Sunday, November 18, 2007

Parts creep (or why there are always too many altos)

Does anybody else have this problem with their choir? Please say you do, and please say you have a sensible solution – it’s driving me nuts!

Partly because we’re a community choir, partly because of the kind of material we do, but mainly because I think it’s good for people to exercise the whole of their vocal range, I encourage people to swap parts for different songs. We don’t stick to the normal soprano/ alto/ tenor/ bass categories (we're never too high, and not too low!) and I don’t allocate people to a fixed part or role. We don’t use seats so people are free to move around. Some songs have three parts, some five or more, some the ‘standard’ four. Not everyone is present every week for a variety of reasons. This is the background to the problem.

When we first start learning a song I try to make sure each part is made up of roughly an equal number of people. The weeks go by, people come and go, I fit people who missed the first week into a part that is a little thin on the ground. Then suddenly, out of the blue, one week (usually when a concert is looming) EVERYONE seems to be singing alto! There are no tenors to speak of, the tops look pretty thin on the ground, and the basses are the usual suspects. This is parts creep. When I turn around people sneak from their part to another part without telling me. They do it on purpose (I'm sure of this!). What was once a supremely balanced and orderly choir is now entirely out of kilter. And they deny it! “I thought you guys were all singing tops when we started?” “Oh, no, we’ve always been altos for this song”. And so it goes.

Of course, some people are in the ‘wrong’ part, some people deny ever having learnt the song in the first place, and some are just doing it (I’m sure of this too!) to wind me up. What’s worse – yes, even worse – is that then half the tops tell me that they can’t even do the concert after all!!!!!

Apart from nailing people’s feet to the ground, labelling them with a barcode on their forehead, making them wear different coloured shirts to represent the different parts, compelling everyone to learn every part of every song equally well, forcing the excess altos at gun point to rejoin the tops, or even culling the spare voices, what does one do?? Suggestions on a postcard, or click ‘comment’ below. PLEASE!!!

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