Four "E's": Bringing a sense of Excitement, Enthusiasm, Expectation and Excellence to the Rehearsal by Prof. Robert N. Ham

It’s Wednesday night and choir rehearsal is about to begin. People from different walks of life come in to blend their voices together to make a choir. As the director, I’m there early to be able to greet people with a smile, a kind word, a hug or a handshake. Their response to this small gesture always moves me because I see the excitement begin to show on their faces. This excitement seems to grow as the choir members in turn greet one another. Before we know it, the room is full of energized people who are anxiously awaiting the rehearsal to begin.

Excitement yields to enthusiasm as the music is sung. The texts help the choir members express their feelings to and about God. I help them interpret the text, the music and the style of the piece. I give verbal instruction, model what I want and conduct clearly and expressively so they can follow.

The music begins to come alive as I raise the level of my expectations of the choir. I put out the challenges and the choir strives to meet them.

We focus on vowel sounds. Are they uniform? We work on breathing and support. We acknowledge dynamic markings. We work our consonants and diphthongs. We work on intonation and balance. Entrances and cut-offs are practiced. I ask what mood we are trying to create and they answer with their thoughts and insights. We look at the phrases and do our best to honor the music. With each success the enthusiasm seems to breed more excitement. The choir then seems to raise their expectations of me. I need to give precise cut-offs. I must set the correct tempos. I will be responsible to conduct so they can follow and together we make music to glorify God.

Together, in partnership, we work towards goals of musical excellence. Excellence that I’ve come to define as doing the best we can with all God has given us with thankfulness and grace in our hearts for God’s glory. We never define excellence in terms of perfection. To do so is to fail. Likewise, to squander what God’s given us and offer to Him that which is not our best is to miss the mark of excellence. As Christian musicians we must give our best back to God. It takes hard work, careful practice and prayer to make the music, and our presentation of it, the best it can possibly be.

Working to achieve excellence brings its own sense of excitement, enthusiasm, and expectation to the rehearsal.

When all of the above is in place we begin to put the final touches on the music. Heads must be out of the folder. Our posture is correct. Our faces reflect that which is sung. We do all we can to communicate the message through music.

Verbal praise is heaped upon the choir whenever possible. The pace of the rehearsal is fast but controlled. When the time comes to perform we sing the anthem on Sunday morning. This is usually a high point for the choir members. All their hard work, faithful attendance and commitment combine to make our music truly special. Their excitement, enthusiasm, expectation and excellence all add up to a very satisfying musical offering. Our congregation is often moved by our performance. We ourselves are profoundly humbled by what God does through us.

Suddenly it is Wednesday again. It’s time for another choir rehearsal. We start all over again; doing those things that will lead to success on Sunday morning.

Of course, on top of these four "E" words are some basic elements that fall directly into the director’s area of responsibility.

Begin by choosing excellent music. Second, be prepared, which includes making sure you and your accompanist have practiced. Doing these things ahead of time will make a tremendous difference in the rehearsal.

Now go; sing unto the Lord a new song.

Prof. Robert N. Ham is Chair of Fine Arts and Choir Director at Bethel College. He also directs the adult choir at Clay UMC, South Bend, IN. His e-address is: hamb@bethel-in.edu