Monday, October 28, 2019

Don’t forget the basics when welcoming people who have never sung in a choir before

I started a new pop-up choir project last week. Several of the people who came had never sung in a choir before.

At the beginning of the first session I always try to make everyone welcome, and go through a series of pointers for those who might not have done much singing before. But I was surprised that I left out some of the basics!

make everyone comfortable at the first session

Many of us sing in, or lead choirs regularly. We become so used to it that it’s easy to forget that those new to singing might need some guiding through the basics.

I always try to make people welcome at the first session. I start by pointing out that everyone will be nervous, and the songs will be new for everyone. Most importantly, most people will believe that they’re not very good at singing, and will think that everyone else is better than them .

There’s usually a sigh of relief at this point! (see You are not alone – most people in the choir think they can’t sing well)

It’s also worth mentioning at this stage that some singers will already know each other, some might have sung with others but a long time ago, and others will be new to the whole thing. Singers tend to be a friendly bunch, so it’s easy to believe that you’ve walked into a clique of people who are already best buddies.

I go on to tell people that, although I encourage standing, people can sit as much as they need to throughout the session. I encourage people to work within their limits during the warm up, particularly the physical parts.

When people need to choose which part to sing, I encourage new singers to go with their gut feeling, but if that turns out to be too high or too low for them, then they should feel free to change parts later (see Everybody has a place in the choir).

Much of this information is going to be the same every time you run a one-off workshop or start a new season with new choir members. You’ll need to find slightly different ways of presenting familiar information if you want to keep choir members’ attention. See Stopping singers from zoning out when saying something important for the hundredth time.

You also might think that you make your choir or workshop very welcoming to new singers, but you might be missing the mark. Remember what it was like your first day at school? See How welcoming is your choir?

give people info before they even arrive

I sent out an email to everyone before our first session reminding them of the venue address, timing, parking info., etc.

I got an email from a new singer after the first session which said:
“I enjoyed the first night.I’ve never sung in a choir before so was a bit worried when I came in I didn't know a soul only my friend I came with, but soon settled.”
Which was encouraging!

But then they went on to say:
“I thought I'd be the only person with a bottle of water so was relieved when I saw others with them too.”
I had forgotten to say that people should bring water. It hadn’t occurred to me that someone might be worried that they would be the only one!

They then said:
“I found it strange with no words to look at but expect I shall get used to it.”
I had purposely chosen songs with few words or with words that people would know. It’s easier to learn a song that way than to use lyric sheets and have to put them down later. But it would have been helpful for me to point that out before new singers arrived. Also the fact that I teach everything by ear and there will be no sheet music.

It’s impossible to remove all the anxiety for new singers attending a group for the first time, but you can mitigate things by sending out information in advance. See How to prepare new choir members for their first visit.

nothing is too basic

If you sing or teach regularly, it’s very easy to forget what it’s like to be someone who is brand new to the whole thing. You need to remember to keep new singers informed. Nothing is too basic to include in this information.

It’s probably worth compiling a list of things to include which you can add to as time goes by. Decide what needs to be sent out in advance and what you can include in the first session.

If you find yourself writing the same email time and again, you might think about putting it as a Frequently Asked Questions section on your website which you can refer singers too.

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Chris Rowbury




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