Sunday, July 28, 2013

Use the long choir break to get better at what you do

Most choirs have a long break at this time of year (whether it’s your summer or your winter).

officially on vacation by Timothy Valentine

Apart from missing the singing and your choir friends, what will you do with yourself? Here are some ways you can use the break to your advantage (whether you’re a singer or choir leader).


  • sort out your music and lyrics – things tend to get messy, particularly after concerts or when you’ve been learning a lot of new songs. Whatever your system, here is your chance to tidy things up and get things in order.
  • file and organise your choir recordings – you probably have recordings of your choir’s concerts or even recordings of song parts (see last week’s post How to learn effectively from a recording of a song in parts). Make sure you know where to find them on your computer, in your CD collection or on your MP3 player. They’ll come in useful later.
  • nail difficult bits of recent songs – whilst newly learnt songs are still fresh in your mind, it’s a great opportunity to quickly revise them to really iron out any problems and nail any tricky bits.
  • go back through your repertoire – and make sure you know all the songs. You may not have sung some of them in a long time so may be a bit rusty. Not only can you take time to perfect your part, but you will get on top of the lyrics so won’t have any last minute panic when the next concert rolls around.
  • keep your voice in trim – even if you don’t do vocal warm ups in your choir, just singing regularly has helped to keep your voice in trim. To prevent things going rusty over the long break you could do any of the choir warm ups you remember or just gently sing some of your favourite songs every day.
  • go to singing workshops – there will usually be a singing workshop somewhere near you pretty much every week of the year (check websites such as the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network to see what’s on). This is your chance to try something new, keep your ear tuned, experience different teaching styles, challenge yourself to learn by ear (or by sight reading), socialise with other singers, discover new music styles and keep your singing voice working well.
  • listen to other choirs – go to live concerts and see how others do it. Listen to recordings by other choirs of songs in your repertoire and pay attention to the differences. Check out videos on YouTube to see how other choirs present themselves.
  • get together with other choir buddies – invite some singing mates round to go over old repertoire or simply enjoy singing together. Help each other to be better.


  • sort out your music and lyrics – if you’re anything like me, your work room will be covered with bits of paper and there will be loose sheet music and CDs all over the place. Time to have a good clear up and get everything in order so you can find things easily.
  • research new songs – in this time ‘off’ (actually, we never stop working do we??!!) you have a little more space to check out those CDs or songbooks that you’ve been meaning to get around to.
  • arrange and write songs – another thing that you’ve been meaning to do, but never seem to have the time. Well, the time is now.
  • attend workshops – the posh term for this is CPD (Continuing Professional Development). It’s something that we all too easily forget or never seem to have time for. See what it’s like to just be a punter for a change. Experience different teaching techniques. Learn some new songs. Try something very different (that you may not even think you like). You will learn a great deal however good or bad the experience.
  • meet up with your peer group – and have a good old moan! Swap war stories and handy hints and tricks. Share repertoire. Invent collaborations. Make big plans together.
  • reflect on last season – any good teacher will have a period of reflection on their own practice. With choir every week (or more frequently), there might not be enough time to do this properly. Here’s an opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn’t in your teaching, choir leading, warm ups, concerts, complex song choices, etc. Make notes and be better next season.
  • make lyric sheets for new songs – rather than leave it to the last minute (like I do!), be proactive and prepare any music, handwritten lyric sheets or online materials way in advance.
  • update the choir website – or any other materials that need updating: mailing databases, lists of recordings, choir newsletter, photo archive, etc.
  • ideas for next season – you don’t need to plan anything at this stage, but while last season is still fresh in your mind, jot down a few obvious ideas that you might want to change or try out next.
  • make changes – just because things have always been like this doesn’t mean that there’s no room for change. Is you rehearsal venue up to scratch? How about finding a new concert venue? Do you need to shuffle parts around in rehearsals? How about a new choir uniform design?
  • recruitment/ publicity – with a bit of time on your hands, you can think about new ways to publicise the choir. Better design, more effective recruitment, re-designed logo, new publicity outlet, taking on more help to run the choir, etc.

Use the break as catch up time – all those things you’ve been putting off or “never have time for”. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of work, but can make a big difference to you as a singer or choir leader when you come back refreshed for the start of your next choir season.

I’m sure there are lots of other great ideas for things to do over the break. Do drop by and leave a comment if you’re not too tied to the beach (or ski slope)! I’d love to hear from you.

You might also like to read Help! What am I going to do with no singing over the summer break?

Chris Rowbury’s website:

Chris Rowbury


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