Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Over-Rehearsing

A funny thing happened on the way to the worship service the other night…

We had a night of worship scheduled for Wednesday evening, and along came a perfect storm. My presentation coordinator had been out sick, so I had to devote some of my normal prep time to getting ProPresenter set up for the volunteer who agreed to come in at the last minute. There were a few last-minute changes to the band that I needed to accommodate, and it was a big band at that. To fit everything into the M-48s, I had to get creative, which meant patching took longer than usual.

As we got closer to sound check, the band was all really (and rather uncharacteristically) late. Sound check started late, and we had some issues I needed to troubleshoot. The bigger band and significantly larger vocal team (along with a few last-minute changes) led to a longer sound check than normal. So by the time we got to rehearsing, we were a good hour behind. Oh, and the start time was based on a 7:00 PM start—except the service started at 6:30. 

For a service like that, where we will do a solid dozen songs, we like to have four to four and a half hours of rehearsal time. Last week we had three. I know I felt like I wasn’t fully prepared for the lights to go down when we started, and in talking to the band afterwards, they weren’t quite ready either. But something amazing happened.

It all came together. More importantly, it all came together at the same time in front of the congregation. I was talking with our MD about this afterward, and we both noted a few interesting things. First, we had a much larger crowd than we usually do for these. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it was a little more risky for the band, and for me.

On a normal weekend (or night of worship, for that matter), we rehearse enough to really get the songs and arrangements down, I have my snapshots dialed in, and we all press “play,” so to speak. But that night, we were still bringing it together as we went; and it was magical!

That experience has gotten me thinking about how we approach the rehearsal process. I certainly wouldn’t advocate showing up completely unprepared, or skipping rehearsal altogether. But I wonder if we sometimes get it too dialed in. 

I know by the time I get to the 11 PM service on Sunday, I have my snapshots so dialed in, I can pretty much just hit “next” all morning. I still mix, but I don’t have that much to do. And that’s because by the 11, we’ve run the song five times that weekend (three times in two different rehearsals, and twice in services). I don’t know what to do about that, but there is definite difference between what we experienced on Wednesday than what normally happens on a Sunday. 

Now, certainly there are other factors involved as well. God is clearly doing something in our congregation right now, and we can’t discount that. The larger band naturally led to more energy (and SPL) than usual. A full house (complete with the whole Jr. High group) also added to the experience. 

But I really believe the raw and fresh nature of the songs that were not over-rehearsed really helped as well. 

I’m still processing this, and I’d like to explore it more. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with any of this, but it felt like something worth sharing. I’d like to hear from you; what is your experience with this? Can we suck some of the life out of a service by over-rehearsing or being too dialed in?

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14 Comments

  1. jweather@xidus.net

    I feel like we have a good balance between over- and under-rehearsing… our Sunday services are rehearsed thoroughly on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, with planned-out transitions and relatively few last-minute surprises. There's plenty of time to plan out a roadmap for each song's dynamics and cues. Our biweekly Friday night services have three times as much music, and get 1/3 of the rehearsal time, right before the service. The band frequently just plays the first verse of the familiar songs to get the feel. Mixing is almost completely seat-of-the-pants, as setlists and song roadmaps change on the fly. But the emphasis is on spirit-led worship rather than polished production, and it works. I love mixing the Friday services, but there's more time to experiment and improve on Sundays. Best of both worlds, really. I will say the Friday services can get a little stressful in Monitor World, though, and there's basically no margin for equipment failures or troubleshooting.

  2. jweather@xidus.net

    I feel like we have a good balance between over- and under-rehearsing… our Sunday services are rehearsed thoroughly on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, with planned-out transitions and relatively few last-minute surprises. There's plenty of time to plan out a roadmap for each song's dynamics and cues. Our biweekly Friday night services have three times as much music, and get 1/3 of the rehearsal time, right before the service. The band frequently just plays the first verse of the familiar songs to get the feel. Mixing is almost completely seat-of-the-pants, as setlists and song roadmaps change on the fly. But the emphasis is on spirit-led worship rather than polished production, and it works. I love mixing the Friday services, but there's more time to experiment and improve on Sundays. Best of both worlds, really. I will say the Friday services can get a little stressful in Monitor World, though, and there's basically no margin for equipment failures or troubleshooting.

