Following a wonderfully uplifting Elgar programme in May, our main challenge for the summer and beyond is Bach’s Magnificat. I’ll cut to the chase: there are lots of runs, at great speed, and this piece is going to be technically challenging for the choir. But before we even get to that point, there is the not-inconsiderable challenge of learning the notes themselves! Whether we are singing, or playing the piano or the clarinet, the ideal is that we know all of the notes so well that we are not still trying to work them out during performance! So our first stages of rehearsal will be twofold – learning the music (ie how it is put together, how it works) and learning to sing the notes SLOWLY. Slowly enough so that we are not taking constant wrong turns, so that we travel the same path again and again until we know exactly where the line goes, and begin to follow that line almost without thinking. The joy of slow practice is that we can get it right! It might seem an awfully long way from the final tempo, but we will get there in due course – much better to be sure of the notes than to be trying to correct problems at a much faster speed. From a technical point of view, semi-quaver runs are physically demanding. However, once the slow practice is done and we actually know which direction we are heading in at any moment, we will have one less thing to think and worry about. So often, successful practice is about breaking down a challenge into more manageable tasks.
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