Monday, August 03, 2020

How to make plans for your choir when the future is uncertain

The socially-distanced reopening of indoor performances in England was due to take place last Saturday, but the government has now postponed it for at least another two weeks.

With circumstances changing so frequently, how do you prepare for future concerts and rehearsals?

Nobody can predict the future, but we’re usually able to plan ahead for things like performances and rehearsals. We book our venues plenty of time in advance and, unless there is unexpected illness or the venue burns down, things usually go smoothly.

However, there are times when the future is far less predictable. In times of pandemic or war or weather extremes, for example. Fortunately these events happen rarely, but they do happen.

Even in times of plague or in war-torn countries, life and art go on. Humans will always find ways to sing, play music and entertain others, even in extreme conditions.

Thankfully, things aren’t that bad for most of us, but we are living under strict restrictions which are changing all the time. How can we plan ahead with such an uncertain future?

planning your next choir season

Putting concerts and performances aside for one moment, how do you plan your next choir season and set of choir rehearsals if the future is unclear?

continue online

Many choirs have moved online, using conference platforms such as Zoom to keep choir members engaged. It is possible to learn new material as well as to rehearse and revise existing repertoire. With an uncertain future, it’s possible to continue like this forever.

The upside is that by now your choir members will have got used to the online experience. Yes, it’s not the same as singing together, but it is a way of continuing to sing together. Choir leaders have been endlessly inventive with the kinds of thing they can offer. Choir leaders who earn a living from their choir can continue to charge subs. It won’t take much work, and won’t need much notice, to seamlessly move from online back to normal rehearsals when restrictions have been lifted.

The downsides are that not all your choir members will want to (or even be able to) get online to sing. Zoom is also very tiring and it’s possible to get ‘Zoom fatigue’ after several weeks. You might also begin to lose choir members since singing online is nowhere near the same as singing together in a room.

sing outdoors

Whilst we’re forbidden from gathering in large numbers indoors, and whilst the weather stays fine, some choirs have moved outdoors. Most countries still have limits to the numbers of people who are allowed to gather, so it might be necessary to stagger rehearsals working with smaller groups than usual each time.

The biggest upside is that your choir members actually get to sing together in the same space! No matter how widely spaced you need to be, the experience is far superior to singing online. You may not be able to gather your whole choir together at once, but this will feel a little like business as usual.

The downsides are those of singing outdoors (passers-by interrupting, wind blowing the sound away, rain and cold, finding a suitably private space, not being able to hear the other singers) and the season: what happens when winter comes? Also, it’s much harder work for the choir leader if you have to have many smaller rehearsals each week rather than one big one.

put your choir on hold

Some choirs have not met at all, either online or in the flesh. Since it’s going to be a long, long time before things are back to any kind of normal, it might be an idea to put your choir on ice, or even knock it on the head entirely.

The upside is that you’re not pretending that life is normal and you’re not settling for any kind of second best. It will be less stressful and less work than constantly having to find new ways of working and changing plans as government guidelines change. It gives a clear message to your choir members who can then make alternative plans rather than hanging around until things change.

The downside is that you may lose choir members or even your entire income stream. That may not be the end of the world though. It may well lead some choir leaders into new jobs and new occupations that they hadn’t expected. Even early retirement!

planning your next concert

Here are a few ideas for planning concerts and performances during uncertainty.

keep moving the dates

Many choirs I know keep pushing back their concerts. Having had to cancel in the spring, they rescheduled for the summer. But the summer is here and venues are still closed, so they have rescheduled for the winter. “It will all be over by Christmas”, but who really knows?

The upside of rescheduling is that the event is kept alive and choir members still have something to work towards. The songs will all be ready, no need to re-learn them when the time comes.

The downside is that it becomes like groundhog day or Waiting for Godot: you keep rehearsing the same pieces, but the performance never arrives. Like the boy who cried wolf, choir members will soon go off the boil and begin to believe that the concert will never happen. Why bother working towards it?

reschedule to a more realistic time

It will be a long time until choirs can gather again as normal. Maybe a year or more. Some choirs have rescheduled major concerts for a year hence, as have lots of music festivals.

The upside is that a seasonal concert will stay at the same time of year. If audiences missed your spring concert this year, they’ll simply wait until next year. A year seems a realistic time period, and also gives you plenty of opportunity to re-evaluate the situation over the intervening months. You can also park the concert repertoire for a while and work on some new material in the meantime.

The downside is that it’s a long time for your audience to wait. Can you keep them entertained in the interim period? Otherwise you might lose them. The same applies to choir members, you have to keep them engaged as you can’t expect them to hang around for a year doing nothing.

find an alternative outlet

Many choirs are putting performances online instead of in person. It could be videos of past performances, or ‘virtual’ choirs, or a live stream of a socially-distanced performance with no physical audience.

The upsides are that your choir continues to maintain a presence and is still offering something to your audience. If you create virtual choirs or find a way to perform in a socially-distanced way, you will keep your choir members engaged and give them something to work towards. It’s possible to sustain this kind of thing for a long time without audiences or singers getting bored.

The biggest downside is that it’s a lot of work. The easiest option is to post old choir videos, but lots of your audience will already have seen them. Creating a virtual choir takes a lot of time, effort, expertise and possibly money. Finding a suitable venue to rehearse and perform in with social distancing will take time and money. Also, many countries are still banning meetings of large groups.

create more product

This might be a time for your choir to start churning out audio recordings. You can make new CDs or upload individual tracks to various online platforms. Creating a distanced audio recording is far less work than making a virtual choir. Your choir members just record their audio at home and send it in. No need to edit or sync up videos.

The upside is this can give your choir members something to work towards. It enables the choir to learn and perfect new material. It can even provide an income stream if you sell the CDs. Your audience will also have new product available to them. You can continue in this vein for a long time.

The downside is that it’s still quite a bit of work – for someone. However, you might find appropriate skills from within your choir. Who knows, somebody may even be able to make a video to accompany the audio.

other ideas?

I’d love to hear from you if you have other ideas to add to this list. How are you planning for your next choir season or next concert?


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Chris Rowbury




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