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The Importance of Playing Chorales

The beginning of a rehearsal, commonly called the warm-up, is often looked upon as the most critical stage in the development of a quality band program. Considered by many to be the one of the highest areas of recall, it is essential that fundamentally sound performance goals be established during this time frame. These goals, based on high standards of musicality, should then transfer to the remainder of the rehearsal. The playing of chorales will assist you in attaining those objectives and will allow your students the opportunity to reach their fullest potential as musicians.

Encourage your ensemble to try and play a chorale without breaking the indicated phrases. Promoting the ability to play long sustained lines helps to develop breath support which, in turn, aids in the improvement of tone quality. When the quality of tone is enhanced, better intonation is more likely to occur. Many intonation difficulties are often compounded when student musicians attempt to tune with an immature or less developed tone. The following is a suggested list of performance rules created to achieve the goal of playing with improved breath support. These guidelines not only will provide benefit to the performance of chorales, but may also be applied to other aspects of sustained playing during the warm-up as well.

  1. Play as many notes as you can, with as nice a sound as you can, before you take a breath.
  2. When you need to take a breath, avoid taking it at an obvious place.
  3. Try not to take a breath at the same time as the person next to you.

To aid in the improvement of aural skills, it is strongly recommended that you sometimes ask the members to sing a chorale. Select a syllable and suggest that they listen carefully and, if needed, adjust quickly.

Be creative in your daily approach to conducting chorales. Varying the tempo, altering the dynamics, and stretching the phrases are just a few ways to help prevent student familiarity. It should also be stressed that when the students actively respond to your musical gestures it means that they, too, are focused on the creative process of musical expression. This magical moment will become a common occurrence when both teacher and performer realize that musicality is generated, not from habituation, but from the inspiration of the baton and the music.

James Swearingen
Capital University Conservatory of Music