photo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez
Are you wrong, or it it them? Actually, it (usually) doesn’t matter!
learning means making mistakesIt’s inevitable that when you learn a new song, you won’t get it exactly right the first time. Some singers pick things up more quickly than others so there will be times when not everyone is singing the same thing. Slowly everyone becomes more accurate until pretty much the whole choir is singing the same thing.
We don’t like the uncomfortable place where we’re not quite sure of what we’re doing and not knowing whether it’s us or others who are getting it ‘wrong’. I’ve written about this before in The importance of being confused. It’s a necessary stage to go through and can be very productive.
don’t take it too seriouslyA choir shouldn’t be like being back at school. Yes, we take the work seriously, but it can be done in a fun and light-hearted way. Some people react very strongly when they think they (or others) are singing the wrong note. They feel awful and that they might be punished or singled out. That won’t happen in any decent choir.
Some people end up giving themselves a really hard time because they expect to be perfect from the very start and never make mistakes. Get a perspective: it’s only a song. Singing a wrong note is not the end of the world.
seeing the bigger pictureIt’s not all about you. You may think that everyone in the choir (or audience) notices your wrong note. You believe that the whole song depends on just you hitting the right note. But actually you’re a very small part of the machine.
For any choir over about 30 singers, the occasional wrong note won’t be noticed by anybody outside – not the audience, not your choir leader and not the other singers. Choral singing is a team game and there is safety in numbers. Although every singer is important (see You are the most important singer in your choir), having many people singing together means that the overall impression is the most important thing, not any individual singer or note.
it’s not your job to tell talesIf someone else in your section sings a wrong note, it’s almost certain that people listening to the choir won’t notice. It’s not your job to point out to the singer that they’ve sung a wrong note (see Don’t try to help your fellow singers – it’s not your job!).
Neither is it your place to point it out to your choir leader. It amounts to tittle tattle and running to teacher. Focus on your own job. Take responsibility for your own singing and do the best that you can. Don’t tell tales.
embrace imperfectionChoral music is made by human beings who are not perfect creatures. It is impossible to ever sing a song perfectly (whatever that means). In fact, it’s the small and subtle differences between each singer in a choir which give the overall sound its richness and texture.
So stop aiming for perfection and enjoy the music that you are creating together (see Music lives in flawed humans and not on the page and We are not here to serve the music). Learn to love the occasional wrong note.
when singing the wrong note IS a bad thingIn some circumstances, singing the wrong note is just not on.
- putting people off – if someone is singing wrong notes and putting other people in their section off (either when learning/ rehearsing or in performance), then that can be a problem. It usually happens when an individual is not of the same standard as the majority of other singers. The solution is to take them to one side and give them some individual attention.
- singing very loudly – if someone is consistently ‘off’ and sings very loud it can stick out like a sore thumb, especially in performance. Have a quiet word and help them adjust their volume and/ or give them some individual attention to help them get it right.
- being the soloist – obviously if a singer has a solo slot in a song then they can really spoil the whole thing if they’re not spot on. Sometimes in performance it’s too late to correct them! I did a performance a while back when a soloist did the first verse then the choir joined in on the subsequent verses. The soloist launched in to a major version of the tune, when it should have been minor. Fortunately the choir got the song back on track when they came in and nobody in the audience noticed.
- singing in a small group – the smaller the group, the less the “safety in numbers” effect works. In any ensemble with, say, 20 singers or less, any wrong notes are most likely to be noticeable. Usually small ensembles like this are auditioned and work to a high standard, so if someone is regularly wrong, then it’s possible to ask them to leave.
So next time you find that you’re singing something different from the person standing next to you, think carefully about your reaction and don’t jump to conclusions!
you might also be interested in these posts
Singing out of tune isn’t always a bad thing
Dealing with individual singers in a large choir
In praise of imperfection in art
There’s always one! – coping with different singing abilities in a small group
How to be a good choir member