It’s year’s end and thoughts turn to the year that’s just gone (The 10 most popular posts of 2009) and hopes for the year to come.
I do hope it will be a happy new year, but also a productive, fulfilling and successful one. Which got me thinking: what do I want to change next year? What do I want to achieve? Are there new things I could try that I’ve been putting off?
These are ten things that I came up with. Maybe some of them will resonate with you too.
more ‘theatrical’ concerts2010 will be the 15th anniversary of the birth of Woven Chords, the community choir that I lead. I took over as musical director 10 years ago, so that’s two birthdays this year! To celebrate, our spring concert in March will be in a ‘proper’ theatre with lighting, wings, raised stage, etc. – something we’ve not done before.
I want to create a performance that is not just a choir standing still (or jiggling a bit) on stage singing (What are you looking at?). I’d like to play with the dynamics, groupings, entrances & exits, lighting, etc. to make for a more theatrical show.
Nothing too adventurous (or scary for the singers!) but something a little different in order to put on a proper entertaining ‘show’ with a few surprises for the audience. Nothing gimmicky, but not ‘just’ a concert.
QUESTION: have you ever performed in or attended a choral concert which was out of the ordinary in some way?
professional developmentSome years ago, at this same time of year, I went on a weekend musicians’ retreat. It was a chance to reflect on our career, our practice, our future, etc.
There was a disparate group of musicians from a range of backgrounds, but we had one important thing in common. When the facilitator asked us what we did for our professional development, she was met with a sea of bemused faces!
She told us that it was important for us to always be developing and growing as musicians and that it was all too easy for our day job to get in the way. Either we didn’t make time, or thought that we had nothing new to learn.
This was a real eye-opener for me. When was the last time I’d attended a workshop as a regular punter? When was the last time I’d read a book or article on choirs and singing? When was I going to make time to go and learn more about teaching rhythm for example?
So that following year I attended several excellent workshops and not only learnt new songs and new approaches, but also learnt a lot about being on the receiving end and how workshop leaders work effectively. And I read a lot of books and articles too.
But I’ve slipped off the wagon once more and haven’t made enough time for my own professional development. Not only does it rejuvenate my own practice, but it’s a wonderful break from feeling that I’m giving out all the time.
QUESTION: what are you going to do next year to develop your own practice as a singer or choir leader?
engage more with readersEver since I started this blog I’ve always intended it to be a dialogue. I have so much to learn and this is a way of putting ideas out there and (I hope) getting useful responses (Looking back – a year of blogging).
I know a lot of you get something out of reading my blog because you’ve told me so. I also know that a lot of you are ‘lurkers’ – you enjoy reading, but don’t feel moved to ever leave a comment.
I’m going to make more of an effort this year to engage more with you, the readers. Not sure how yet! Any suggestions gratefully received. It can get a bit lonely some times!
One thing I’m definitely going to do is to leave more comments on other blogs. After all, I need to put my money where my mouth is!
QUESTION: what is stopping you from leaving a comment?
develop more social networksAlthough I’ve been using the internet since 1975 (wow! it was called the Arpanet then), I’m still no expert. I have a Facebook page and I dabble on Twitter, but I haven’t really investigated sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, etc. I want to try to exploit sites like this more in order to create a sense of community online.
Singing in a choir is one of the most popular hobbies in the world, and yet it’s hard to find that many choral singers on Twitter for example. I know you’re all out there, it’s just a matter of finding you all!
QUESTION: do you have any experience using social networks that you can pass on? If you’re already in one of these networks, how about connecting with me there?
get more guest blog postsLast year I was privileged to have guest posts from David Burbidge, Alexander Massey and Deb Viney. That was three more guest posts than the previous two years!
Sometimes I get bored with the sound of my own voice! It’s also nice to get a different perspective on a subject, or to hear from someone on a subject that I don’t know much about.
So . . . even if you’re ‘just’ a singer in a choir, or you come from a non-Western singing culture, or you have a background in percussion, or the last concert you attended was particularly special – I’d like to hear from you.
You don’t have to write much (I tend to have verbal diarrhoea so don’t use me as a role model!), just write from the heart. Drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know that you’d like to write a guest post.
QUESTION: what are you passionate about that you could write a short article on?
re-evaluate exactly what I doAm I simply a teacher of songs or a community builder or a singing enabler? Maybe I’m all these things.
