Count singing as a method of learning music is something I learned (as did countless [forgive the pun] other choral directors) from Robert Shaw. Mr. Shaw knew how to run an enormously efficient and productive choral rehearsal, always careful to save our voices for performance rather than squandering them during rehearsal. One of his methods for accomplishing this was to use the concept of “count singing” during much of a rehearsal, and especially during the first few rehearsals of a work. The idea was to save the words until much later in the rehearsal process, concentrating instead on the pitches and rhythms provided by the composer. Mr. Shaw’s goal was to do everything he could to ensure that we honored the composer by singing exactly what he or she had put on the page. I’ve never known a conductor who took this more seriously. We would usually sing the primary beats (substituting a “t” for three) along with their divisions, e.g., 1 & 2 & t & 4 & for a piece in 4/4 time. Should the piece have a lot of 16th notes, we might sing 1 ee & uh 2 ee & uh, etc., or 1 & 2 & t & 4 & twice in the measure (to keep down the confusion of “ee” and “uh.” For those of you acquainted with count singing, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who have not encountered it, I hope this at least gives an idea of how it is done.
MOS has now completed its first two rehearsals of the Brahms Requiem. We will have approximately ten rehearsals to learn the piece, and for that reason every rehearsal minute must be used wisely. While I am a big fan of count singing, I don’t usually use it to the extent that Mr. Shaw did. However, in these first two rehearsals we have sung almost entirely with numbers and that will continue for the next several rehearsals. I can think of no better way to attempt to do justice to this masterpiece than to begin with correct pitches and rhythms.
I’m interested in hearing from my readers (both MOS members and others) about your opinion of count singing. Have you found it helpful? If so, why? If not, why? If you’re a conductor, do you use count singing, and, if so, how often? Whether you’re a singer or a conductor, how do you like to approach a new piece of music if you do not use count singing?
OK, let the ideas start rolling in (but if you’re a member of MOS, make sure to spend some of your time rehearsing your part!).