Monday, June 28, 2021

Skills you’ll need to brush up when your choir rehearses again in person

Here in England, we’re limited to a maximum of six singers rehearsing indoors.

photo by allan harris

When restrictions are finally lifted (in three weeks we hope), many choral skills will have gone rusty over the last year or more.

Rules vary in the different countries of the UK (and across the globe), but in England, most choirs are rehearsing only outdoors with a maximum of 30 singers. Indoors, the limit is six.

Many choirs won’t have sung together in person for up to 16 months. Singing together again and seeing old friends has been a real boost. However, outdoors singing has its own set of problems (see Performing outdoors – tips and tricks).

When your choir is finally able to rehearse indoors again (possibly with masks and social distancing), what kinds of skills might you need to work on?

Even if your choir has been singing regularly on Zoom, there are many in-person skills that won’t have been needed. Let’s look at the four main areas that you might need to work on.

1. ensemble skills

Singing at home on Zoom is basically singing by yourself. You need to pay attention to what the leader is doing and you can see everyone’s faces, but singing together is not possible (due to the inherent lag of the internet).

Now that you’re singing in person together, you will need to re-discover various ensemble skills: awareness of others, listening, blend, balance, harmonising, eye contact. it will also take a while to get used to the different acoustic landscape (compared with singing at home or outdoors).

See Singing is all about listening, 10 exercises guaranteed to get your singers listening more carefully, Getting ready to go back to choir: 5 ideas to help singers and choir leaders.

2. vocal skills

Singing alone at home (probably seated, feeling self-conscious and not needing to project) or outdoors (singing softly so you can hear others, not being able to fill the space with sound) will result in a disconnect between your full voice and your body. Rehearsing together with others will require you to re-open your voice and connect it back into your body. You might find initially that your power and range are both reduced, and if you push it too much at first, you will tire your voice quickly.

See How can I extend my vocal range as a singer? and How to sing better

3. brain fog

Singing on Zoom can be very tiring as you’ve probably discovered. But rehearsing together in person brings a whole other set of demands on your brain: focus (on other singers and the choir leader), outward-looking (instead of focusing only your own voice), complexity (now there are harmonies and other voices to consider), over-stimulation (it can be overwhelming dealing with all that information), slow brain (you might not be as sharp as you were in the company of others), lack of concentration (it’s been a while so you’ll probably tire easily and find it harder to concentrate initially).

4. managing expectations

Many singers have been desperate to get back to in-person singing. The downside to this is that you may have unrealistic expectations. You have to remember that you’ve not sung together for a long time and everyone will be rusty in some way. The first rehearsals may not sound or feel as good as you’d anticipated. You will probably have certain anxieties (can I still sing? will my social skills still be there?).

baby steps

Both choir leaders and singers will need to take baby steps: you can’t expect to just jump in where you left off over a year ago. Realise that everyone will be slightly rusty, and different people rusty in different areas. That means singers and choir leaders need to be patient and accepting of everyone and where they’re at.

Choir leaders, create a safe space (both in terms of Covid and allowing people to be vulnerable whilst feeling comfortable). Start with simple, fun exercises to get everyone working well together again (ensemble skills) and singers to get back in touch with their voices (vocal skills).

Bear in mind that everyone will find the first few rehearsals challenging (brain fog), so keep things simple and familiar. Choose well-known songs and familiar warm-up exercises. Don’t rush into new, complex repertoire too quickly.

Make it clear that everyone’s in the same boat and all will be well (managing expectations). Do things that will bring an immediate sense of achievement and lift the spirits. Good luck!

other posts that might help

You might find these other posts useful when starting back to rehearsals.

Singers listen with their eyes as well as their ears

Think you’ve forgotten how to sing or conduct? It happens to us all!

The most important thing do when choir starts again after a long break

Coming back to singing after a long absence or a bad experience

Has your voice gone rusty over the summer?

Not done it for a while? Can you still do it? – the worries of singers and choir leaders


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Chris Rowbury




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Chris Rowbury


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