I’ve been doing this singing lark for over ten years now so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what I do. Perhaps it’s time for a complete change or at least a change of focus.
I’m pretty sure I don’t do this because I’m only interested in, say, health or community. For example, I personally wouldn’t get much pleasure from leading unison singing in an old people’s home.
But I’m not just in it for the end product otherwise I’d be running a sight-reading choir and churning out songs by the dozen.
I do know that I love what is called ‘World Music’, especially the harmonies of Eastern Europe and the rhythms of Africa. I also know that I like to work in a relaxed, non-threatening, fun way and not to be always focused on performance. Beyond that . . . I’ll just have to see!
QUESTION: what is the most important reason that you either attend or lead a choir?
run less pop song workshopsOnce upon a time I was struggling to get more people to join WorldSong. I realised that if I collared an average person on the street, they would know nothing of the singing traditions of the Republic of Georgia (Georgia on my mind), they would probably be put off by the idea of singing in foreign languages, and they would maybe think choirs were posh and only for people who read music.
So I invented a range of populist workshops that I hoped anyone could respond to: Beatles acappella, Beach Boys bonanza, The Paul Simon songbook, etc. They were all very successful, and many people who attended these workshops ended up joining the choir (and learnt to love Georgian singing!). So much so, that the choir became full and we had to set up a waiting list.
But now, all these years later, I have become known for these more populist workshops and it’s become a bit of an albatross around my neck. I enjoy running the workshops occasionally, but I don’t get nearly enough opportunities to teach the kinds of songs that I really love.
It would be great to become known more for world music workshops than pop song workshops! Workshops like Songs on the Eastern Wind and World Songs.
QUESTION: have you ever been labelled in a way that became restrictive? How did you change the situation?
re-design the blogWhen I started this blog way back in December 2006 (Choirs are becoming cool!), I didn’t know much about using Blogger. I used WorldSong’s red and black theme as a basis and threw together a quick design. Over time I’ve added more and more widgets to the blog too.
During this time I’ve set up my own website (ChrisRowbury.com) with a clear and simple design which I’d like reflected in this blog. The main problem is finding the time to do it all!
Since I’m not a full-time blogger or website designer, I have to find time amongst all my other higher priority commitments to get down to re-designing the blog. It’s all about priorities and trying to create an eight-day week! Do I migrate to the more flexible WordPress platform or do I design my own template or modify and existing Blogger theme? Time will tell!
There are a couple of issues here: how we prioritise all the different types of work that we need to do as freelancers (The job of being a choir leader) and whether we can afford to pay someone to do work for us – website design, publicity, PR, etc.
QUESTION: do you have any hints on how I might best re-design this blog to make it easier to use and nicer to look at?
attract more audiences for choral musicWe had a new guy join the basses this term. He persuaded his partner to come and watch Woven Chords’ Christmas concert.
Apparently she had said: “I don’t like choral music!”, but ended up having a great evening, played our CD all the next day, and even gave her Mum a CD for Christmas!
We often come across this: if we can just manage to get people through the door, they usually end up really enjoying themselves. But so many people get put of by words like ‘choir’ and ‘choral’ (Avoiding the ‘C’ word). If they do eventually get to a concert, they often say: “Oh, that’s what you do! Not what I expected at all.” (It does exactly what it says in the blurb – or not!)
Does that mean that all our publicity was simply wrong? How do we describe what we do in order to get people to give our kind of music a go (Fitting into the right musical box)? How can we attract more (and younger) people to our concerts (Who is our audience?)? How do we dispel out-of-date preconceptions?
QUESTION: how do you publicise your own concerts and do you have any tips on how to widen your audience base?
regularly reflect on and evaluate my own working methodsIt’s not enough to reflect on our practice just once a year, it’s something that should be done on a regular basis.
Every new term I try to introduce new warm ups, new challenges, new approaches so that we’re always developing and not becoming complacent (Fighting habit and complacency). But this coming year I want to try and challenge many of the implicit assumptions I make.
Why only acappella? Why world music? Am I a community musician or just a teacher of songs? Am I just interested in the end product? Why don’t I ever use written music?
QUESTION: are there any assumptions you make about singing in a choir that maybe you’re not aware of?
So there we have it: my (professional) New Year resolutions for 2010.
Happy New Year and may all your own
hopes and dreams come true in 2010!
Chris Rowbury's website: chrisrowbury.com