Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Men and singing 2: your collective wisdom

A few weeks ago I started a discussion here on Why men won’t sing and last week I debunked 15 myths about men and singing.

men singing

photo by erin m

I also sent out an email to everyone on my mailing list asking for advice on how to get more men singing. This week I want to share some of the suggestions I received. Do leave your own suggestions as a comment and we can try to get more men singing!

start slow and easy

“I would suggest easy, emotive, powerful songs with plenty of unison. Make it easy for them with familiar songs like ‘You'll never walk alone’. Once hooked then you can branch out !!” Trevor

target religious groups

“Target churches, synagogues and Bible colleges where men sing regularly ... although there are overall only 10% of Church attendees that are men!!” Ann-Marie

However, Marie points out that her “church choir is always desperately short of men.”

time to go to the gym!

“Perhaps the proprietors of a gym will let you have a table top and a CD player, and you could have a little advertising session for a morning.  Better still, get some singers along for a quartet/octet sing on the spot, with some posters saying ‘Singing is Healthy/ Singing is Fun’ sort of message.”  Teresa

make it a manly activity

“Lads [like to] go to the pub for a pint or so. Perhaps encouraging your basses to bond after choir would make it feel more like a ‘manly’ pursuit.” Fiona

“In some singing groups there is the emphasis on the gentle, romantic, caring and sharing, non competitive, easy-going nature of the activity as opposed to the more overtly challenging: ‘Let’s do it better; that was atrocious; we have a performance tomorrow for *’s sake; surely you can give more volume; shake the walls, blast it out'; sing this war chant as if you're going into battle for *’s sake!!!’

Obviously this is an exaggerated scenario, but would some men possibly prefer a better balance?” Malcolm

“Many of the songs are not what I would call robust; I wonder if they appeal more to women? (I now feel that if someone asks me to sing another preachy song I’ll scream!)  I would like to see maybe sea shanties. What would it be like if men had the tune and women were the backing?” Patricia

offer financial incentives

“If an existing choir member recruits a bass, offer a 50% discount on his/ her subscription.” Fiona

avoid the ‘choir’ word!

“Men will commit to things like Rotary, Masons, etc. Why? Is it because they can say: ‘I’m off to my networking event/ charity fundraising event’ rather than ‘I’m off to choir now, dear’?

The word ‘choir’ might seem rather churchy to some ... I personally love being in bands and adore your workshops but I’m not sure I would want to commit to a ‘choir’ ... and I’m not even a man!” Fiona

singing as a motivational tool

“Introduce singing as a motivational tool in business and sport settings: ‘sing to win'!’” Jeremy

go where the men are

“Base a workshop in a pub?? A football ground??? Set it up as a competition?” Linda

emphasise the health benefits

“If you’re advertising from the point of view of health benefits, why not advertise via GP surgeries/ health centres/ pharmacies and get the cooperation of the health professionals there?” Marie

allow men to be ‘bad’ singers

“I think people need permission to be bad singers before they learn to become good singers, otherwise they are frightened in case they are not good enough and will ‘fail’ and embarrass themselves. Maybe you could advertise for ‘bad singers who’d like to be good’ or something!!  Aimed at those who sing in the shower or the football match but nowhere else.” Marie

“Make it OK to come along and just listen. Fear of the unknown is part of it.” Theresa

don’t insist on regular commitment

“Men may be willing to come if you set a quota that you want at the event and make it clear that they are really, really needed. But they don't need to make any long term commitment — it's only a one-off.” Frances

“[I know of] a group that meets monthly, just to sing, rarely to perform, and has a good proportion of men. I think many of your comments ring true here, some like the drop-in, non-commitment idea.” Angela

vocal range isn’t everything

“Many men know their voices are limited — the notes you can’t reach. Most men have no idea that actually a choir offers the chance to sing parts that allow them to optimise their vocal limitations; that their gravelly rumblings can actually be very valuable.” Lionel

offer/ emphasise voice training

“I don’t think I would have tried [the choir] if I hadn’t done Vocal Academy first. They offered seven weeks of voice TRAINING which made all the men think they were amongst novices who wouldn’t judge them. They advertised quite widely.” Lionel

“Would it be worth doing a half day workshop, just for those men who think they cannot sing?” Alan

build a workshop around a sporting event

“Maybe a ‘preparation for the six nations rugby’ singing course might work for dads and lads where they can learn some of the well-known rugby songs, but then you can also chuck some African songs in there without them knowing.” Mags

start with men-only

“Start some men-only choirs to mirror your mixed choirs. Keep it simple for as long as it takes, keep it fun always.  Once your men get comfortable singing with themselves and each other then that is the time to introduce them to the horrors of a mixed choir.” Rodger

keep the male harmonies interesting

“Perhaps men need to get to sing the tune more. Bass parts can be extremely boring. Tenor parts can be baffling.” Jeremy

create a choir for a one-off event

“For one or two men to join an established choir with an extensive well-rehearsed repertoire is very daunting and it may seem to take ages for the new boy to feel comfortable and competent to sing in public. So this model sets up a choir for a limited period with the aim of performing in a major concert for charitable reasons. It requires a lot of money and commitment from quite a lot of people.

