Monday, March 02, 2020

Back to basics: how to reawaken your passion as a choir leader

Ever found the same old warm up exercises a bit boring or ending up just going through the motions during a rehearsal?

It might be time to revisit the basics of what you’re doing as a choir leader and why. Read on to find out how to reinvigorate your choir leading.

same old same old

It happens to everyone, whatever job you do.

Some days you’re on autopilot doing the same old things without much enthusiasm. Everything has become so familiar that it has become a little bit boring.

These phases usually pass quickly and then you’re back to our normal inspired self.

But if you’ve been doing something for a very long time, it can be difficult to get out of this state and find your passion again.

It’s very easy to do the same warm up exercises week after week, but to forget exactly why you’re doing them. it’s much easier to repeat yourself than to find new material.

  • You may position your choir in exactly the same way each week without remembering why you’ve chosen that formation. It’s easy to forget that there are other alternatives.
  • Your conducting gestures may have become fixed and lack any expression. Your choir have become so familiar with them that they may have stopped paying attention.
  • Your rehearsals might have the same structure since you started your choir. It’s easy to forget that there are other ways of doing things that might be more effective.

All this sameness can soon become boring and your choir’s familiarity can mean they lose interest.

One solution is to go back to basics.

back to basics

If you find your practice as a choir leader has lost its sparkle, the easiest way to revive it is to rethink what you’re doing.

Going back to basics involves asking simple questions like:

WHY are you doing this?

HOW can you do it more effectively?

WHAT other ways are there of achieving the same end?

WHEN is the best time to do it?

WHO is the best person to do this?

I’m not going to give you specific answers here because it depends on your own choir, your particular style, how experienced you are, what repertoire you sing, etc.

But I will give two examples to demonstrate how you might proceed.

example 1

WHY do you do hip circles during the warm up?

Here is a great explanation from Alexander Massey: Preparing to sing: hip wiggling and knee bending

HOW can you do it more effectively?

If you just give the instruction “circle your hips” you will notice that many choir members will end up simply swaying from side to side or moving just the upper part of their bodies. They don’t have sufficient self-awareness to do the exercise effectively.

It’s hard to give individual attention to singers in a choir, but you can lead into the exercise gradually.

Get singers to shift their hips to the left. Use imagery like trying to bump somebody out of the way. Repeat on the right. Then get singers to move their hips to the back by imagining they’re using their bottom to hit a ball and score a goal. Finally, ask singers to imagine their pelvis is a big scoop and to scoop up a big pile of spaghetti as their hips swing forwards.

Having established these four extreme points for the hips (right, back, left, front), get singers to move between them in sequence. Then ask them to gradually make it smoother. Finally, do it in the opposite direction (front, left, back, right).

WHAT other ways are there of achieving the same end?

Instead of doing hip circles each week, try to vary it. Do ‘silly’ walks around the room. Sing an Elvis song whilst shifting the hips from side to side, or front to back. Form a conga chain and move round the room singing a simple song whilst emphasising the hips. Make it fun!

WHEN is the best time to do it?

You may have a fixed point in your warm up to add hip movements. Think about why you’ve chosen that point. Maybe it’s not a good idea to do it first thing as singers will need to warm up their whole body first. Perhaps you shouldn’t restrict it to the warm up. What happens if you stop to do hip circles whilst in the middle of rehearsing a song? Does the sound change? Will it remind singers to use their abdominal muscles more?

WHO is the best person to do it?

Does the choir leader always have to lead the warm up? Can you allocate different individuals each week to lead different exercises? Perhaps you can assign a few exercises to particular singers each week and ask them to come back with a different version of the exercise. Maybe you can ask individual singers to shout out when they think an exercise can usefully be repeated in the middle of a rehearsal.

example 2

WHY do singers always stand in sections in SATB order?

It’s what you’ve always done! It makes it easier to teach songs and singers remember where to stand each week.

HOW can you do it more effectively and WHAT other ways are there of achieving the same end?

The question here is more effective for whom: the choir leader or the singers? It might be easier for choir leaders to have singers stand in sections, but it might be more useful for the singers to have different sections stand next to each other each week, or even to mix parts up when learning a song.

See STAB, TABS or ASSBAT – how does your choir line up? and Why do choirs stand in sections to learn songs? Here’s an alternative that might work better!
WHEN is the best time to do it?

It’s much easier, having established a formation for your choir, to stick to that throughout the rehearsal. Especially if singers are seated. It’s a real faff to get everyone to move around during a rehearsal! But that may be exactly why you should do it. Otherwise singers can become complacent and habituated.

Changing formation can wake things up in the middle of a rehearsal. Also, do your singers get into choir formation for the warm up? If so, maybe it’s too early and you could mix singers up more. It’s useful to stand next to different voices each week, not just for the singing, but also for the social side.

WHO is the best person to do it?

It’s usually the choir leader who decides which formation the choir uses. Also it’s often the choir leader who decides which singers stand next to each other to improve the vocal blend.

But do your singers know why they’re standing in a particular formation? Maybe it’s a good idea to divide your choir in half and have half the singers listen to the others standing in different formations and give feedback. At the very least they’ll understand why you’ve chosen a particular choir formation. But who knows, they might come up with better suggestions!

back to basics for singers too

It’s not just choir leaders who can get a little jaded. Singers who end up doing the same thing week after week can also lose their passion. Next week I’ll look at how singers can also go back to basics to reawaken their joy of singing in a choir – even if your choir leader insists on doing the same thing every rehearsal!

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Chris Rowbury




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Chris Rowbury


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