Sunday, February 13, 2011

Standing up for your choir (or do you use chairs and sit down?)

To sit or not to sit, that is the question. Whether ‘tis better to be standing whilst singing, or to rest one’s weary bottom on the nearest chair.


Photo by Malingering

I’ve tried both standing and sitting, and there are pros and cons either way.

why I prefer standing

When I started my first choir, there were only 12 or so people and we used to sit in a semi-circle whilst learning songs and stand when we sang. But in my one-day workshops I often get 70 or so people and by the time we’ve got the chairs out and tried to arrange them in a sensible way, a good ten minutes or more have passed.

I always start with a physical and vocal warm up any way, so people are already standing. Then we can easily move into simple steps to help keep the tempo whilst learning a new song. I always make it clear that individuals can sit if they need to (people might have injuries or illnesses that I’m unaware of), but I stand throughout. If I sit down, my energy levels drop and I fall asleep!

When I’ve been in workshops using chairs, people become extraordinarily attached to them. I was in one workshop where people arrived and sat in identical orange plastic chairs wherever they wanted. Then the warm up started and we all moved around the room at random, ending up scattered far from where we’d started.

The workshop leader then said we should pull up a chair. I watched one woman walk right across the room to get ‘her’ chair (the one she’d sat on when she arrived), carry it right across the room and sit on it. It was an empty chair, she hadn’t put her coat or bag anywhere near it. But because it was the one she’d used when she arrived, it had become hers!

Most of the time I lead workshops and choirs with people standing. Sometimes in smaller groups, or when we are doing difficult songs (so singers end up hanging around for a long time whilst other parts are being learnt) I will use chairs in a semi-circle.

the advantages of standing whilst singing

  • it’s better for breath control – the abdominal area is free, loose and available. On chairs people tend to slump.
  • you can change choir formation quickly – try out different arrangement of parts, do some dance steps, sing whilst processing, mix parts up, etc. etc.
  • it keeps people on their toes (literally) – alert and energised with no time to nod off.
  • singers have freedom to move parts readily – I encourage people not to get stuck singing the same part all the time.
  • it helps to avoid habituation – “That’s my chair”, “I always sit next to Ethel”, “The altos are always seated in this corner”. Habit is the enemy of creativity.
  • it’s easier to take rhythm and timing into the body – I always encourage engagement with the body when people are singing.
  • it avoids the hassle of getting chairs out – and of putting them away afterwards!

the advantages of sitting whilst singing

  • people don’t get as tired – although they may well nod off!
  • everyone can see the conductor – usually. It depends very much on how the seating is laid out.
  • it’s easier to keep tabs on how many in a part – if you put out a set number of chairs, you can make sure you get equal numbers of people in each part (although you’d be surprised how enterprising people are at sneaking their own chairs in or stealing them from another part!).

As you can see, I’m rather biased towards not being seated!

I’d love to hear about your own experience and how your choir or singing workshop works. Do you have more advantages (or disadvantages) that I haven’t thought of? Do drop by and leave a comment.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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