Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The pros and cons of using churches for choir performances

This is an updated version of a post which first appeared as Not enough venues to go round in September 2007

It is always difficult to find suitable venues for choir performances.

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall at night by Ben Dodson

Churches are usually very welcoming (and often free), but with their fixed architecture they can be limiting. There is also the problem of the associations that people make.

squeezing big choirs into village churches

A while back, a few of us sang at a friend’s wedding in a beautiful old village church with a wonderful acoustic. We just about managed to squeeze 18 people in front of the fixed pews, next to a stone pulpit and between two tall pillars.

(We chose not to sing from the choir stalls. Why on earth do they have these things? Don’t the two halves of the choir just end up singing to each other? I really can’t see the reasoning behind the design!)

The organist reminded me that the main Woven Chords choir had sung there one Christmas and been very well received. Of course, those were the days when we had less than 40 members (and it was a tight squeeze even then).

He wondered why we hadn’t come back and I had to explain that it would be impossible to fit 80 singers into such a small church. In those early days the choir used to frequent such small village churches and manage six or so concerts each year. But we soon outgrew the venues.

Some of the modern Methodist and Baptist churches have a more flexible layout and some even have stages, but not every town has one of these. Apart from large regional theatres (which tend not to take local community groups, or whose auditorium is just too large to fill), there are really not many venues available to us. Hence churches, which I now see more and more as a valuable community resource independent of any religious affiliation.

if a performance is in a church, it must be religious

There are, however, certain small-minded individuals who think that – just  because a choir performs (or rehearses) in a church – it must be a ‘church choir’. And since these individuals are not religious they don’t come to see us perform.

This is despite the many varied local and rural music touring schemes (e.g. Music in Quiet Places) which have small instrumental and vocal ensembles performing in churches regularly.

It’s a shame that these ‘certain people’ are so small minded, as they just don’t know what they’re missing!

So the fact that we often perform in churches adds yet another stereotype image to what we do in addition to the word ‘choir’ which itself puts lots of people off.

alternative venues?

I’m not a big fan of performing outdoors (see Performing outdoors – tips and tricks) or in unusual spaces which have a bad acoustic. Village halls are a possibility (as are church halls), but the sight lines are usually awful and it’s difficult to create any kind of ambience with lighting, etc. Which leaves us with big theatrical venues.

I’m more and more tempted to use theatrical rather than musical venues. I have a current bee in my bonnet about making singing performances more varied and interesting as I don’t think it’s enough these days for an audience just to see a static semi-circle of identically dressed singers standing on stage. But that’s my bee, and my bonnet.

What do you find? Are you in a large choir which has a solution to finding suitable venues? Do  you find that performing in churches has limitations? Do drop by and leave a comment.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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