  3. jweather@xidus.net

    I feel like we have a good balance between over- and under-rehearsing… our Sunday services are rehearsed thoroughly on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, with planned-out transitions and relatively few last-minute surprises. There's plenty of time to plan out a roadmap for each song's dynamics and cues. Our biweekly Friday night services have three times as much music, and get 1/3 of the rehearsal time, right before the service. The band frequently just plays the first verse of the familiar songs to get the feel. Mixing is almost completely seat-of-the-pants, as setlists and song roadmaps change on the fly. But the emphasis is on spirit-led worship rather than polished production, and it works. I love mixing the Friday services, but there's more time to experiment and improve on Sundays. Best of both worlds, really. I will say the Friday services can get a little stressful in Monitor World, though, and there's basically no margin for equipment failures or troubleshooting.

  4. jweather@xidus.net

    I feel like we have a good balance between over- and under-rehearsing… our Sunday services are rehearsed thoroughly on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, with planned-out transitions and relatively few last-minute surprises. There's plenty of time to plan out a roadmap for each song's dynamics and cues. Our biweekly Friday night services have three times as much music, and get 1/3 of the rehearsal time, right before the service. The band frequently just plays the first verse of the familiar songs to get the feel. Mixing is almost completely seat-of-the-pants, as setlists and song roadmaps change on the fly. But the emphasis is on spirit-led worship rather than polished production, and it works. I love mixing the Friday services, but there's more time to experiment and improve on Sundays. Best of both worlds, really. I will say the Friday services can get a little stressful in Monitor World, though, and there's basically no margin for equipment failures or troubleshooting.

  5. bettafish@gmail.com

    One of my favorite church services happened during a "perfect storm" kind of moment as well. From a tech perspective, we were using a temporary console while our other one was getting repaired. The console had been installed earlier in the day and was mostly untested (rehearsal was the test) due to time constraints. We were also in the middle of transitioning TD's and most of the tech team had been put together with some last minute calls that afternoon. On the band's side, there were a lot of real life kinda things going on that were stressful as well.

    On Sunday, there was a bit of a timing issue (our pastor was driving back to the second service from our other campus to deliver the message) and we were going to decide on stage whether or not we would perform a song. Needless to say, there was a lot of "winging it" going on for the entire time. However, it turned out to be my favorite services that happened.

    A similar story out of church happened just recently too. I was scheduled to do some recording but didn't get started till very late. On top of it all, I had a driver issue with one of my interfaces and an external preamp just stopped working, as well as shortages of XLR cable and mic stands (best laid plans and all that). Despite the very haphazard setup of everything, it still turned out to be one of the better recordings that I've ever gotten.

    So yes, sometimes a lot of good comes out of improv, perhaps we need to let the chaos part of our brains take over a little more often :p

  6. bettafish@gmail.com

    One of my favorite church services happened during a "perfect storm" kind of moment as well. From a tech perspective, we were using a temporary console while our other one was getting repaired. The console had been installed earlier in the day and was mostly untested (rehearsal was the test) due to time constraints. We were also in the middle of transitioning TD's and most of the tech team had been put together with some last minute calls that afternoon. On the band's side, there were a lot of real life kinda things going on that were stressful as well.

    On Sunday, there was a bit of a timing issue (our pastor was driving back to the second service from our other campus to deliver the message) and we were going to decide on stage whether or not we would perform a song. Needless to say, there was a lot of "winging it" going on for the entire time. However, it turned out to be my favorite services that happened.

    A similar story out of church happened just recently too. I was scheduled to do some recording but didn't get started till very late. On top of it all, I had a driver issue with one of my interfaces and an external preamp just stopped working, as well as shortages of XLR cable and mic stands (best laid plans and all that). Despite the very haphazard setup of everything, it still turned out to be one of the better recordings that I've ever gotten.

    So yes, sometimes a lot of good comes out of improv, perhaps we need to let the chaos part of our brains take over a little more often :p

  7. pochsner@yahoo.com

    Yes I would say that if going over and over rehearsals is causing people to get figity and tired, plus making people feel like it is expected to be perfect and we won't stop until it is, and then it needs to be better still when done for real, this could maybe do the opposite to making people feel comfortable, they could possibly become too scared stiff to do their best!. Chill a little!….go get an iced green tea!.

  8. pochsner@yahoo.com

    Yes I would say that if going over and over rehearsals is causing people to get figity and tired, plus making people feel like it is expected to be perfect and we won't stop until it is, and then it needs to be better still when done for real, this could maybe do the opposite to making people feel comfortable, they could possibly become too scared stiff to do their best!. Chill a little!….go get an iced green tea!.

