Is your score a reference point, or a place to hide?
Most choirs perform.
The rehearsals that we attend on a regular basis are usually a preparation for a performance.
That performance could take the form of a church service, or a flashmob, or a radio broadcast. But usually it takes the form of a traditional concert, where people are asked to pay for a ticket. And those people have a right to be entertained!
When I have performed in a concert as part of a choir, I am certain that the audience were most entertained when the choir were really striving to communicate. We cannot communicate with the top of our heads. Humans communicate through our facial expressions, and through our eyes which are the windows to our soul. You can feel all you want, but you cannot communicate that feeling and intensity of emotion through your scalp. This is the reason your choir director is constantly asking you to look up!
#1. I don't realise I'm not looking up
In a choir that uses a score (such as a traditional choral society), we learn the music through a code that tells us the sound that we should produce. But we can become wedded to that code, and staring at it when singing becomes a habit. Think of giving a speech; do you communicate best when you stare at the text of your speech, reading it as though it is a shopping list? Or do you connect with your audience most effectively when you speak "off the cuff", "from the heart", and "shoot from the hip"? If you attend an event where someone gives a speech, and they never lift their eyes from their text, what word are you likely to use afterwards to describe the experience of listening to them?
Your audience didn't pay for that!
#2. But I might lose my place...
The easiest remedy for this is to know the score so well, that even a cursory glance down will remind you what the next bit of music is.
Now, I know you are busy. Your conductor knows that too. But he or she also knows that you come to choir for the thrills, and what bigger thrill is there than communicating? The work you do between the rehearsals enhances your enjoyment.
#3. But I don't know what to do between rehearsals....
You don't need to be a pianist to prepare for the next rehearsal (in fact, you don't even need to read music).
Remember, there are are three types of information on the page:
1. The pitches (how high or low the next note is, relative to the one you are singing)
2. The rhythm (how long or short a note is)
3. The words
Could you work on the words? Could you even memorise the text of the piece you are going to work on at the next rehearsal?
Could you follow your part through with a recording, and speak the words in the right rhythm? You might need to go slowly, and keep rewinding.
Could you look through your entries, and work out where you are going to get your note from? For example, do the altos sing a note just before you come in on the same note? Circle their note and join it to yours. Practice listening to a recording, and hearing the note you need to hear.
You don't actually need a sing a note to do all this, and yet you will have done really valuable preparation for the next rehearsal.
#4. If I look up, I might make a mistake
If you make a mistake while you were looking up, your conductor will probably forgive you! Your friends in the audience won't remember the occasional slip up from one member of a 100-voice choir. But they will be disappointed if everyone was glued to their music all the way through the concert.
5#. If I look up, people will notice me
I refer you to my previous blog post, "5 ways to enjoy choir more"!
Happy singing everyone.