Sunday, October 03, 2010

How to deal with unwanted talking during choir rehearsals without killing anybody

I’m usually the last one to notice, but often when I’m teaching one section of the choir, there’s chit chat from the rest of the singers.

hand over mouth

Hand over mouth by Mel B.

It’s not necessarily off-topic and is often about the song in hand, but it can be distracting. What can we do about it?

not my responsibility

In many ways it’s not the choir leader’s job to keep people quiet. It’s not kindergarten after all. Since singing in a choir is a team effort, I would like to think (in an ideal world) that singers will care for each other and be aware if they are causing a disturbance.

There are some choir leaders who do attempt to control the rehearsal atmosphere though. If you can maintain a friendly, calm atmosphere of focused work, all well and good. But too often I’ve seen silence maintained by fear which is the enemy of creativity. And shouting – which is a bit ironic.

Here is an extreme example of a musical director losing it:

see video Don’t talk during rehearsals!

His patience has finally run out and he takes it out on the musicians. I do know the feeling! But it’s not a good idea to kill people who talk, or you’d soon run out of choir members.

gentle discipline

We’re all here to learn songs and sing them to the best of our ability in a fun, creative and friendly atmosphere. This implies a certain amount of gentle discipline and politeness. When you join a choir, you implicitly agree to:

  • listen to the director when she’s addressing the choir and take her instructions on board
  • accept personal responsibility to learn your part and be attentive at all times
  • not hurt, upset or exploit any other choir members – be helpful and supportive instead
  • remember that music-making in a choir is a team effort
  • find an appropriate time to ask questions about the song you’re learning
  • not talk or misbehave whilst others are learning

how to pass the time

What can you do whilst standing around waiting for another section to learn their part?

Well, it’s definitely an opportunity to learn and cement what you know already. By doing this, you can be one step ahead of the game. You can:

  • go over the words as they’re singing
  • sing your own part in your head to practice it
  • sing your own part in your head to feel how the harmonies work
  • pay attention to what the choir leader is saying to the other section in terms of dynamics, speed, etc.
  • develop a clear sense of the structure of the song
  • learn the other part too

do unto others ...

It’s very easy when you’re focused on your own part to forget the other singers in the choir. Especially when you’re excited by a new song or have a question for another person in your section, or want to try out some pronunciation. It’s all too easy to forget that your low chatting gets multiplied if everyone in your section is doing it and can often be a distraction for the other singers who are learning their part.

When you’re learning your own part, it’s easiest when everyone in the room is focused and there is silence apart from your own singing. Remember that when other sections are learning their part. Do unto them what you would have them do unto you – keep quiet!

why don’t I notice?

The reason I don’t notice the background chat when I’m teaching a section is that I’m totally focused on what I’m doing! There is no room for being distracted. So the answer is: be in the moment and get on with the job at hand and you won’t notice any distractions.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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