After years touring and performing with Cantus, I found there were certain pre-concert rituals that got us ready for performing. For me, it was centering through breathing… after playing about fifteen minutes of intense hacky sack… after eating a ridiculously filling home-cooked meal. For others, it was yoga or a huddle or even a glass of milk. However individuals get ready, here are five unique ways to center and get excited as an ensemble.
The concept of a rule of three is great for writing, programming, and performing. I’ve devoted a post to each of those, but the performing side is particularly useful here. In a nutshell: ask the ensemble for three things to remember throughout the concert. If you ask for this consistently through a season or two, you’ll find ensembles will consider these beforehand and bring reoccurring themes to the table. Or you can consistently ask them for new ones, helping them to think creatively about their artistry.
The goal of this is to give ensemble members a sense of leadership but in the context of positive reinforcement. Assign a piece on the program to each section of the choir, have them split up and find a member of each other section, and tell them something their section does well for that piece. By voicing something they like about each other section alongside successes of their own on different pieces positions everyone in a supportive, confident performance atmosphere. It may take a bit of time, but it’s worth it in the end.
This is a wonderful exercise I learned from my friend Raymond Ocampo and his Chamber Choir at Linn Benton Community College. Every rehearsal they have a “hot seat” moment where a member sits down in front of the ensemble, closes their eyes, and listens as everyone else states supportive and meaningful words about them. I found this to be incredibly effective in creating a sense of community and encouragement, the perfect thing for individuals to feel right before walking onstage.
Sports use chants. Friends use handshakes. It’s human to create unique bonds through aural or physical connections. Find something common to you all and say or do it together. The introverts will have a place to regularly build and show confidence, and the outspoken leaders will find common ground with those they might not have yet noticed or heard.
Many of these offer verbal or physical cues to get everyone in a similar mindset, but there’s nothing greater than acknowledging that silence is an important part of a performer’s life. Whether a middle school young men’s choir or an advanced collegiate mixed ensemble, creating a culture where silence is celebrated can be an amazing thing. Form a circle, have someone read a quote, and stand for 30 seconds in silence with eyes closed. Better yet, if you have solidified a culture where silence is not taken for granted, ask everyone to keep eyes open and make a connection with another member of the ensemble. These momentary connections will last through an entire concert or longer if you forge them in a genuine space.
What do you use to build community or invigorate your ensemble before you head into a performance?
New Music as Teaching Tools