The Competitor's Edge

In this edition, the focus is <b>rehearsal</b>.

Drill, baby, drill.

While it’s still not the ordinary state of affairs, it’s also not particularly uncommon to see a group win an ICCA quarterfinal and wrap up the show with an encore that reprises one of their competition songs. I have a buddy who <i>hates</i> when groups do that, insistent that any group worthy of competing at the semifinal level should have at least four songs in its back pocket. I respectfully disagree.

Sure, I enjoy it more when a group performs something new at the end of the night, but I also maintain that a group that is serious about competing is well within its rights to pour its heart and soul into the three or four songs of the competition set. After all, if you don’t have those songs as polished as they can be, what hope do you have of <i>getting</i> to perform an encore as champions?

Group members may complain about getting bored, drilling the same twelve minutes of music over and over and over again. They may say it’s not fun anymore. And that’s fine. Preparing for competition is about hard work, and the fun of succeeding in competition is a rich reward.

Put in the hours.

Most people who sing in a cappella groups are busy. If you’re in a scholastic group, you’re balancing long days of class and homework with your obligations to your a cappella group. If you’re in a post-collegiate or semi-pro group, you’re probably squeezing in a cappella between a full-time job and time with your family and friends. And if you’re in a professional group, you’re probably working your butt off to achieve a level of performance that allows you to sing full time.

It’s perfectly understandable for a group to only rehearse for an hour or two a week under normal circumstances. But when it comes time for competition, and assembling a brief, representative set of music that will show off the very best your group has to offer, there’s really no substitute for time: spending enough time to be truly focused on the music, working as a group to the point that you <i>know</i> one another and every quirk of how the unit sings, singing enough iterations to recognize and resolve every arrangement issue or point when the tempo or blend falls apart.

Stay positive.

Yes, this post has been heavy on the concepts of focus and hard work, and those principles are important when a group prepares to compete. The risk of long hours and many iterations of the same music, though, is that group can grow dispirited. If a group loses its passion for the music or for performing together it’s <i>very</i> difficult to get an audience to feel that passion either. Great groups not only work hard but stay positive: they thank everyone for the time and effort they’re investing in the process, they focus everyone on the same goal, and they remember to have fun—still joking with one another, grabbing a bite after rehearsal, and offering to support if they see someone getting too stressed out to enjoy the experience.

How have you gotten the most out of rehearsals? Where have you seen groups go wrong? Let us know in the comments.