Monday, March 30, 2015

Should your choir perform live? – arguments for and against

When I started my most recent community choir The OK Chorale back in 2011 I decided it wasn’t going to be a performing choir.

Brighton Vox

But inevitably, over time, we have ended up giving local concerts. Not all choirs perform though. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

reasons not to perform with your choir

  • too much focus on product rather than process – most singers enjoy the process of singing and learning together rather than having to always be aware of how good the finished product will be.
  • always rehearsing, no time for fun – it’s very hard to strike a balance in weekly sessions between rehearsing for your next concert and actually enjoying the singing. It can all too easily become like ‘work’.
  • less opportunities to learn new repertoire – if you perform frequently (and I know of some choirs who do up to a dozen concerts a year), then there is often no time to work on new songs.
  • can be stressful learning words, etc. – when the pressure’s on to get up to speed for a performance, many singers find it very stressful.
  • hard to integrate new singers into old repertoire – if you’re building up to a concert which involves some of the choir’s well-known back catalogue it can be problematic when new singers join the choir and you have to get them up to speed separately.
  • can put off new recruits – especially if you perform to a high standard. With my first choir, WorldSong, I used to think that we would recruit lots of new singers through our regular concerts. But because we sung to a high standard it actually put audience members off because they thought they wouldn’t be good enough to join!
  • singers who can’t make concert can feel left out – not everyone is going to be able to attend your next concert and it can leave them feeling excluded as you rehearse each week.
  • pressure to fill seats and raise bar each time – most people join a choir to sing, not to publicise, sell tickets and fill seats. There can also be a pressure to raise the bar each time and make each concert more spectacular than the last.
  • promotes static performer/audience relationship – many cultures in the world don’t differentiate between performers and audience, rather everyone joins in all the time. There are no ‘special’ people who perform for others as in our culture. Putting on regular ticketed concerts simply re-emphasise this false distinction and can reinforce audience members’ beliefs that you have to be ‘special’ in order to be able to sing.
  • hard to control environment – amplification, sight lines, etc. Often elements of a performance are out of your control and mistakes or bad/ wrong equipment can spoil an otherwise good performance.
  • always chasing the next ‘high’ – if a concert goes well, the singers will feel amazing afterwards. But that feeling doesn’t last long and they will want another ‘high’ in a short while. It stops being about the pleasure of singing and more about chasing external validation.

reasons why it might be good for your choir to perform

  • share your accomplishments with pride – as you work together as a team your singing will improve and you will end up sounding great. It’s lovely to be able to share that achievement and sense of pride with others.
  • some people need something to work towards – not everyone is satisfied with just singing together each week but always need to be “working towards something”. It can be making your next CD, being part of a theatre show or putting on your next concert.
  • can raise profile of choir locally – if you want to promote your choir, doing public performances and showing everyone what you do it a great way to do it.
  • good recruitment tool – even though your high standards may put some people off (see above), hearing your choir perform is one of the best ways of recruiting new singers.
  • shows friends and family what you’ve been up to – many friends, partners and family members have no idea what you get up to at choir each week and sometimes it’s hard to explain well. If they get to come and see you perform they will find out what it is you do.
  • motivation to learn lyrics and polish songs – despite our best intentions, we often need some extra motivation to learn the lyrics to a song and really nail our part. A concert looming focuses the mind wonderfully!
  • big challenge can lead to sense of achievement – many singers who have never performed before find being part of a concert a real challenge, but afterwards it brings a wonderful feeling of achievement.
  • some people just like showing off! – it might not be your whole choir, but some people are just hard-wired to be performers and love showing off in front of an audience. It might be that you can do some smaller gigs (not involving the whole choir) during the year to satisfy their need.

other posts of interest

You might find these posts of interest too.

Choirs that don’t perform

What’s the point of live music performance?

7 ways to share your choir’s singing without making a big performance of it

Process vs. product: are you along for the singing ride or just the performance?

Balancing fun with rehearsing for concerts

Don’t peak too soon – effective rehearsal planning for your next concert

Getting the best out of your choir: preparing for performance

Why ‘singing for fun’ doesn’t mean low standards and poor performances

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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