Sunday, September 01, 2013

Re-booting your choir: shake things up for a new season

Many choirs will be starting back soon after a long break.

photo by velkr0

This is the perfect time to shake things up a bit if you feel things have gone a bit stale.

It’s very easy for singers (and choir leaders) to develop habits (see Breaking the habit of a lunchtime) – standing in the same place, singing the same part, doing the same old warm ups, rehearsing in the same choir configuration, singing the same old songs.

Even if they are not ‘bad’ habits, it can mean that people have stopped paying attention and have started to do things without thinking or listening.

As excited singers pour into the rehearsal space after a long break, this is the perfect time to shake things up, break a few habits, and keep things fresh and alive.

This is an opportunity to counter complacency and laziness; stop entrenched opinions from becoming the norm; put people in unfamiliar situations (and challenge them); make things fun and exciting; make a transition from being on choir break to getting back to work; and freshen up old repertoire.

Here are some things to try.

for choir leaders

  • chairs or no chairs – if you normally use chairs, then put them away. If you don’t use chairs, set some out. See Standing up for your choir.
  • mix ’em up – move the choir configuration around. Put the sopranos next to the tenors. Mix the parts up. Get people to walk around the space whilst singing. See STAB, TABS or ASSBAT – how does your choir line up?
  • new warm ups – try something new in the warm up. Invent a new exercise or adapt something to make it unfamiliar. See Preparing to sing: physical and vocal warm up ideas for choirs.
  • unexpected songs – if you usually do classical Western repertoire, throw in something from South Africa. If you’re a ‘world music’ choir, then do a pop song. If you’re a pop choir, sing something in Latin. See Finding songs for your choir.
  • new styles – take something well-known from your repertoire and sing it in an ‘inappropriate’ way: reggae, opera, country & western, rap. See 10 ways to breathe life into old songs and How to keep the old songs in your repertoire from going stale.
  • swop parts – give the altos (or tenors or basses) the tune for a change. Let the sopranos try the bass line.
  • add some moves – create some simple choreography with gestures, steps, etc. Good for getting the whole choir to keep the same rhythm. Then add a familiar song whilst doing it. See Singing and moving – at the same time!
  • replace yourself – get one of the singers to conduct a song. Get them to give the choir feedback (and vice versa).
  • walk away – start a familiar song off in an unfamiliar setting (e.g. facing a different way, standing next to different parts) then leave. Watch from a distance to see how the choir hold it together (or not!)
  • confound expectations – for every single element of your ‘usual’ rehearsal, find an alternative. This can also cover practical things like taking money, having tea break, handing out music, etc.
  • put people on the spot – choose a subset of the choir and get them to perform to the others.

for singers

  • stand next to someone different – even if they’re not your friend.
  • be someone else – decide on a different character to play for the evening: famous opera singer, nervous boy soprano, lounge singer, virtuoso with a huge range.
  • wear something special – and unexpected. Dress up for a change. Don’t worry about what others are wearing!
  • bring chocolates – buy a box of cheap chocs and hand them round to the whole choir, starting with the other sections. Good chance to meet people you’ve not got to know well.
  • focus on  your body – it’s always easy to forget your posture when singing. Focus entirely on your body and physical sensations for a change. Find the easiest way of being whilst you’re singing.
  • try a new part – in many community choirs the range in each part is not that extreme. Pop along to a part next to the one you usually sing in and give it a go for a change.
  • don’t use your music – if your choir uses sheet music or lyric sheets, put them away for a familiar song. You’ll be surprised how much you know!
  • imagine the warm up is unfamiliar – even if you’re asked to do the same old thing, treat it as if you’ve never done it before. Find easier or different ways of doing it. You’re bound to discover something new.

more ideas

There are thousands more ideas that you can try, this is just to get you started.

The main point is that the first session back after a long break is an ideal time to shake things up.

I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions.

Chris Rowbury’s website:

Chris Rowbury


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