Singing a large masterwork is a wonderful opportunity for a children's chorus, but one that requires a special type of preparation prior to joining forces with a full orchestra and adult ensemble. At Manhattan Concert Productions, we are accustomed to curating these types of residencies, so we'd like to share with you some advice from Robyn Lana, one of our esteemed guest conductors, on how to best prepare your singers for the big leagues!
1. Study the score and convey pertinent contextual information to your singers. Children should understand what they’re singing about, as well as any relevant historical, biographical, social, and emotional background.
2. Pronunciation must be consistent across all ensembles. Confirm which dialect will be used, when relevant. For example, will you be singing the piece in Ecclesiastical or Germanic Latin?
3. Your students should be supplied with, and understand, the text. If a definition or translation is necessary, provide them with that information, as well.
4. They should be prepared to sing the piece at a variety of tempos and dynamics. Your interpretation of a piece may be slightly different than the maestro's.
5. Prepare them for the fact that they may not always be the conductor's primary focus. Children's choirs are used to being consistently guided through a piece by their conductor. Help them grow accustomed to the fact that the conductor may not always be looking directly at them.
6. Allow children to hear the musical context of their entrances. It's not enough for them to learn their movements; they must know how the piece will sound immediately prior to their entrance. Find a high-quality recording and have them listen to their entrances, as a piano reduction isn't necessarily sufficient for this purpose.
7. Have children memorize their material. This will enable them to have the confidence to look up from their music, and thus follow the conductor's cues.
8. Practice sitting, standing, and holding music. Oftentimes, children's choirs are not used to performing these actions outside of the context of rehearsal! Coach them on proper alignment, posture, and synchronization.
For further reading, see our guest conductor Robyn Lana's full article in The Choral Journal, Vol. 48, No. 10 (2008), pp. 48-50.