Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Choirs that don’t perform

Over the last few weeks I’ve been looking at ways of finding an audience for your choral concerts. But what if your choir doesn’t perform?

Sangstream rehearsal

Sangstream rehearsal by fiddledidee

When I started my first community choir back in 1997, the idea was for people to come once a week and have fun learning songs and singing together. Performing in public wasn’t on the cards.

Eventually we did end up performing, but I always made it clear to new members that it was optional. You could have the full experience of being a member of the choir by just coming along each week and singing together.

Since those early days, I have taken choirs and singing groups out in public on many occasions and performed in a wide range of venues: from a prison to the Royal Festival Hall in London; from a stately home to a tiny village hall. But there are many choirs who make a conscious decision never to perform in public.

I want to look at the advantages and disadvantages of making this choice.

7 good reasons NOT to perform

  1. scary for less-confident singers – many singers who join the sort of choirs that I run are attracted by the “anyone can sing” approach. They tend to start off being rather nervous (“I can’t sing!”) and the idea of performing in public would send them running.
  2. puts pressure on weekly sessions – people come each week to have a good sing. I also try to develop vocal skills week on week and teach a range of songs. If we have to rehearse for the next concert, all this gets put on hold.
  3. hard work finding venues and audiences – it takes time and effort to find suitable venues and to attract a decent audience. This time and effort could go into making the weekly sessions better.
  4. can go horribly wrong – for an inexperienced choir, a disastrous concert can set them back months. It’s one thing to get it perfectly right in rehearsal and an entirely different matter being in front of a paying public.
  5. need to keep learning new songs – if your choir performs regularly, you will have to keep refreshing your repertoire or audiences will get bored hearing the same old thing. That doesn’t give you much scope for experimentation and detailed work on existing songs in your repertoire.
  6. takes the fun out of it – many people join choirs for the love of singing with others and the social aspect. Having to rehearse each week – drill the songs, work on details of pronunciation and dynamics – can take the fun out of sessions.

    (Next week I will look at how to find the balance between having fun and the serious business of getting songs ready for the next concert.)
  7. can restrict your repertoire – if you know that you’re going to perform, it might mean that you have to choose particular songs that you know will go down well with your local audience. It stops you from experimenting and exploring unfamiliar territory.

7 reasons why it’s GREAT to perform

  1. nice to share what you’ve learnt – having put all that hard work into learning the songs, it’s great to share them with others. Getting feedback from an audience can boost confidence and morale.
  2. helps raise standards – performing in public helps raise the bar. You have much more to lose singing to an audience which can help singers put more work into perfecting their performance of a song.
  3. gives singers something to aim for – sometimes there can be a lack of motivation simply learning new songs each week. Having something specific to aim for can bring focus to the choir.
  4. attracts new members – performing in public is a great recruiting tool. What easier way to show what it is that you do and how much fun it is than demonstrating?
  5. raises the choir’s profile – if you stay in your rehearsal rooms, nobody will ever hear of you. Getting out in public is the easiest way to spread the word of your existence.
  6. way of making money – charging people to come and see you perform is an excellent way of raising money for the choir.
  7. make art more accessible – many people think of the arts as elitist and expensive. Not only will you be bringing art to the people, but you will also be showing that you don’t have to be a seasoned professional to make beautiful music.

are there alternatives to performing?

You don’t need to be a fully-performing choir to reap the positive benefits of taking your work out to the public. Here are some alternatives:

  • hold ‘sharings’ for friends and family – rather than full-blown concerts open to anyone, just have an end of season/ term ‘sharing’ in your regular rehearsal space for friends and family. Make it an event by bringing food to share.
  • perform, but don’t make it compulsory – yes, have the occasional concert, but make it very clear that singers are able to opt out.
  • make a recording public – rather than a live performance, make a sound or video recording of a rehearsal or closed performance and release it to the public (burn a CD, put it on YouTube).
  • bring the audience into the choir – set up a short project where you invite everyone in your local community to become a temporary choir member. The ‘audience’ then becomes part of the choir!

what does your choir do?

Is your choir a performing choir? Do you do full-on concerts? How many times a year do you perform? If you don’t perform, how do you hold singers’ interest from year to year? Can you think of any other alternatives to public concerts? Do drop by and leave a comment.

Next week I’ll be looking at how to balance fun with rehearsing for a concert.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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