Monday, July 24, 2023

Novelty vs. familiarity – how to keep things fresh without alienating your singers

Familiarity breeds contempt. If you do the same thing over and over again it can become boring.

However, constantly introducing new things can be hard work and it can feel like you never arrive. How do we maintain a balance between these two extremes?

same old, same old

There are choirs that do exactly the same warm up week after week. Or maybe sing the same song at the end of each session. This brings a feeling of comfort and familiarity, everyone knows what they’re doing. It’s safe.

let’s try something new!

Then there are choirs constantly learning new repertoire, trying exciting novel warm ups, taking on new challenges all the time. This can feel energising and stimulating, nobody has time to get bored or rest on their laurels.

There are downsides to both of these extremes.

the downsides

If you do exactly the same thing every week, people can zone out and not concentrate as much as they did when they first learnt something. It takes a great deal of focus to really inhabit the same old warm up week after week, and to pay close attention to what your body and voice are doing and feeling. It’s also easy to go through the motions when singing a song that you know so well. You can easily forget what you’re singing about or stop paying attention to the dynamic changes and other harmony parts.

On the other hand, if you’re always trying new things it can feel like you never arrive, that you never ever get to the point where you really know something inside out. It can feel like you’re always winging it and never quite getting to grips with anything. You might learn the overall song or warm up, but never have time to let it bed in or focus on details. There never comes a moment where you feel comfortable and can really relax into something.

keeping a balance

it’s important to keep developing as a choir and as a singer. Moving forward and trying new things brings a sense of fulfilment and a feeling of growth and improvement.

Really bedding songs in, doing deep work in warm ups and singing something that is familiar and well-known are also important.

There is no simple formula for how to balance these two: novelty and familiarity. As long as you constantly bear the extremes in mind though, it will help you keep a balance.

Rather than doing a brand new warm up each week, perhaps add a new exercise each time to slowly build a repertoire of exercises.

Rather than spending an entire rehearsal on new material, remember to sing some of the old choir favourites.

Rather than standing in exactly the same places each week, try moving singers around and trying different combinations.

Rather than singing a familiar song in the same way as you’ve always done, try a different approach: sing it as if it’s a different genre (country & western, opera, etc.), focus on dynamics, add a new part.

Good luck!

Chris Rowbury


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