Sunday, October 19, 2008

Singing across the age divide

There are choirs for gay men, choirs for women, choirs for socialists, choirs for hire, choirs for weddings and choirs for the deaf. There are Welsh choirs, youth choirs, gospel choirs, Bulgarian choirs, barbershop choirs, school choirs, church choirs and the Young at Heart Chorus. But there don’t seem to be that many truly mixed, general choirs with a wide age range. The world of choirs seems to have become ghettoised (I've touched on this subject before: Children and special interest groups first?).

As you probably realise already, I run choirs and singing workshops that are open to all – and I mean all (my only personal restriction is that I don’t work with ‘kids’, i.e. under 16s. I’m just not good with crowd control!). However, the reality is that most people who attend my choirs and workshops are over 40, with many over 60.

Now it’s not that youngsters don’t like to sing. There is much good work going on in schools, many youth choirs of all types across the country, and I even get the occasional 18-year-old wandering into one of my sessions. It’s just that young people tend to stick together creating homogeneous choirs of singers of a similar age. Many young people are put off by the word ‘choir’ and think that it’s fuddy duddy, uncool, old-fashioned and full of old people. They may be right on the last point, but then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if they don’t join.

I really don’t know how to appeal to youngsters! I’d love to run groups which truly reflect a cross-section of society in terms of social background, age, race and gender. However, the reality is that it’s mainly older middle-class white women who join. The sessions I run are fun, high energy and with a wide-ranging repertoire. When the occasional adolescent does stumble across a workshop of mine by accident, they usually enjoy it.

I came across a young choir recently called The Heard: “a contemporary choir for the contemporary people of London. They’re not looking to ancient eastern spirituality to get a natural high; they’re just singing their favourite songs together in perfect harmony for kicks.” Although they perform vocal versions of more contemporary repertoire (Bjork, Radiohead, Hot Chip, Klaxons) they are actually fairly traditional in their approach. The arrangements are not particularly exciting and often the choir simply acts as a backing group to one lead singer.

So what attracted these young people to join this ‘choir’? Was it just the repertoire? Was it that fact that the leader is also young?

I’d love to have some suggestions on how to get more young people to join general, open-access choirs. Please send me some ideas!

What happens to all the people in youth choirs when they leave school or get a bit older? Why don’t they join adult choirs (see When and why do we stop singing?)? Would a contemporary pop repertoire attract more young people? Could I form a young people’s choir by simply saying “open to all 16 – 25 year-olds”?

On another point: I’d like to run a new workshop doing acappella covers of more contemporary ‘pop’, but can’t think of a snappy title! Any suggestions? I would like to cover the more ‘indie’ bands such as Radiohead, Elbow, Vampire Weekend and the like.

Next week, after Deb’s comment on last week's post (“How about another list: unexpected benefits from singing in the choir!”), I’ll be covering the opposite topic to my reasons to not sing post: There are plenty of good reasons to sing!

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Chris Rowbury


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