Should You Delegate the Warm-up?

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Some choral directors take the warm-up at the start of the rehearsal, while others delegate the task to an assistant director or vocal coach. And there are some quite dogmatic views in either direction that one or the other approach is better than the other. It would be quite easy to find a wishy-washy, it-depends kind of position on the matter, but actually I find that once you have identified what it depends on, I become somewhat opinionated once again!

So, the situation in which it is absolutely right for the director to take the warm-up is when the director is using it as part of the unfreezing process that sets up the choir’s capacity to effect change during the rehearsal. If the vision for the warm-up is that it is not merely about the physical readiness to sing but also about building the shared ethos of the ensemble, having the director there setting the agenda from the get-go gives a clear message that the warm-up is an integral part of the process.

If, on the other hand, there is someone available who has particular expertise in voice training, then it can be much better to hand over at least part of the warm-up function to them. (The same can be said of physical warm-ups, though this would generally only be part of the process as a whole.) This gives a slightly different role to the warm-up, but also sends a clear message about its function: priming the vocal mechanism so it’s ready to make music.

There are situations, however, in which it is absolutely wrong to delegate the warm-up. (See, I said I could get opinionated about it.) One is where the director thinks they are too important to do it. It’s a very different dynamic to be asked to take on the role because you have specific useful skills for that function, versus being asked to do it because it’s beneath the director’s dignity - and it undermines the effectiveness of the delegatee if they’re asked to do it for the wrong reason. Moreover, it only encourages the character trait you find in a few choir members that they turn up late because they ‘don’t need’ the (implicitly low-grade, plebeian) warm-up the rest of the choir is subject to.

Another is where you want to give experience to someone you are bringing on as a potential section leader or assistant director. Delegate other bits of the rehearsal to them by all means (indeed, please do!), but if they aren’t already fluent in the skills needed to warm up a choir, don’t make the entire rehearsal experience of everyone else there hostage to their learning curve.

I have argued before that the warm-up is the most important part of the rehearsal. I don’t really mind who leads it, so long as the decision is driven by that fundamental principle.

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