The Triage Method of Rehearsal Management
Don’t you love it when the project is too big and the rehearsal time available is too short? Yeah, that’s always fun, huh? But bring it on! That’s just what we have to do sometimes. Those are the times in which we need to tactfully employ the proper rehearsal management techniques. I am an expert in … well … nothing really comes to mind. But I do employ a simple strategy that is helpful in my instrumental and vocal rehearsals.
I know that the word “triage” can be thought of as reactive rather than proactive in some leadership roles. It’s a point well taken. However, when a rehearsal is pressing and time is short, I still use this method as a way to make sure I don’t miss the basics.
In the medical profession triage is basically the sorting of patients according to the urgency of their needs. However, I keep this premise in mind as I carry out my rehearsals. Like many of you, I am a local church staff minister responsible for developing a plan, organizing, and leading music rehearsals in preparation for worship gatherings each weekend. With the number of musicians involved, coupled with the rapid pace in which we have to learn songs, the rehearsal time can be quite a challenge.
I know this just common sense, no cutting-edge new concept, or my stunning brilliance on display. However, this concept still serves me well as I go through the paces of an average rehearsal.
So, here are several key points to the triage method on which I try to focus:
- Prioritize the elements of the rehearsal prior to meeting with your team members
“Well, duh! That’s rehearsal 101!” Yeah, I know, but let’s just make sure that we are familiar with what songs, or specific passages are likely to be more difficult, or might require more time and attention. I try to have those well in the forefront of my thinking before I begin.
- Continue to prioritize or make changes to those priorities as you begin and implement your rehearsal.
This is one of the big keys to the success of the rehearsal. As the time with my team progresses, I will see various elements take shape more quickly than I had envisioned, and likewise, other elements that take longer than expected. So, on the spot, during the process of the rehearsal, I adjust the time that must be allocated to each. (Now we’re really into rocket science, huh?) Stay with me…
- Keep your rehearsal non-negotiables in the forefront of your thinking.
As I’m sure you do, I have a baseline for the minimum standard that the completed song should be. That doesn’t mean that we’re content with a minimum standard. We aren’t. It just means that the first priorities are the things that will help us arrive at the minimum standard ASAP. Once that minimum is reached, we have the freedom to take it far beyond that point. For us, some of the primary non-negotiables are basic notes, rhythms, intros and endings of songs, and being able to block through a very basic, but correct version of the song as soon as we can. A lot of good worship leaders are inexperienced worship leaders and drop the ball here resulting in incomplete rehearsals so….
- Don’t focus on the shiny bells and whistles until you have correctly built the train.
This is one of the harder parts. This is where you can be misunderstood by your team members. I am fortunate to work with quite a few gifted musicians. They will frequently have an idea about a musical passage that, if implemented correctly, would be a cool addition to the song. This is where the triage method is essential and really kicks in. Remember, you are still making changes to priorities in your rehearsal items as you move along through the process. So if someone does bring up a nice idea, or even raises a question that takes us away from the desired path, I have to immediately make two decisions:
- Is this a good idea that will add value to this song/rehearsal?
- If, so, do I have enough time to implement the idea and still bring all of the other songs of the rehearsal up to a minimum performance standard?
This can be frustrating for your team members because many times their idea may indeed be a good one. However, if I allowed the time to implement the idea, there would not be enough time to complete the entire project.
Illustration: Let’s say that we have a rehearsal in which five songs must be completed, and I allow too much time putting the spit and polish or adding new production ideas on the first two songs of the rehearsal. Then, quite possibly, we can end up with two songs completed far above a basic level of necessity, and really sound awesome! However, I’ve only allowed time for the other three songs to be quickly thrown together and pretty much below what our standard of excellence should be.
Therefore, in the past 25 years I’ve said no to many good ideas, or at least postponed the idea, or put off someone’s question, not because it wasn’t an excellent one, but because there simply wasn’t time available for it to be addressed.
Remember, in the triage mindset, your priorities as the leader will constantly recalibrate as you process the incoming information. Therefore, my standard answer now is something like this, “That’s a good idea! Let’s get through all that we must accomplish, and if we have time after that we can take a look at it.” Hopefully, as a leader, I will have built enough influence and trust with my team that they will respect that. And ……. yes, there are the times when an idea is so good, that we cut other songs or items or make the necessary trade-offs to implement the idea. etc. A good leader will have to be ready and willing to make that call occasionally as well. Remember, the Holy Spirit should still the ultimate director of triage!
So, as simple as it sounds, I hope this helps. When the rehearsal time is short and the set list is large – prioritize and continue to prioritize as your lead your team through the rehearsal process. And let your mind constantly recalibrate those priorities according to how the rehearsal flow progresses. Yes, leave room for creativity of team members, but also realize that it’s the leader’s responsibility to keep the team on the task to complete the primary objectives that will lead to the greatest overall success for your worship service. For that, I think that the triage method has served me well.
Triage. It’s a simple word, but hey, I am simple minded…. Maybe it will help you.
Blessings to you, and lead well!
Brian Sloan has served for over 13 years as Worship Pastor of Chestnut Mountain Church in Flowery Branch, GA. He has a degree in Music Education from NGCSU and serves on the Board of Education in Hall County, GA.