Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why the singers in your choir still love you even though they look bored

Even though I’ve been teaching for almost 30 years, I still get affected by that glum-looking face in the third row.

glum men

... and it's not just the men!

Just one frown amongst a sea of smiling faces is enough to make me doubt myself. But what might that glum face mean?

are they really bored?

I’m not a morning person, but at the start of a one-day workshop I need to be firing on all cylinders. I work hard to put out positive vibes and energy to try and whip up enthusiasm. But I’m often faced with a sea of bored-looking, low energy, “I’d rather be anywhere but here” people.

Over the years I’ve come to realise that people DO want to be there. In fact they love it. They continue to come back for more, write fantastic feedback in my comments book, and tell me how much they love my singing workshops.

But still they look bored.

I know it’s not me (it’s them!), but I have to fight hard to overcome my fears of not teaching well, of introducing boring songs, of making the warm up not interesting enough, of trying to tackle songs that are too hard.

It’s got to the point now where I point it out and make jokes about it. That usually raises a laugh and things improve for a while.

What’s going on? If people are enjoying themselves, why aren’t they showing it?

not smiling, just ...

Here are a few reasons why people may not be smiling when you’re working with them:

  • I’m concentrating – it’s hard to look happy and smiley when you’re struggling to learn a song. Concentration often brings a frown to the face.
  • I’m confused – concentration alone is sometimes not enough. It’s possible to get confused or left behind and not really know what you’re doing. Hence the frown.
  • I’m not here – occasionally a singer will zone out. Something from the real world might be bothering them and – just for a moment – they’re thinking about something else and not the song. “Where did I leave my car keys?” 
  • I’m worried – glum faces appear more often at the beginning of a session, especially if people don’t know each other and/ or haven’t worked with you before. They’re a little scared! “What will he ask me to do? Will I be able to cope? What if everyone else is a better singer than me? Have I come to the right place?”
  • I’m tired – this is the kind of face you’ll see most often at evening choir rehearsals or at the end of a long workshop. Learning new songs takes a lot of energy, and by the end of the day people are getting really tired and finding it harder to find the energy to smile and look energetic.
  • I’m usually like this – some people look naturally glum. They can’t help it. They’re lovely people, full of joy and enthusiasm, but the natural resting state of their face makes them look a little miserable. Unfortunately.
  • I’m out of my depth – “I’m completely lost and finding it much harder than I thought.” They might be out of their comfort zone (“Just give me the sheet music!”) or not used to that eggy place where you’re in the middle of learning. It’s uncomfortable and they want instant results. Or maybe the choir/ workshop is simply too hard for the stage that they’re at.
  • I’m in pain – many people have invisible illnesses or injuries and don’t (or won’t) let on. Rather than do what is needed (sit down, take a rest), they soldier on and end up being in pain. That shows very clearly on their face.
  • I need help – whilst learning a song there often comes a point where you get lost and need clarification. “Do we repeat the first section? Is the last note the same as the first?” This kind of face is asking for some help.
  • I seem to be out of step – another stage of learning is when you seem to be the only one in your group who’s singing that particular tune. Have you got it wrong or is everyone else making a mistake?
  • I look ugly when I sing – if you’ve ever tried to take a decent photo of people whilst they’re singing, you’ll have realised that the ‘half-open mouth with half-closed eyes’ look is not very attractive! It’s actually quite hard to sing AND smile at the same time. 

So not liking you (or the song or the workshop) is just one of many possible interpretations of a frowning face, and probably the most unlikely one.

please tell me why you’re frowning!

Often when I’m teaching a few people start frowning whilst they’re singing. Now I know it’s probably for one of the reasons I’ve outlined above, but which one?!

My aim in life is to see a group of happy, frownless singers singing their hearts out. I’m here to help. But the only way I can help is if I know WHY you’re frowning. Please tell me. I can’t guess.

If you tell me precisely what you’re having trouble with, I’m pretty sure I can fix it. Every frown tells a different story so you’ll need to speak up. Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help.

what are your strategies?

Have you come across this phenomenon (or are all your singers always the smiling type!)? What do you do to compensate for waves of glumness (hard to muster up energy faced with so much negativity)? Am I alone in having frowning singers?

Do leave a comment and share your experiences.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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