Monday, August 3, 2015

The Warm-Up: Still Trying to "Get it Right"

I attended a convention a couple of weeks ago, and a private discussion once again turned to issues of "The Warm-Up."  After many, many years in "the business," we all constantly seem to be trying to get the Warm-Up "right."

Why is the Warm-Up important?  Should we include a Warm-Up in the rehearsal?  Personally, I would give that a most enthusiastic "Yes!"  Why?  Because my best rehearsals as a choral music educator have included a purposeful, mindful Warm-Up.  That's reason enough for me…my own experience…I heard it "happen."  Other professionals think a Warm-Up is important as well, and I find comfort in "mass agreement" on this issue.

So…some questions to consider:

1)  How long?
2)  What to include?
3)  How to structure?
4)  What is my role?
5)  How might my objectives be known to singers?
6)  What is my process?

I remember so well, the most frustrating part of the Warm-Up for me as a choral director was that of hearing totally beautiful sounds in the warm-up, and then hearing totally "not beautiful" sounds in the repertoire.  Yes…I was teaching for "transfer" the entire time, but I was so aware that there seemed to be two components in singers' minds:  the warm-up…the repertoire.  Never the twain really got acquainted.  But…why?  We seem to still be there…even with professionals conducting other professionals…we are still working on the best ways to do this thing called "The Warm-Up" for maximum benefit.

I am going to toss out some thoughts over time…several days, in fact…you might think them "correct" or "incorrect," but they are thoughts that continue to cause me to think, and that is important to me.  Many of my biases may be noted (no pun intended) in my development of Rehearsal Preparation Sheets that are specific to a piece of repertoire…and some of my warm-ups biases achieve objectives in extra-musical subjects.  However, this blog will be "Warm-Up Thoughts" all week long...general thoughts…and just stay with me, and we will think together.

1)  Mindless Warm-Up...ineffective:
Students are not teachers…teachers are the professionals…in order for students to think with the same purpose as teachers, it must be stated…and re-stated…and re-stated (I was in the classroom for 23 years!).  As you know, students are generally in the "do as I'm told" mode…not in the "this is why" mode.  A brief explanation as "the journey" begins might provide the basis for building components in the Warm-Up.  Of course, constant reference to the purpose of the journey will keep them "on the bus."
Another evaluation for teachers…"How can you tell when they are not 'on the bus?'  

What must I experience in order to feel that my mind is involved in the warm-up?  Just a question that came to mind...

2)  The "Plan:"  
If it is important to include a Warm-Up, then it is worth thought.  The director is the only one who knows the objectives for the rehearsal, and it is my opinion that the Warm-Up should be the first steps toward that goal.  In choral music, most of our objectives are based on areas of needed improvement we hear in the sounds of the ensemble and/or the repertoire.  If that be the case, then our Warm-Up should be the first steps toward improving the choral sound…in some way.

3)  Pearls of Wisdom: 
One of the most respected individuals in "the business"….(in fact, I have only heard positive words  about her my entire life) was the late Dr. Lynn Bielefelt.  We were colleagues for a time, and she invited me to come warm-up her ensemble, just to keep my "chops" in shape (so kind!).

I began giving instructions, stopping, giving students too much to think about…too much for a mid-morning warm-up.  She said to me, "Earlene, most of these students have not been talking very much today, so….just let them SING at the beginning…let them get some of the gunk out of the throat…let them make some sounds before you begin correcting them."

So simple…so true…she was absolutely right…what?…why didn't I get that?…just let them sing…not loudly…but with the purpose of finding the voice that was so very near the same apparatus that chowed down cold pizza a minute or two before the rehearsal started.  Once things are somewhat "settled" in the mechanism, okay…we move on.

Thank you, Lynn Bielefelt!  I'll never forget you!

More thoughts later…your thoughts?

Still trying to "get it right"…


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