Sunday, April 25, 2010

Choirs: is old age an issue?

Question This post is part of a series of occasional Questions and Answers. Just use the contact form if you want to submit a question.

After reading my post Over-rehearsed or under-prepared: which is better? Dawn contacted me about a problem she has with her choir.

Dawn writes:

“Enjoyed reading your article. As usual.

My problem is slightly different as we only meet once a month, and all the members are over 60. Often they tend to forget the points we worked on the previous month, or they are anxious to move on to other songs (or both, to be honest).

Where do I go from there? Any ideas would be gratefully received.”

choristers are getting older

The fact is that singers in choirs these days are getting older. For some reason singing in a choir seems to attract 50-somethings and people who have retired. In all the community choirs and singing workshops I have run, the majority of people are at least in their mid-forties and older. We are all finding it hard to recruit younger members.

Does this matter? Does it affect the way that a choir is run or its repertoire? Personally, I don’t think it makes a difference.

forgetting things from session to session

Dawn says that her singers tend to forget points that they worked on the previous month. Well, some of my singers forget what they were doing the previous week or at yesterday’s rehearsal!

The longer the gap between sessions, the more likely that people will forget what they did. If you do have to have long gaps between sessions then there are two obvious solutions:

  1. make each session self-contained and don’t depend on anything needing to be remembered from one session to the next
  2. give aids to people to help them remember, e.g. recording of parts or written outline of what happened in the session

wanting to move onto new material

This taps into my recent post on specialist versus generalists. Some people feel that they’ve done enough of one song thank you very much and want to move onto new songs. Whereas some of the group might want to keep on working on the same song until it’s perfected.

In this case you need to steer a course between the two extremes. Maybe leave a song for one session, and bring it back in the next one so it feels fresh.

Some people just come for fun and don’t really want to work on a song too much, they just want an opportunity to sing. Maybe they’re in the wrong group and need to go to a ‘songs from the shows’ kind of choir where lots and lots of songs are sung each session to a piano accompaniment. Learning a song properly is a different kettle of fish.

If you are clear about the kind of choir you want to establish, then you need to stick to your guns. People sign up to your choir because they like what you do. You need to decide exactly what kind of choir it is that you want to create.

If you don’t want to keep moving onto other songs, then don’t. People will respect your authority and you will eventually end up with a choir of singers who agree with the way you run things. Don’t stand for any nonsense!

songs for a particular era?

Many people seem to remain stuck in the music of their youth. I can’t relate to that myself as I’m always on the lookout for new stuff. But the fact is I know people in their 50s who still only listen to early 70s bands and people in their 60s who only like rock and roll.

But this is to stereotype people. Just because somebody is old, does it mean they only want to sing ‘White cliffs of Dover’ or ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’?

In fact, unless it’s a simple sing-along session, trying to learn an arrangement of a well-known song can be very hard (see my post: It’s hard to teach songs that people already know). Why not find material that is fresh and new for everyone in the group?

we’re not that old!

There are so many offers and schemes out there for the “over 50s”. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like I’m OLD and on the scrap heap at 57 (I know, I know, I don’t look that old ...)!

Age is in the mind. I know 16-year-olds who behave like 80-year-olds, and we have an 84-year-old woman in my choir who acts like a spring chicken. It’s all about attitude. The fact that your singers are over 60, Dawn, is irrelevant I believe.

do you work with older singers?

Of course, working with singers who might have health issues (limited mobility, dementia, breathing problems, etc.) can be problematic, but generally I don’t think that age is an issue.

What do you think? Do you work with older singers in your choir? Do you find that they are more forgetful or want to keep moving onto new songs? Do leave a comment and share your experience.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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