Monday, August 08, 2016

If the energy in your choir is low do you go with the flow or wake everyone up?

I ran a whole weekend of singing recently and when the Saturday evening session rolled round everyone was understandably very tired.

photo by Son Lee

This slot has always been problematic: do I do simple songs, slow songs or high energy wake-up songs? Do you go with the flow or try to wake everyone up?

at the end of a long day …

It hits us all, whether it’s a long rehearsal, a difficult song or a full day of singing, there will come a time when all the singers are really tired, but you need to carry on.

The obvious solution is to call it quits and let everyone rest, returning at a later time refreshed and eager to work. But that’s not always possible.

On my singing weekends I’ve always had a problem with the last slot on the Saturday as it’s already been a long day of singing (we do have the afternoon off though!).

When I first started I just ploughed on with whatever song we’d been learning during the day, but I found that the attention just wasn’t there. The energy was low, people got confused easily and had to sit down all the time (making the low energy even lower). In fact, we seemed to undo some of the good work we’d done earlier.

approaches I have tried

Then I tried a different approach: I designed a self-contained session with several short, fun, high-energy songs which had nothing to do with the theme of the weekend. This seemed to work much better.

On my recent weekend I thought I’d try another approach. I decided to go with the low energy and chose a very slow, fairly easy song to teach. The idea was to have the lights low, get people to sit close, and tap into a chant-like atmosphere.

But first I thought I’d wake people up a bit after supper to get them prepared for the session. We did a high-energy song with clapping and overlapping parts. It was fun and and definitely energised people. But as soon as we stopped, the energy dropped away again.

When it came to the slow song, it was once again like walking through treacle: concentration was hard and it took longer than expected for people to get it.

what I have learnt

So what have I learnt from these experiences?

  • wake-up techniques work, but don’t last – if you need a quick injection of energy before something big (like a performance or a last run-through in a rehearsal) then wake-up games/ songs/ clapping, etc. work. But they’re no good if you want to continue with something that’s long or needs a lot of concentration as the effects wear off quite quickly.
  • short, simple, fun stuff is useful – at the end of a long day or weekend, doing something out of character or very different from usual is fun for the singers. Short, simple songs and games involving moving around, clapping, silly rounds with gestures, etc. all work well.
  • low energy means low energy – If you want to do something fairly hard and challenging or start learning a new song when energy is really low, then there’s nothing much you can do about it. Either give the singers a break or tackle something simpler. It might be possible to use that low energy to do some voice training, e.g. breathing exercises on the floor, but be warned: they might all nod off!

What do you do in these situations? Whether you’re a singer or choir leader, do you have any useful techniques to help when the whole choir is really, really tired or low energy? We’d love to hear from you.

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Chris Rowbury



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Chris Rowbury


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