Category: Rehearsal Technique


This is one of my favorite times of the year. Groups are all having their end of the fall semester type concerts, releasing new albums, and posting new YouTube videos from said concerts. I find out what songs have become the ones everybody is covering this year, what songs I think groups missed out on, and all of the best and worst arrangements. Looks like Shark in the Water could be a winner this semester.

Either way, in watching hundreds of YouTube videos I see and hear different styles of performance. Today I’m going to talk about finding the meaning in a song. It seems obvious that if a song has sad lyrics that you would sing that emotion into it, or alternatively, joyful lyrics that you lead would fill the song with joy. However, I know far too well that when a group gets caught up in learning a new song or trying to finish many songs for a final concert, that this gets forgotten.

Talking about the meaning of a song doesn’t have to take an hour out of rehearsal time. Sometimes you just need five minutes to talk to your full group about the individual meaning of a song. It’ll help to remind them that they swell on a “no” syllable because that’s when the lead is recounting how her lover has left her or how she doesn’t need his help anymore. Both have a different dramatic feel that can be felt in the cry of the backing vocals.

I have two examples from songs Harmonic is doing this semester. First, a classic, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. In my arrangement of the song, several parts sing the “ba ba ba” (you know what I’m talking about) in the chorus. When we first sang it, the girls were perfectly in tune and one pitch and really really boring sounding. That’s a fun part that everybody knows and audience members are going to sing along with. I simply told them to have fun first, sing second. See the result:

Another song we’re singing this semester is Whataya Want from Me by Adam Lambert. My assistant director, Jessica Luckett, has the solo for this one. One day she walked into rehearsal about to break down into tears because she had a long day. Jess is involved in no fewer than 8 student organizations on campus, most of them in a leadership capacity. Here feeling after the day was that she was doing everything she could and people just weren’t appreciating her enough. She was literally asking, “What do you want from me?” Let’s just say that when she sang the song that night in rehearsal, it had a more real feel to it than the original.

Sometimes the fix is as simple as taking how you’re feeling at the moment and plugging it into the song. Sometimes it takes a full group discussion about what the verse actually means and what the main character is feeling. Either way, finding the meaning in the song you sing will help to draw out the full emotion of the song and engage your audience.

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This week we’re going to talk about some different rehearsal techniques that my group, Harmonic Uprising, has been trying out. From time to time we’ll talk about different things that have been effective, some that haven’t, and figure out new ways to grow as a group. This week we talk about Singing in the Dark.

Stephen Harrison is an alum of Washington University is St. Louis’ After Dark, and the author of the online serial novel AcaPolitics. I started reading the work about a month ago and instantly became hooked. Maybe I’ll write a review on it at a later date, but for now here’s where I’m going. In Chapter 12, entitled “Songbuilding,” Harrison describes a rehearsal of the fictional co-ed group “The Chorderoys.” It’s a pretty standard rehearsal until their director decides the group isn’t meshing and makes a somewhat unorthodox move — he turns off the lights and has the group sing in the dark.

In one of our rehearsals this week, we were struggling with some of the syncopation on an arrangement of King of Anything by Sara Bareilles. (This song will undoubtedly be covered hundreds of times in the coming year.) As you may be aware, the song is driven by a piano line that contains many jumps which make it essentially impossible for a single voice to sing. In order to combat this I split up the parts to have different section take different sequences within the overall piano part. Easily arranged, less easily sung. We had the song mostly memorized, but it was still sounding muddy so I decided to try out the approach I had read about in Harrison’s novel a couple weeks prior.

I gathered the group in a circle, and then walked across the room and turned out the lights. As college kids do, they immediately reacted to the darkness with noise but when they settled down I gave the pitch and counted off a relaxed 1-2-3-4. I wish I had before and after recordings so that you all could hear the remarkable difference it made not being able to see the other members. It was the cleanest and most crisp we’ve ever performed it and subsequent run-throughs with the lights on followed suit as the group now understood that they need to listen to, not watch, the other parts.

This technique may be standard for some of you and completely unheard of for others, but it worked extremely well for Harmonic Uprising. I encourage every group to try this out, especially on songs where you struggle to sync up.