Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not enough venues to go round

As I mentioned last time, a few of us sang at a friend’s wedding the other week. It was in a beautiful old village church with a wonderful acoustic. We managed to just about squeeze 18 people in front of fixed pews, next to a stone pulpit and between two tall pillars. (I chose not to sing from the choir stalls. Why on earth do they have these things? Don’t the two halves of the choir just end up singing to each other? I really can’t see the reasoning behind the design!). The organist reminded me that the main Woven Chords choir had sung there one Christmas and been very well received. Of course, those were the days when we had less than 40 members (and it was a tight squeeze even then!). He wondered why we hadn’t come back and I had to explain that it would be impossible to fit 80 singers into such a small church. In the early days we used to frequent such small village churches and hence manage six or so concerts each year. Those were the days!

It has always been difficult to find suitable venues for choirs. Churches are usually very welcoming (and often free!), but with their fixed architecture they can normally only accommodate small singing groups or choirs. Some of the more modern Methodist and Baptist churches have a more flexible layout and some even have stages, but not every town has one of these. Apart from large regional theatres (which tend not to take local community groups, or whose auditorium is just too large to fill), there are really not many venues available to us. Hence churches, which I now see more and more as a valuable community resource independent of any religious affiliation.

There are, however, certain small-minded individuals who think that, just because we perform in a church, that we must be a ‘church choir’, and since they’re not religious they wouldn’t want to come and see us would they? This is despite the many laudable local and rural music touring schemes (e.g. Music in Quiet Places) which see small instrumental and vocal ensembles regularly performing in churches. It’s a shame that these ‘certain people’ are so small minded, as they just don’t know what they’re missing!

The fact that we’re often performing in churches adds yet another stereotype image to what we do in addition to the word ‘choir’ which itself puts lots of people off. Which is why I’m more and more tempted to try and find theatrical rather than musical venues. I have a current bee in my bonnet about making singing performances more varied and interesting as I don’t think it’s enough these days for an audience to just see a static semi-circle of identically dressed singers standing on stage. More on this later!

Are there any other large choirs out there who have found a solution to finding suitable venues?

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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