Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Men and singing 3: seven ideas to get more men involved

A few weeks ago I started a discussion here on Why men won’t sing. Next I debunked 15 myths about men and singing and last week I shared your collective wisdom on how we might get more men singing.


haka, WOMAD 2009 by Matthieu A.

This week I want to wrap up this subject by outlining seven ideas that you might use to get more men in your choirs and singing workshops.

  1. it takes time and effort
    Getting more men involved doesn’t happen overnight. You will need to create a critical mass before new men will feel comfortable. How many this is really depends on the overall size of your group if it’s mixed.

    Finding the men in the first place will also take a while. Peter pointed out last time that his choir did a 35,000 leaflet drop, spent £3,000 and demanded a lot of choir members’ time just to recruit 60 – 70 men for a one-off event. If they’re really lucky up to 35 men might stay on to join the choir which means each new member cost around £100!

    If you’re serious about recruiting more men, you will need a proper long-term strategy. Just hoping and asking is not enough, you really have to sell the idea.

  2. take singing to where the men are
    It’s not enough to just send out tantalising publicity. Most people are creatures of habit and allow inertia and lethargy to get the better of them. It will take a huge effort to drag someone away from the TV in their warm, comfortable living room after a hard day’s work to try something new, risky and unknown.

    Men will be put off by the fact that they think they can’t sing, the use of the word ‘choir’, having to commit to weekly sessions, not wanting to make a fool of themselves – and plenty of other excuses.

    But I believe that if they try it, many men will love singing in a group. Just don’t expect them to come to you. Take the singing to where the men are: working men’s club, Rotary or Lions meeting, football match, the local gym, canteen at the local factory. Drop in unexpectedly and run an amazing, fun, light-hearted workshop and have them singing in harmony in a short while. Get them hooked and they will want more.

  3. emphasise training
    Many men think they can’t sing or won’t be as good as the others or don’t like their voice or are afraid of trying something new or are reluctant to attempt a new skill in front of others or think they need to understand music. So let’s embrace all those fears and doubts and make it clear that we’re offering to train men up.

    Offer a set number of training sessions (limited commitment!) and detail what the men will get from it. Emphasise that everyone will be a beginner, that nobody will need any musical experience or knowledge, and that nobody will be asked to sing solo. Make it men-only. Once they get comfortable singing, then introduce them to the women. Perhaps have a one-off concert with the local women’s choir?

    If you’re already running a choir, perhaps have a one-off training session for men or an introductory workshop that they must attend before joining. Rather like a foundation course. This might well make joining the choir more attractive since they have a challenge/ obstacle before they’re good enough to join the ‘proper’ singers. It also makes your community choir look more professional!

    Even if your choir is well-established with fairly experienced singers, it’s worth pointing out that there’s an element of voice training each week in the warm up which will help men learn to sing better.

  4. involve competition, challenge and non-commitment
    Men like these things (apparently!). If you emphasise the rational, practical benefits and maybe give a clear reason (e.g. for a charitable event), it gives men something to hang onto rather than it being a wishy washy art activity for its own sake.

    Get a group of men to sing together for a one-off event; sign the group up for a singing competition so they have something to aim for; say that you’ll only be taking the best singers on for your choir; tackle a big, challenging piece of music.

  5. treat men seriously
    As Simon pointed out last time, men in a choir are often the butt of jokes. Male choir leaders can often be disparaging of the bass section. I know I’m guilty of this myself. I always thought it was a way of lightening the atmosphere and keeping things jokey and not serious, but Simon has pointed out how this can backfire, whereas men crave warm encouragement and praise.

    Make sure you praise the men regularly. Acknowledge that it’s hard to hold a drone note! Men need to feel valued and that they are contributing to something.

  6. once you’ve got them, you’ve got to keep them
    Although it’s hard to get men to join choirs, you can’t just stop once you’ve got them. You need to put in some work to make the men feel valued and welcome or they will leave.

    Make sure the existing men in your choir/ workshop welcome the new boys and involve them in any social activities like going to the pub. Make the new boys welcome, ask their name, make them laugh, involve them, praise them, give them important things to do.

    Make sure that that parts you give to the men aren’t always the boring bass drone or the tricky tenor line. Also, acknowledge that many men don’t fit easily into either of these categories either: most men are baritones – the tenor is too high and the bass is too low. Ensure that the arrangement you use take this into account or you will lose men who feel that it’s too hard for them.

  7. it’s a team thing
    Yes, men maybe competitive by nature, but they love playing team games. Team games are all about collaboration, working together, mutual support, being part of the same gang, training together, etc. etc. Sounds familiar? These are precisely the elements that make for a good choir who sing in harmony.

    You can take the team idea further by pointing out that singing together (a very egalitarian activity) can actually help to build team-spirit in an existing group: e.g. football team, workplace team.

more ideas?

I think I’ve distilled what I believe to be the most important elements in attracting men to singing. But I’m sure I must have left some things out! There were lots of good, specific ideas last week, but I guess I’m looking for some more general approaches that we might try. Do let me know if you have any others.

further reading

If you’re interested in this subject you might find these forum discussions interesting:

Are women’s choirs different?

Advice on starting a men’s choir


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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