By Peter Niedmann
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
One inevitable fact of being a church musician is the relentless recurrence of Sunday. As soon as Sunday winds down, before you know it, it’s Sunday. Preparing all the music required in a worship service—organ voluntaries, hymns, anthems, psalms—takes time. Often, one’s schedule will only allow a cursory approach—a quick run-through of a piece, rather than a systematic, thorough rehearsal. But, with some discipline and planning, this can be improved upon.
Firstly, begin working on the music sooner rather than later. There is no harm in having a piece ready to go a few weeks in advance of its appearance in the service. Choir members will feel confident and prepared, rather than worried and tentative. Not only does the music come out better, everyone involved is happier—always a good thing!
There’s the temptation to attempt more than is practically possible. It’s laudable to set high goals, but the journey to achieve them needs to be carefully considered. A movement of a Bach cantata in German—new to the singers—is obviously going to take much more rehearsal time than Stainer’s God So Loved the World. Start the Bach six weeks before the time it’s programmed, not two weeks before. Choirs are generally open to challenging music if they are given the time to figure it out.
Be ready to “call an audible.” That anthem or organ prelude you had planned for Advent 3 may need to be pulled and replaced with something that can be polished up in about ten minutes. There is no good reason to present music that isn’t ready. It may have been the perfect fit for the day’s lectionary, but if it isn’t done well, what’s the point? Sometimes, bad weather creates this situation; a snowstorm keeps two thirds of the choir home, and the anthem isn’t working with the diehards who showed up. Better to sing a hymn that sounds presentable.
And, don’t get too comfortable. Just when you think you’re in control…Holy Week arrives to keep things interesting!