Choirs: Starting again!

Its the start of March and choirs around Britain are getting excited at the prospect of getting back to singing. There is even a thought of performing again. It’s a heady time! As we come back to singing, after the lockdowns, zoom or not meeting, we now have a chance to revise your old, ‘normal’ ways of working and create a fresh start and a new approach.

1. New warm-ups!
What is the point of your warm-up? Are you clear about it or confused about what you are doing?
For me, a warm up is about getting your singers into their singing mind and body after a long day at work. Literally, switching off the work grinders and switching on their singing muscles. It means getting their breathing fluid again and taking away the stress of the day and it means getting their voices flexible. It is a TLC time!

Aim to include some physical stretching, shoulder, neck and jaw releases. Also breathing exercises that help develop deeper abdominal breathing function. After slumping over a desk all day, singers need to get upright!
Exercises that develop good posture, so that singers maintain an upright stance for singing and support help everything vocal!

After that, getting vocal flexibility through scale work (123454321) helps the voice warm up and allows the natural ‘gear changes’ of the voice to work. Longer exercises with open vowels help to create breath control and tone.

Have a clear aim for each of your warm up exercises. They aren’t just fillers! Are you working on range, agility, tone, breath control? Use the exercises with that aim and you will get clearer results.

2. New songs
Having fresh material in our sets is very important. Times have changed so we need to start planning new songs to teach that and reflect the times we are in. Take a moment to think ahead to your first planned concert and your song set. Yes, that far ahead! Now, think backwards! Starting from what you want the audience to hear, is a great way to make the changes you want, right now.

Are you a Ballad or Uptempo Fan?
There will be your favourite songs from past concerts to include as your skeleton base. Notice from these, are they Ballads or Uptempo? Are they very similar?
How many ballads outweigh uptempo songs? Yes – count them up! Even if you love ballads, be careful not to flood your programme with them – no more than two ballads before an uptempo or change of texture!

I categorise mine in to Slow, Mid and Fast when I am planning – sometimes the ‘Mid’ ones are great to lift the mood gently, after a very slow, deeply emotional song. That way, the audience isn’t jarred out of its reverie. A ‘sorbet’ song helps the audience to digest.

Small groups add interest
Even if your choir isn’t producing quartets yet – you can start a small group of 12 or 16 singers in a 4-part group. 3/4 singers to each part. It adds a different quality to the concert programme and a chance to add a change of texture. It’s a great way to get your singers back into learning and working as a unit. As they get more confident and expert in their singing, the groups can get smaller. Starting off this way means they aren’t exposed, as they have support on their part and they learn so much and have a huge pride in hearing their own improvement.

3. New Texture
Also check to see if there is enough contrast of texture in your set. Do you have a couple of songs in there that are a different style, different harmonic patterns? Hearing the same harmonic pattern too often, can make the songs all sound the same, even when they aren’t. Could you change it up? If you’re a Barbershop chorus – could you add a song from Africa – clean harmonies and a very different sound. If you are an accompanied choir – could you add an A cappella song? If you are a mixed choir, you can also use all male and all female songs to add contrast in your programme. Again they have safety in numbers and the songs you will choose for each group would have a very different personality.
Your singers will love it as it really bonds them together and they invariably come to listen to each other in rehearsal.

Remember also, that if you are starting again after a years absence, you can work on half a set and team up with another choir to put on a concert. That provides a wonderful chance for your audience to hear new singers, different styles and textures, too.
Now is the time to create your programme – after this long break we have been given this fresh start to learn differently, think differently and enjoy our choirs and songs in new ways – always with the thought of making our singing and our concerts more enjoyable and accessible.

Hoping this will get the grey cells working – Let me know if it helps.

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Sandra Smith is the director of The Lost Sound Dartmoor Folk Choir, visit their dedicated website to find out more.

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