Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Choosing the right songs for a concert

This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as Choosing songs for a concert in October 2007

Last week I wrote about Choosing a running order for your concert or CD.


This week I want to tackle the slightly easier task of selecting which songs the choir is going to perform.

look out, a concert is coming!

Once again a concert is looming. Time to figure out what songs to sing. Woven Chords has a repertoire of over 200 songs so it’s not as if we don’t have many to choose from! In fact, having such a large back catalogue can make selection much harder.

Some are warm-up songs, some are songs we’ve not done for many years, some we’ve done too many times, and some are only known to a few long-serving members of the choir – so I can rule those out quite quickly. On the other hand, coming across an old warm up song can give me an idea of how I might extend and re-vitalise it so it may well end up in the concert after all!

Of course, if your choir is just starting out, or you create brand new repertoire each year, then you don’t have the same problem.

is there madness in my method?

My first step is to look at what songs we’ve sung in the last concert and try not to duplicate entirely.

Next, I always put all the new songs we’ve learnt this term into the concert. This means that any new members can join in with at least six songs or so without having to tackle any of our vast back catalogue. I also try to keep in songs that are relatively new, perhaps all those learnt in the last two terms.

I like to ring the changes so my next step is to make sure we’re not doing too many of the same songs each year. If someone attends several concerts in a row they don’t want to keep hearing the same set. I also try and accommodate those people who perhaps only come to see the choir once a year at our Christmas or Spring concerts.

down to the nitty gritty

I keep good records of the songs we’ve sung in each concert (I am a Capricorn after all!), so I look up the last couple of peformances we’ve done, and also the same time slot a year earlier. Then I cut out songs that we’ve done in both of the last two concerts, plus most of what we did the same time last year.

I add all our new ones, and a few that we’ve not sung for a year or more. Then I look at the spread of genres and countries of origin and try to get a good cross-section. Although we’re a world music choir, I make sure I throw in a few English language songs to appease those in the audience who don’t like too much ‘foreign’ stuff.

Finally I look at the mix of upbeat versus gentle songs and again try to find a balance.

how many songs make a concert?

I have rough timings of all the songs in our repertoire, and I reckon that as a rule of thumb, we need about 2/3 of song material to fill a concert. So, for a 90 minute concert (two 45 minute halves), we’ll need 60 minutes of song material. The rest of the time is taken up with my between song banter and singers getting into position. I find that this formula is pretty accurate and we usually end each concert on time.

Most of our songs are very short, so we might get through 30 or so in a 90 minute concert. The next problem is to find some sensible kind of running order. See last week’s post on how I go about this: Choosing a running order for your concert or CD

I did start a trend a way back of joining songs together. These segues only work if I can force several songs into the same key, and seem to work best (for some reason) with African songs. I guess if I tried a little harder I could squeeze enough songs together into some kind of medley that we could fill up a complete concert!

I realise that I’m quite ambitious in that we do (at least) three concerts a year, each with two 45 minute sets. That’s a LOT of songs to rehearse! I know of choirs who maybe perform only once a year and get through no more than a dozen songs.

Still, it keeps people on their toes, helps to raise the standards (and keeps them high), gives people something to aim at, AND we manage to keep it all fun and light-hearted. Not bad for a choir that’s not really a performing choir!!


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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