How many times have you been in a worship service and suddenly realized that you are thinking about something totally unrelated to the song you’re singing? Unfortunately, this is the case more often than you would like to admit. Too often, we dive into singing without properly focusing our minds and our hearts. This is the problem that Thomas Holm, professor of music at Northwestern, will be addressing during his presentation at the North Central Division of the American Choral Directors Association Regional Conference, which will be held in Sioux Falls this weekend, on Feb. 18-20.
The theme of this year’s conference is “The Director as Servant-Leader,” a theme that Holm regularly tries to implement into his work. As a director, Holm views it as his responsibility to help his singers flourish. One of the most important ways in which he does this is by helping his singers prepare, both mentally and physically, to sing well. Holm will be delivering a presentation that focuses on the initial warm-up process in rehearsal, which involves much more than simply preparing the vocal chords to sing.
“I’m trying to answer the question: ‘How do we get singers from the unfocused, distracted state they are in when they walk in the doors to a mindset in which they are ready to sing and ready to engage the music?’” Holm said. “This warm-up process is an important thing for a good rehearsal.”
At the conference, Holm will be working with the Lincoln High School Chamber Singers. These 16 singers will be helping Holm demonstrate different warm-up exercises during his presentation. In talking with his colleagues, Dr. Holm has discovered that most directors believe a good warm-up is essential for a good rehearsal, although each director approaches warm-ups in a different way.
In a choral setting, there is much more to think about while singing than merely the words being sung. It is important that the choir functions together as a unit, not as a conglomeration of different voices, and a good warm-up process forces each individual singer to think about how their voice contributes to the group as a whole.
As Holm warms up his choirs, he tries to do more than simply warm up the singers’ vocal ranges. He strives to find exercises which warm up their minds, causing them to think about things like resonance, intonation, and unity to set the tone for the rest of the rehearsal. He views the warmup process as a way to start the momentum that will build to a successful rehearsal.
Holm believes the idea of focusing the singers’ thoughts should apply to church worship services as well.
“When you come into a worship service, everyone has a different mindset,” Holm said. “I may have just come from Sunday school, and my wife sitting beside me may have just come from helping in the nursery, and we’re both thinking about different things. As a worship director, you need to think about helping everyone focus.”
Although it can be difficult to find unity with people who have different mindsets, Holm points out that unity is essential to finding and enjoying the abundant life that Christ promises us.