Sunday, March 30, 2008

How long is long enough?

I had the unfamiliar experience of watching my first WorldSong concert as a mere punter last Saturday. This is their second concert under the new leadership of Una May Olomolaiye (Moving on), but the first that I have seen. It was a wonderful experience and great to see how the choir is progressing under a new leader. I usually make a good punter and just switch off my conductor brain, but on Saturday it was rather like being a front-seat passenger in a car and anticipating the braking of the driver. Unconsciously I found myself tensing my arms at strategic points in certain songs – it was exhausting!

Perhaps unusually for someone who runs a choir, I have never been in an adult choir (certainly not a choir with separate parts), nor do I often watch choral concerts as my taste is world music and there’s not much of that about. So Saturday was a rare occasion for me being in the role of audience member. Since I knew all the singers and the songs, I found myself engaged for much of the concert by watching individuals and getting pleasure from their own evident enjoyment. Una May also cleverly got the whole audience up towards the end of the first half to sing a song, which energised everybody (and woke up those few who had drifted off at the back!).

The first half was around an hour, and the second half seemed even longer! Even though the singing was fantastic and I am a real fan of that style of music, I did find myself flagging towards the end and wishing that the concert was over. This made me wonder how long an ideal concert should be so that people feel that they’ve had enough, but not too much. Leaving the audience to feel that perhaps they want more (so they’ll come to the next concert), but they don’t feel cheated and have got their money’s worth.

For a full evening concert, I usually work on a structure of two 45 minute sets with a 15 – 20 minute interval. The second half I make shorter than the first, but allow for an encore. But I do know some choirs who do as little as two 30 minute sets. It really is hard to know how much is enough, but not too much. This also taps into my bugbear of wanting there to be sufficient variety (of styles, presentation, numbers and distribution of singers, etc.) and something to watch on stage (see What are you looking at Part 1). If there is not much going on on stage, then the concert needs to be shorter. On Saturday everyone was totally engaged in the singing, the performers were alive, there was movement in their bodies, Una May was a charismatic leader, etc. etc. but still I got bored with seeing a group of people standing in a set formation for the whole concert.

If we do a concert on our own and have to fill up 90 minutes worth of singing, that’s a lot of songs! Most of our songs come from the traditional repertoire which means they can be as short as one minute. This means that most of our concerts contain around 30 songs which is a lot to rehearse given that we’re not really a performing choir (What a performance). In recent years I have begun to create segues or medleys of songs from the same part of the world which makes for more interest (and less talking from me between songs!).

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Chris Rowbury


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