Sunday, November 07, 2010

How to get people back after the break

We all know that singing workshops are just an excuse to string together a series of tea breaks and lunch breaks. And concerts are an excuse to have a drink during the interval and catch up with old friends.

empty house

Empty house by B Rosen

However, some people do come for the singing! The question is, having let people have a break, a drink and a chat, how on earth do we get them back to the job in hand?

Once I ran a workshop for around 50 kids aged between 8 and 16. I don’t work with kids and was worried about crowd control so I asked a teacher friend what to do. She told me to tell them at the beginning that when they saw me raise my hand in the air, they were to stop talking and copy me. Eventually everyone would have their hands in the air and there would be silence.

Or not! I stood there like a lemon with my hand in the air and nobody took a blind bit of notice.

When I started my first choir, WorldSong, I used to have a 15-minute break half way through the two-hour session. People would wander off for a vending machine coffee, or go outside for a fag, or gather in the corner for a chat. The break always ended up being at least half an hour long.

When I run a one-day workshop, I seldom have a formal break in the morning. I reckon that by the time 50 people have got a cup of tea, an hour will have past. So I have a short ten-minute break for water and loo. Then I usually wander round and let people know we’re starting again. That’s the cue for people to go to the toilet!

After lunch it’s a slightly different situation. Before we break I always ask how long people want for lunch. If the workshop is going well, someone will usually shout “20 minutes!” I suggest that’s not really long enough, so we agree on half an hour. I allow for an extra 15 minutes for people to finally gather, so plan for 45 minutes. We always end up with a one-hour lunch break by the time everyone is back.

In small village churches or community halls, the concerts are never very formal. There is seldom anyone there to help other than choir members and their friends and family. We all end up collecting tickets, handing out tea, telling people where the loos are, selling CDs, etc.

At the interval everyone mills around chatting or wanders off outside if the weather is nice. I tell people before the break how long it will be (e.g. 15 minutes), but always allow an extra five. Then someone goes round and tells people the concert is starting again. It takes ages to get everyone back in their seats!

What I do sometimes (especially with small ensembles) is simply to take our places and begin to sing. It soon attracts attention and people start to hush and sit down.

In more formal situations, like theatres, there is often a bell or announcement over the loudspeaker. In other situations, it is possible to have a bell or someone with a loud voice.

In workshops, some leaders use a drum or shaker to attract attention.

What do you do? Do you have a simple, fail-safe method for getting people back after the break?


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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