Monday, April 01, 2019

How to put on a successful concert 2: songs and concert structure

Last week we looked at planning and asked a series of questions like why? what for? when? who’s coming?

This week we’ll look at the how: how you actually put a concert of songs together.

There are several stages to getting songs ready for a concert.

You’ll have chosen the songs in the planning stage. Now you’ll need to learn and rehearse them, decide how to present them and what order they’ll be in.

Since learning and rehearsing songs is pretty much what every choir does, I’m assuming that you know how to do that part!

Let’s look at what happens next.

song structure

There’s nothing more boring for an audience than listening to a long song with many verses all in the same block harmonies. Unless there’s some variety, it’s hard to be attentive for long periods.

This is where song structure comes in.

There are plenty of variations within a given arrangement. Here are some examples.

  • begin with a soloist, duet or a harmony quartet, then bring the whole choir in later.
  • begin with the main tune then add harmonies gradually with each verse.
  • mix and match the harmonies for interest. For example: verse 1 main melody, verse 2 bass only, verse 3 main melody and tenors. And so on. It depends on the nature of the song how well harmonies will work on their own or against each other.
  • vary verses by humming or singing ‘oo’ instead of singing the lyrics, or by having a small sub-section of the choir performing.
  • play with men’s and women’s voices. Mix the harmonies so you can have an all-male version of the song and an all-female version.

Once you’ve learnt a song, play around with it in as many ways as possible in rehearsal and you may discover interesting ways of structuring it.

entrances and exits

Once you’ve decided on a structure for each song, you can play with the many options for how you get your singers on and off stage.

A powerful, but simple way of starting a concert is to have the choir enter gradually. For example, if you’ve decided to build the harmonies verse by verse, you simply get each section to enter the performance space in turn. Or you could start with a quartet, then get the bass section to enter, then the others. There are plenty of variations!

Entering from offstage singing is also very powerful. You’ll need to practice this a lot though as timing can go out easily when people are singing and walking at the same time.

Maybe have the first few songs with a sub-section of the choir, then slowly add singers to each new song until everyone is on stage.

Some songs can be presented by surrounding the audience or standing behind them. You can then enter the performance space for the next song. Maybe even get rid of the idea of ‘performance space’ entirely and sing from the balcony! It very much depends on your venue.

Towards the end of the concert you can reverse the process and have singers leave gradually until only a soloist or quartet is left. You will then need to rethink your curtain call.

running order

Only once you’ve thought through song structure and entrances and exits can you finalise your running order. You can find out more about this in Choosing a running order for your concert or CD.

varying the nature of your concerts

Hopefully you’ll have keen audience members who come to many of your concerts. They love what you do so they’ll be surprised if you suddenly change the nature of your repertoire. However, there are other ways of ringing the changes without alienating your audience.

If you always perform with backing tracks, add a few a cappella songs. If you’re always a cappella, think about having some live musicians with you for a change.

Invite another (similar, but contrasting) act to join you. You can split the concert in half, or share a few songs. It’s a great way to re-invigorate existing repertoire.

Even if it’s yet another church, vary your venue from time to time.

I do hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful. I’d love to hear some of your great ideas for how to present a concert. Good luck with your next one!

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Chris Rowbury




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