... we did extensive advertising through a 35,000 leaflet drop

... So far we have spent nearly £3000 and it has been very demanding of members’ time.” Peter

take singing to the workplace

“I used to give massages at work and men would come to have massages but wouldn’t go to a health therapist in their own time. So maybe start a choir in a big business block during lunch time!!! That might get them interested and give them a good taster” Mirjam

target the business world

“I was speaking to a friend who is a human resources executive and she suggested you target  the business world — especially large companies and organisations — and pitch it as a ‘stress-busting’ exercise.  Singing could be used as a team-building exercise or even as competition between different departments!” Veronica

give the singing a purpose

“Give them a reason !!!! Men like a challenge.” Nick

“Maybe men need a ‘real-life’ purpose for their singing, not just singing for the sake of it? Workplace (miners for example) or church/ chapel or political activity (African townships), football terrace, or even rugby club. Many of the cultural spaces in which singing is ‘normal’ have disappeared from British society over the past generations.” Robert

have men-only time in choir sessions

“What I found helpful is a men-only time within choir practise. Our pianist takes the men for about 20/30 mins. and rehearses their parts.” Beate

create a challenge or competition

“Most men are competitive. Singing in a choir requires collaboration. Just turning up and singing for the sake of it doesn’t make sense to men. There needs to be a challenge, either a competition against other choirs or the challenge of a difficult piece of music, which needs to be finished and performed to an audience.” Simon

offer plenty of praise

“Men love public praise and appreciation. Whilst I can understand that it is difficult in your Saturday workshops to complete a piece to a polished standard, men need to experience a completed product that is finished to a high standard and then be praised for it.” Simon

“At the end of the workshop get the men to perform at a concert — a couple of songs learnt that day.” Grenville

“[I was in a choir that] was lead by a husband and wife team who were both technically excellent. However the husband made jokes at the male singers’ expense. I realised that as a bass singer I have got used to that as it has happened in other choirs but it annoys me.

Occasionally his wife would take the men’s sectional rehearsals. She never made jokes about us, she was always encouraging and always saw the positive in our singing. That made such a difference. Those rehearsals have been real highlights in my singing life. Give men lots of warm and genuine praise.” Simon

run a sporting anthem workshop

“Arrange a sporting anthem workshop targeting all the men who regularly sing football and rugby songs. There is a superb selection of songs: ‘When the Saints’, ‘You’ll never walk alone’, national songs like ‘Bread of Heaven’ (Wales), ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Swing low sweet Chariot’ (England). I've forgotten what Scotland’s and Ireland’s are, but you get the idea.

A mail out to all the football and rugby clubs would be manageable.  The workshop would probably have to be out of season in the summer.

The theory behind this is that this is for men who love singing with their mates but who wouldn’t think about joining choirs. If they enjoy the experience, then who knows?” Irene

get secondary school boys singing

“Most boys are happy to sing, enjoy it no end in fact, but in about the last six months to a year of Primary school it becomes harder to retain them in the choir. Once they’re at the comprehensive there will be nooooooo singing. Singing (lack of) at Secondary level is a huge issue

I’m sure it's about what happens between 10 and 16. Work with male teachers!” Theresa

“Do a schools presentation about singing and trot along the best and most macho of the men you have to speak about it.” Linda

set an upper age limit

“The perception of many male choirs is of old men — and in fact this is true! Set a senior age limit ... unpopular / ageist but the only way.” Grenville 

catch ’em young

“[There has been some] success with dads and lads choirs. You could still have an age restriction: no under-tens, etc. The breakthrough seems to come with a real family connection and support plus younger children all being enabled to perceive themselves as singers before the age of ten, then moving onto all-male choirs later.

When the younger lads get into singing, the more likely they and the dads continue to join choirs.” Gloria

get a celebrity in!

“Hire in someone with a reputation for getting men to sing — a TV face not a choral conductor — the men you want will have no idea who they are. Bob Chilcott would attract choral singers but the men you want won’t have the faintest idea who he is.” Grenville

any more ideas?

Over to you now. I’m sure there are lots of other great ideas out there. Do drop by and leave a comment to share them with us.

Next week I’ll share with you what I think are the best ideas and practical ways to take this forward (Men and singing 3: seven ideas to get more men involved). Do let me know if you have any suggestions or are actively trying to recruit men yourself.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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