Sunday, December 01, 2013

Should you have auditions for a workplace or community choir?

Gareth Malone is back on UK television with a second series of The Choir: Sing While You Work. The choirmaster goes into five different organisations to form workplace choirs which then go on to compete against each other.


He auditions staff to create the choirs, but is that necessary to form a workplace choir?

sports team or community?

The question for me is what is a workplace choir supposed to be for?

Is it like a sports team which represents the local community, or is it a community which brings a workforce together through singing?

If it’s like a sports team, then the aim is to gather the best players/ singers to create an elite team which will then represent the local community (or workplace) in competition.

If it’s to create a community to bring the workforce together (see Does a community make a choir, or does a choir create a community?), then everyone should be welcome.

workplace choir as sports team

Those of us who like sports might dream one day of being in the local team and going all the way to the championship. But we know that’s very unlikely because only the few, the most talented players will be chosen. That’s OK though, not everyone can be an elite sports player, and we’re content to support our local team through thick and thin because they represent our local community and we’re proud of them.

That doesn’t stop us going to the park or local gym at weekends to play in our amateur team. We might even fantasise that we’re our sports idol while we’re playing!

workplace choir as community

Most of us can kick or throw a ball. We know people who are better than us and people who are worse than us. It’s not that hard. But singing — now that’s a whole other issue!

We’re happy to admit that we’re not that good at kicking or running or throwing, it’s no big deal. We still turn out to the park on Sundays and have a good time with the kids.

But if you ask us to sing, then we compare ourselves to our heroes and heroines and find ourselves lacking and become afraid to open our mouths (see Why can’t I sing?). We will not step up to audition because we feel that if our singing voice is rejected then somehow it’s a rejection of us.

If we don’t get into the team/ choir, then we might even give up singing with others entirely.

If we want a workplace choir to be a true community, then we need to open it to everyone and encourage those who think they can’t sing to join (see How singing together creates communities). Singing together is a great way of breaking down barriers and of connecting disparate parts of a large organisation (as Gareth Malone has shown). But rather than having a few to represent the many, why not be inclusive and create the ultimate team?

it’s all about the competition

In the world of choirs, there are auditioned choirs and open-access choirs. There is a place for both. Auditions are only necessary when you’re setting yourself up to be judged by others (e.g. when making a CD to sell, entering a barbershop competition, trying to make it as a professional group).

But when you’re trying to encourage people to sing and to help create a sense of community, then there is no place for either competitions or auditions. It is not important which choir is ‘best’ or which singer is ‘better’ than the other singer.

Especially in a workplace, auditions can be divisive. Gareth says the best part of his job is telling people that they’ve got into his choir. But what about the people who don’t get in? They have to work alongside their colleagues the next day and must surely feel some element of rejection or inferiority.

Singing is NOT like joining a sports team, it is much more personal than that. We should be encouraging people to sing, not judging them.

horses for courses

Gareth Malone is, of course, working under certain constraints:
  • the TV programme has been set up as a competition (presumably to give the viewers a bit of ‘drama’);
  • if everyone was allowed to be in the workplace choir, no work would get done (it’s much easier to give 24 people time off work occasionally);
  • he needs to produce good results in a short period of time (so he works with the best singers available);
  • it all makes for good telly (yet he has made programmes in the past about creating community choirs without any element of competition and no auditions).

Without such constraints, my preference for a workplace (or community) choir would be to welcome all comers and not to have auditions.

What do you think? I’d love it if you’d drop by and leave a comment. Thanks.

further reading

Gareth Malone was interviewed in September 2013 by Sinfini Music. It amounts to his Choral Manifesto of sorts:

My Choral Manifesto by Gareth Malone (the comments make interesting reading!)

You might also like to read my Choral Manifesto (!):

My ideal community choir

I’ll be writing soon about whether community choirs are limited in any way or can be just as excellent as auditioned or professional choirs.

Also I want to look at how we take criticism about our singing voices. Our voices are so personal to us that we can take it as a personal attack.

If you have any ideas for future blog post, do contact me.

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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