Monday, February 26, 2018

Effective ways to make a song more interesting for your audience

Sometimes choirs think it’s enough to sing a song well. They stand in static rows and sing the whole thing from start to finish.

choir on steps
photo by John Cummings

But that can be like watching paint dry. You need to create some interest if you’re going to keep your audience interested. Here are some simple ideas that might help.

You’ve spent ages working on a song and you’re chuffed that it sounds great and you’ve got it right. You want to share it with an audience because you’re proud of what you’ve done.

But if you just sing the song with all its harmonies from the first verse right through to verse nine, then it’s a bit like having a meal when everything is put on the plate at the same time.

You need to find a structure that’s going to show your work at its best. You want to entice the audience in, take them on a journey and even surprise them.

It’s not hard to take even the simplest song and find interesting ways of presenting it to an audience.

Here are some ideas which may help.

unison singing

Even if you’re singing an unaccompanied song in unison, there are a few things you can do to create variation.

In a mixed choir, get men and women to sing alternate verses. You can also play with solos and small groups. Think about adding simple drones. Try spacing the singers out in different ways and perhaps have singers come on at different times.

building up

I always love to build songs. There are several ways you can do this.

  • number of singers – start with a solo voice, add a few more on the next verse. Then bring another section in to begin adding harmonies, and so on. You can either begin with all singers on stage, or my preference is to have singers enter when it becomes their turn to sing.
  • adding harmonies – build the harmonies up as the song goes along. Have the song begin in unison, then add a harmony on verse two, a further harmony on verse three, and so on. When all the harmonies are in you might add a solo or some kind of descant. Don’t you can also add a unison verse for variety.
  • big finish or quiet ending? – if you decide to build harmonies as you go along, how do you end the song? If it’s a very emotional, haunting song, you can have the last verse sung by a quartet if you want to bring the mood right back down. Or go for the big finish by waiting until the last verse until everyone is finally singing. The song will naturally build to a loud climax.
  • create an atmosphere – it can be very effective to build a specific atmosphere before you even start singing. A great way to do this is the use of drones with the singers off-stage. Gradually build up an interesting chord that reflects the mood of the song, then add the vocals. Or you can so the same with instruments before the singers arrive. And don’t forget simple lighting effects.

using the space

You don’t need to get into ‘choralography’ to create interesting stage pictures. Here are some simple ideas you might try:

  • enter singing – don’t start with your singers on stage, but have them entering singing. Make sure you rehearse this well because it’s so easy for parts to slip and the timing to go out! You can also end a concert effectively by singing as the choir exits.
  • hide some singers – you can have one part start the song whilst standing behind the audience or maybe up in the gallery or hidden in a corridor if the acoustics work. This can create an atmosphere then the main body of singers can enter the stage then the part that started can join later.
  • surround sound – I’ve often done this with simple, effective rounds. Space the singers out equally so they surround the audience. Start with one part then add the others one at a time. Again, you need to rehears this well so timing doesn’t slip. This works best with either rhythmic rounds or ones that create atmospheric chords.
  • different configurations – rather than stand in a massed choir at all times, you might try variations. Have different sections stand in different parts of the performing space. Divide the choir into quartets and spread them throughout the space. Try having sections in rows behind each other rather than in side-by-side blocks.
  • simple dance steps – it might just be swaying from side to side, or stepping forward on the main beat, but if you add something like this after the song is up and running it can add interest and surprise. Play with the contrast between stillness and movement. Maybe even add some very simple gestures.

There are lots of other ways of making performances more interesting for the audience. I hope I’ve shown here that they don’t have to be complicated or all bells and whistles to be effective. Use your imagination and try to find a different way to present each song in your concert. It can be a small difference, but it can make it more interesting for your audience.

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Chris Rowbury



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