Monday, May 11, 2015

Stepping up – how to find the courage to volunteer for solo or small group singing

There are times in most choirs when a soloist or a small ensemble is required. These roles can be allocated by the MD but in many cases singers are asked to volunteer to try out.

choir soloist
photo by Paterm

What if you think you’re up to the job but lack the confidence to step forward? Here are some ideas that might help.

A concert is coming up and your choir leader decides it would be great if the last verse of one of your songs was sung by a quartet with one singer from each part. It’s one of your favourite songs and you know it inside out.

But when she asks for volunteers to try out, your mouth goes dry, your heart starts to beat faster, your palms get sweaty and you find it hard to breath. You’d love to step forward, but by the time you’ve plucked up the courage, somebody else has beaten you to it.

How can you find the courage next time to step up? Here are seven ideas that might help.

1. the usual suspects

When I ask for volunteers in my own community choir, there is a small group of singers who are usually the first step forward. The trouble with this is that the other singers then feel that they can’t try out. The solution is for your choir leader to quietly ask these particular singers to not always step forward, or to make sure that they’re not always in the running by saying “Let’s try someone else for a change.”

2. not in front of the others!

Although you’ll end up singing in front of the rest of the choir if you’re chosen, at the trying out stage it can be terrifying. Ask your choir leader if try outs can be held privately. It can also be daunting to actually volunteer in front of the choir, so you might want to have a private chat with your choir leader to say that you’d be interested in trying out next time there’s an opportunity. Declaring your interest in this way is a kind of commitment which may help to push your forward when the time comes.

3. find a friend

If you’re trying out for a small ensemble, find a friend (or friends) from another part and agree to volunteer together. Safety in numbers (and the familiar)! You might even want to practice at home together beforehand.

4. ask for a workshop

To give everyone who wants to try out a fair chance (and to develop skills within the choir) ask your choir leader if they’re prepared to run a workshop looking at small group and solo singing skills. This will be a chance for more choir members to see what it feels like to sing a part on their own in the relative safety of a workshop. If they find they can do it confidently, it will be easier for them to volunteer in the future.

5. what’s the worse that can happen?

Many singers lack the courage to step up and try out. They get stuck inside their head worrying about if they’re good enough, the embarrassment of getting it ‘wrong’, what the other singers will think of them, whether their voice will crack or if they’ll run out of breath. This happens to everyone.

You’re putting yourself on the spot so it’s inevitable. But it’s precisely because of this that the rest of the choir will be behind you. It’s a team game and they’ll want to you to succeed (it means they won’t have to do it!). If you dry up or your voice cracks they will empathise and be encouraging (they’ve all been there themselves).

6. not getting the part doesn’t mean you’ve failed

If you do find the courage to try out, but don’t end up being chosen, don’t despair, there’s always the next time. It doesn’t mean you’re a ‘bad’ singer or not as ‘good’ as another singer – it just means that you weren’t the right person this time (which may have to do with the quality and timbre of your voice in this particular context).

Next time you’ll be singing a different song with different singers and may well fit in perfectly. Or it might be that you simply need a little more singing experience so when the next opportunity comes round in a few months you’ll be ready.

7. question your motives

Some people give themselves a hard time when they don’t find the courage to step forward. And some even give themselves a hard time when they DO step forward (maybe too often). If your motive is to show off, or to prove to yourself you can do it, or to be famous, or attempt to be better than the other singers ... then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

You should only step forward if you love the song, love singing solo or love singing harmony in a small group.

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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