  9. pochsner@yahoo.com

    Yes I would say that if going over and over rehearsals is causing people to get figity and tired, plus making people feel like it is expected to be perfect and we won't stop until it is, and then it needs to be better still when done for real, this could maybe do the opposite to making people feel comfortable, they could possibly become too scared stiff to do their best!. Chill a little!….go get an iced green tea!.

  10. pochsner@yahoo.com

    Yes I would say that if going over and over rehearsals is causing people to get figity and tired, plus making people feel like it is expected to be perfect and we won't stop until it is, and then it needs to be better still when done for real, this could maybe do the opposite to making people feel comfortable, they could possibly become too scared stiff to do their best!. Chill a little!….go get an iced green tea!.

  11. mamarshall001@gmail.com

    Great post! i had something like this happen to me not too long ago. we were doing a full production of a symphony at the school i attend. It was the first time we had ever attempted something of this size. i am a bit of a perfectionist, so it wasn't quite up to my standards, but i finally realized that i need to just let go. I realized that while we are a professional production staff, that it was the first time many ppl on our team had done something of this size. the rehearsals were coming together, but by the time of the show, they still weren't ready to preform. we were having a few problems with lighting and video. i soon realized right before the concert that i need to just let it run… It turned out to be one of the best shows i have ever been a part of and went off without a hitch! i do believe that rehearsal is a vital part of what we do, but i also believe that we can over rehearse sometimes. this sometimes hinders us from letting the production, music, ect ect.. breathe. i have also learned that most things we do that are over rehearsed, have very little wiggle room, if/when something goes wrong. i think there is a fine line in this, but i also believe that sometimes, we need to just let go. i have found the same thing to be true in worship as well. God will speak to whomever He wants and how He wants. it's our place to bring this to the congregation, but its not our place to get in the way of letting God speak. i have learned in worship that sometimes if we let God take control over the rehearsal/service, including the ones that we haven't rehearsed enough, that He will always come through and bring things together.

  12. mamarshall001@gmail.com

    Great post! i had something like this happen to me not too long ago. we were doing a full production of a symphony at the school i attend. It was the first time we had ever attempted something of this size. i am a bit of a perfectionist, so it wasn't quite up to my standards, but i finally realized that i need to just let go. I realized that while we are a professional production staff, that it was the first time many ppl on our team had done something of this size. the rehearsals were coming together, but by the time of the show, they still weren't ready to preform. we were having a few problems with lighting and video. i soon realized right before the concert that i need to just let it run… It turned out to be one of the best shows i have ever been a part of and went off without a hitch! i do believe that rehearsal is a vital part of what we do, but i also believe that we can over rehearse sometimes. this sometimes hinders us from letting the production, music, ect ect.. breathe. i have also learned that most things we do that are over rehearsed, have very little wiggle room, if/when something goes wrong. i think there is a fine line in this, but i also believe that sometimes, we need to just let go. i have found the same thing to be true in worship as well. God will speak to whomever He wants and how He wants. it's our place to bring this to the congregation, but its not our place to get in the way of letting God speak. i have learned in worship that sometimes if we let God take control over the rehearsal/service, including the ones that we haven't rehearsed enough, that He will always come through and bring things together.

  13. andrewh.mail@gmail.com

    I think there is much to be said about putting less emphasize on rehearsal. Our church has no midweek rehearsal and we only practice for an 1 1/2 before service. Of course we don't have a huge team onstage (5-6 at most) but things always slide into place every week. We also have the advantage of every member of the team either having been or currently being a worship leader of a church, so we seem to have an intuition that keeps us all on the same page. I'm sure that if we had more time to rehearse throughout the week our technical abilities would improve even more, which would be awesome.

    I think, most important of all these things is we are all great friends. The relationships we have with each other outside of church allows for a greater sense of understanding and "tightness" on stage and FOH. I love our team!

  14. andrewh.mail@gmail.com

    I think there is much to be said about putting less emphasize on rehearsal. Our church has no midweek rehearsal and we only practice for an 1 1/2 before service. Of course we don't have a huge team onstage (5-6 at most) but things always slide into place every week. We also have the advantage of every member of the team either having been or currently being a worship leader of a church, so we seem to have an intuition that keeps us all on the same page. I'm sure that if we had more time to rehearse throughout the week our technical abilities would improve even more, which would be awesome.

    I think, most important of all these things is we are all great friends. The relationships we have with each other outside of church allows for a greater sense of understanding and "tightness" on stage and FOH. I love our team!

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