Sunday, July 01, 2007

What a performance!

None of the choirs or singing groups that I run were formed as performing groups. I’ve always made it clear that our main priority is simply to have fun and to sing together. However, life being what it is, performance opportunities arise and people like to perform! I make sure that everyone understands that performance is an added bonus and is totally optional and in no way compulsory. Yet almost all choir members always want to perform! That is the way of the world. I guess having put all that hard work into learning and perfecting songs, it’s inevitable that people want to share them with others.

So we perform. And we do – even if I do say it myself – perform to a high standard. We often sell out many of our regular local gigs, and have a strong following amongst our audience. But this brings its own problems. Whilst each week the emphasis is on learning new songs and having fun singing them, plus reviving a few “oldies”, there has to come a time when we “rehearse” for our upcoming concert.

Many other choirs are performing choirs and can have a dozen or more concerts each year. This means that their emphasis is very different from ours: each week’s session is a rehearsal for the next concert, always brushing up performance skills and honing songs drawn from a relatively small repertoire. We, however, have a repertoire well in excess of 150 songs to draw upon (not all of which are up to speed at any given time) and we perform usually only three times a year.

The skill then is to balance fun singing sessions with the more serious business of getting songs ready for the next concert. The usual plan is to introduce a bunch of new songs at the beginning of each term (roughly 12 weeks), whilst going over some golden oldies at the end of each session. As the concert approaches, I stop introducing new material and just focus on polishing the old stuff up. Two weeks before the concert we spend one session running through the first half of the concert and the next weekly session running the second half. On the day of the concert we have a full rehearsal in the afternoon running the whole concert in order.

Since many of our songs are relatively short (between one and three minutes long) it means we use up a lot of repertoire in a concert! Our usual concerts are two halves of 45 minutes each, which may mean we get through up to 30 songs – most of which are in foreign languages. That’s a lot of material to get through in a term whilst still trying to have fun!

There is always a slight frustration that if only we had a little more time to work on the songs, then the concert would be even better. And if we were a proper performance choir then we could work on performance skills each week and really get good! But I think we’ve got the balance right.

If we never performed, there would never be a need to really hone in on a song, get the subtleties right, play with the dynamics, find the right voice for it, really get to grips with the strange words, find the joy of actually singing the song rather than feeling that you never quite know it properly.

Yet if we performed all the time we would lose a lot of the fun from our weekly sessions, there would be more pressure to “get it right”, our performances might end up just that little bit too slick (our audiences really like our laid-back informal approach coupled with accomplished singing ability), we wouldn’t be able to keep adding fabulous songs to our repertoire, we couldn’t afford to experiment and play around with songs or to try to learn something really complex without the pressure of having to deliver at a certain time.

Why not come along to one of our gigs and see for yourself? Woven Chords annual summer concert at Grimsthorpe Castle on 14th July is sold out I’m afraid, but you can come and celebrate WorldSong’s 10th anniversary by helping us to fill a 650-seat theatre in Coventry on 21st July!

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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