Monday, September 16, 2019

How to squeeze singers into a rehearsal space that’s too small

It’s not something that happens out of choice, but sometimes we end up with too many singers for the rehearsal space available.

photo by Bryan Ledgard

Here are some ideas on how to deal with the situation.

so many singers, so little space

I’ve run many scratch choir projects over the last 13 years or so. My latest one is a pop-up choir to sing Paul Simon songs.

As always, I booked my usual rehearsal space well in advance to get the dates I wanted.
To my great surprise, I have been overwhelmed by the response and now find myself with too many singers to fit comfortably into the rehearsal room.

I started a new community choir when I move to Suffolk. I had prepared myself that if 20 people turned up to the first session, that would be a good start. If 40 people came I’d be delighted.

But over 100 singers turned up on the first night and there was no way they would all fit into the room I’d booked.

I’ve led singing workshops for other groups when more singers turned up than expected. Or the room the choir has been allocated for the warm up before a concert has turned out to be not much larger than a broom cupboard!

In all these cases, the rooms were too small for the number of singers.

dealing with the tight squeeze

The obvious solution is to move to a rehearsal space that is a better size. When over 100 singers turned up to my first community choir session, I was lucky that the adjacent community centre was free so we could use that.

Another time the room I’d booked was locked so we ended up in the garden of a local pub (it was summer).

But finding an alternative space is not always possible.

You may need to find ways of squeezing too many singers into a tight space.

adapt what you do

Some singing groups rehearse standing in a large circle. Others sit in fixed rows. Neither of these might be possible in a very tight space.

You might do a physical warm up with lots of arm-waving and moving around. You probably won’t be able to do this, let alone swing a cat.

Your singers might be used to allowing their voices to soar and fill the space. In a small, low-ceilinged room this can become problematic.

You will need to adapt your usual approach. But instead of thinking of this as a problem, let go of your habits and think of it as a creative challenge that may reveal new ways of working.

You might use this opportunity to get singers to stand close together, mixing the pats up and spreading them out equally.

You can still do a physical warm up but make it much smaller and more focused. Get your singers to really tune in and concentrate on their bodies.

What an amazing opportunity to work on blend and dynamics. Singing loud can cover lots of inaccuracies so forcing singers to be quieter and more sensitive will benefit your choir in the long run.

time to listen, focus and close in

Having your singers close together has some amazing advantages:
  • the choir leader won’t have to shout to be heard
  • singers won’t be used to it so they’ll end up concentrating more than usual
  • standing very close is a great opportunity to focus on listening skills and more subtle dynamics
  • breaking down personal space can result in more intimate connections between singers
  • mixing parts up means that singers end up getting to know other choir members

don’t stay in an unsuitable rehearsal space

Sometimes fate throws us a challenge. Fitting too many singers into a small rehearsal space can be overcome if it happens now and again. But if you find your rehearsal space has become too small in general (maybe due to a successful recruitment drive), it’s important to find a better space for the long term.

I’d love to hear of your experiences. Have you ended up in a rehearsal space that’s too small? How have you dealt with it?

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Chris Rowbury




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