Monday, December 18, 2023

If you don’t know the songs that well, should you sing in your next concert?

We’ve all been there: a big concert is coming up and we feel under-prepared.

Should we just duck out, or soldier on and busk it? Here’s what I think.

’Tis the season when many choirs will be putting on at least one big concert, if not several back to back. Some choirs begin rehearsing their Christmas repertoire in the summer (really??!!), but most community choirs start in the autumn term, maybe from September onwards.

If your choir does a concert entirely of Christmas songs, then that’s a lot of material to get through. It might be that you feel you haven’t got to grips 100% with all the songs you’ll be singing.

And it’s not just at Christmas. You might you’ve missed rehearsals due to illness or you’re new to the choir and aren’t familiar with their back catalogue. You could be a slow learner or your choir director has been over-ambitious and not scheduled enough rehearsals.

In fact, there is a multitude of reasons why you might feel under-prepared for your next concert. What to do?

Here are five things you can try (and one that you shouldn’t, under any circumstances).

1. speak with your choir leader 1 – let your choir director know that you feel under-prepared. You might be one of many, in which case the choir leader will try to add some extra rehearsals. Feedback is important.

2. speak with your choir leader 2 – you might be alone in your worries, but your choir leader may well be able to reassure you that many singers feel under-prepared — especially for a first concert — but you actually know the material as well as the rest.

3. only sing the songs you know well – I always used to say this to new choir members who weren’t able to learn the whole of our back catalogue. I’ve always been reluctant to exclude singers from concerts, so I ask them only to sing the songs they knew well and to step back during the songs that they don’t know. Check with your choir lead first. It’s important that you step back: even a joyful, animated face draws unwanted attention if a singer’s mouth isn’t moving!

4. put in some extra rehearsal time – ask around your section and you may find other singers who feel equally unprepared. You could then have an extra run-through at somebody’s house, or even persuade your choir leader to run some extra section rehearsals. If you’re the only one in your section with worries, then you can put time in at home using whatever choir resources are on offer: recorded parts, sheet music, backing tracks, your own recordings from rehearsals, videos of past concerts, etc.

5. evaluate your situation realistically – only you know how unprepared you are. If you’ve missed lots of rehearsals or have had trouble keeping up with everyone else, it might be best if you stepped down and didn’t do the next concert. Let your choir leader know.

And here’s the thing you should never, ever do:

just busk it (nobody will notice) – any time a concert has gone badly wrong or completely off the rails, it’s usually been because several singers (who should know better) thought they could just turn up and busk it, even though they didn’t know the material well enough. Remember, you are part of a team. If you cock it up, it makes the whole choir look bad. It’s not a good way to make friends!

other posts

You might find these older posts useful too.

Helping new choir members learn the old songs

Ask questions – your choir leader (probably) won’t bite!

How to cope when singers miss choir sessions

Over-rehearsed or under-prepared: which is better?

How to catch up if you miss a choir rehearsal

A concert is coming, but singers have missed rehearsals and not done their homework! What to do?


Chris Rowbury


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