Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Well, it's early fall, which means it is retreat season!  The first choir retreat that I am conducting is coming up this weekend, and then the second one happens the weekend after Canadian Thanksgiving.  One of them is in town, meaning I get to sleep in my own bed in the evenings, and the other is in a log cabin on a secluded creek just outside of town.  Both of them will offer a great advantage to my choirs to do some concentrated learning, as well as opportunity to socialize, and build on choir morale.  

Having been involved in choir retreats for many years on the other side of the podium, I know how difficult it is for a chorister to stay mentally alert for all those rehearsals!  In the past couple of year though I have found that these retreats can be awfully taxing on me as a conductor.  After approximately twelve hours of rehearsals over three days, there are moments during the retreat where my focus dwindles, my patience grows thin, my arms get sore, my voice gets tired, my back gets sore, and the list goes on.  I'm fortunate to have an assistant for both of these choirs though, and I will make much use of them over the two weekends!

For our retreat with my chamber choir, which is the one we do out of town, I have found a pretty good system where we have enough time to really learn some repertoire, as well as finding time to enjoy the surroundings, and each other.

On the opening night, we rehearse for a couple of hours before dinner, and another hour after dinner.  Saturday morning I try to plan an extended warm-up, which will include enough stretching, vocalizing, breathing and tuning exercises to get people a bit more relaxed and ready to sing.  If someone in the choir is a yoga expert, this is the opportunity to use them.  The day is then divided up with sectionals and enough breaks to enjoy the day - especially if the weather is permitting.  This year, we are planning to take our new promotional photos, which should take up a good hour or so of the afternoon.  I also plan for at least one rehearsal to be spent on "new" music that we will be learning for future concerts in the season - something to keep the mind active, and sight reading chops in working order.  The evening will have a shortened rehearsal followed by a games night where we can all relax and get to know each other a bit better (there is often Bailey's involved!).  Sunday morning will also have a rehearsal component, but as many of our singers are off to church choir obligations, I have to limit it to easier repertoire, and small accomplishments.

This year, I expect much of the weekend retreat to be involved in memorization!  We are doing three spiritual arrangements, and it would be pointless to perform them with music in front of us.  So if we can memorize at least one or two of these works over that weekend - that will be a significant accomplishment indeed!

Do you have retreats coming up?  What are your strategies for an effective weekend retreat? 

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