is no time to check out what you have already played. So as soon as you have played a chord, your eyes must be looking at the next one.
  • You might want to practice one chorus at a time (i.e. Chorus I is at the top of the page).  This is one way to familiarize yourself with the harmonic language without being overwhelmed by all the parts right away.
  • Realize that many parts are duplicated. There are only a certain number of notes in every chord.
  • If you are new to playing so many parts on a page, start by playing the top and bottom lines together.  Your eyes will be scanning the entire page that way.

Good luck!

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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