Properties of Magical Sectionals

Alto section leader and all around musical wizard Estelle Roux shares her tips on what constitutes a successful sectional… 

Just in case the word ‘sectional’ may as well be elvish to you:

Sectional rehearsals take place within each voice-group as a way for our singers to note-bash, rehearse voice-group-specific tricky bits without using up the choir’s time, ask questions, and get any extra attention that they may need or desire. Our section-leaders employ many different techniques: the sopranos play charades, the altos are magical and productive and sometimes consume baked goods, the tenors are under totalitarian control by their tyrannical dictator, and the basses… Well. No one knows what the basses do, exactly.

To me, step one of a productive sectional rehearsal is the vaaab. There should be good vibes a-plenty when sectionals take place, for one simple reason: the pressure is off. No scary Leon, no one judging you for any unanticipated screeching: there are much fewer people watching you and listening to you, so you can make all the mistakes you want without the fear of ridicule!

Now I know what you may be thinking: “Mistakes? No no no, mistakes are bad! We don’t want those!” Wrong. Mistakes are fantastic. Please make them. Or rather, don’t be scared of making them. The best thing about mistakes is that the more embarrassing and obvious they are, the less likely you are to make them again. And I much prefer making mistakes in sectionals than during a rehearsal or concert. What does frustrate a section leader is if a singer makes the same mistake over and over again. This brings me to step two.

Stationery. Stationery is so important, in life, and in music making. The more coloured pens you have, the better. Every detail you learn about the music that isn’t written in the score, should be written in for yourself. How else are you expected to remember when to breathe, or on which quaver the ‘t’ should go?! If things are written in the score and you forget to do them, it’s highlighter time. This way, every time a past mistake comes along, you have a written reminder never ever ever to do it again. And later, once your music is memorised, you’ll reminisce about the huge red ‘Shhh!’ written above bar 80. And you’ll smile. It’ll be great.

Making notes in one’s music is something that becomes a habit very gradually, as long as one is self-disciplined. Self-discipline’s also great as it prevents your section leader from getting nasty – this isn’t the military (one need not call one’s section leader “Ma’am” unless it’s a hilarious joke) but the better we work, the quicker we can finish what needs to be done. Keeping productive is really difficult at choir because you’re surrounded by a bunch of distractingly sweet darling people – but at the end of the day, we joined a choir so that we could sing in an ensemble.

I know that as a section leader, I get waaay too caught up in the music, and time somehow just slips by – and whoops, there’s two hours gone with no break. But I hope that infrequent batches of brownies make up for that. And there’s always the comforting thought of: “Yeah, maybe we do work the hardest. But we’re also the best. So it’s worth it.”

I am most proud when members of my voice group take what they have learned from one piece and apply it to another. Eventually, one develops instincts about the kind of approach music of a certain style needs, whether it be strong consonants or supported sound (quick tip: strong consonants and supported sound will basically always be important). One day I won’t be needed, and everyone will be able to make decisions about the nit-picky things for themselves. I kind of look forward to that day. Maybe I can take a nap.