Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sometimes old is best – finding the balance between new and familiar

I have a low boredom threshold. There are 100s of gorgeous new songs I want to teach and it’s hard to cram them all in.

old sheet music

Photo by Leo Reynolds

But more often than not, singers want to sing the old, familiar songs they already know well. How to strike the right balance?

keep the new stuff coming!

Some of us choir leaders end up feeling like song factories.

We believe we have to keep finding new songs to feed our choir to keep them happy. We end up feeling pressurised as if we’re on a production line.

But it’s our own fault!

We think we have to keep on coming up with new stuff to keep choir members interested and engaged. They pay good money to attend so we should give them their money’s worth.

However, as I’ve written before, people come to sing, not to learn.

We can forget that people enjoy the familiar and get pleasure from singing something they know really well.

striking a balance between new and old

It’s not always easy to strike a balance between novelty and familiarity, but each choir session should always include some old, familiar repertoire as well as the learning of new songs.

I keep detailed notes of what songs we sing each week so make sure that all our back catalogue gets a regular airing. Easy when you’re starting out, but not so easy when the choir’s being going many years!

The last half hour of every two-hour choir session always consists of singing old, well-known songs.

One difficulty of singing the old songs is that newer members of your choir might not know them. Here are some ideas for helping new choir members learn the old songs.

At the extreme, if you do too much old material there is a danger it can become stale. I’ve written about 10 ways to breathe life into old songs which may help and you also need to make sure singers don’t get into bad habits (see Breaking the habit of a lunchtime).

It’s all about balance: not too much new material, lots of old familiar stuff.

warm ups and concerts too

This balance between the new and the familiar also applies to choir warm ups and concert planning.

Choir members can take some time to really get to grips with certain warm up exercises, so it’s always a good idea to repeat them, going deeper each time. It also saves having to explain new exercises every week!

But, as before, if familiar exercises are done too often, people can end up just going through the motions with a “been there, done that” attitude which prevents them from discovering anything new.

In this case singers need to approach the exercise with ‘beginner’s mind’ (see Preparing to sing: physical and vocal warm up ideas for choirs)

In my attempt to please all the people all the time, I make a big effort to make sure that each concert I do has new songs in it so that regular concert goers don’t get bored. But sometimes I go a little too far and don’t include enough old songs.

I’ve had audience members come up to me afterwards asking why we didn’t sing that great African song we sang last time!

The same applies to the songs I choose to teach in a workshop.

It’s all about balance, and I wish you every success with finding yours!


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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