World Choir Games Flanders 2020

Effective ways to recruit more men for your choir #getmensinging

  • [A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

    Lots of mixed choirs don’t have enough male singers, and many established male voice choirs are not managing to find younger recruits (see my series of three posts Men and singing).

     

     

    Here are some ideas to help you recruit more men and to get men singing in general.

    reach out

    The first step is to let men out there know that you’re looking for them. You need to sell singing to them, especially those who have inherited some negative stereotypes.

    • use language carefully – ‘bloke’ or ‘guy’ can put some men off. Don’t try to be too funny or clever, ‘men’ is clear and unambiguous.
    • use inclusive photos in publicity – not all older, bearded men, and not all young whippersnappers. Have a range so men can identify with someone in the photo.
    • no lazy stereotyping – there are as many different kinds of men as there are women. Many men hate football, lots of men are househusbands – and every other kind of man in between.
    • use lots of examples to inspire – there is such a wide range of ways in which men sing together all over the world, so don’t be limited. Check out my series of posts How men sing – amazing examples from across the globe for ideas.
    • target male-dominated institutions – e.g. police, gym, fire service.
    • be as inclusive as possible – at this stage there’s no need to mention repertoire for instance. Leave as many things open as you can. Make sure your publicity targets gay, straight, disabled, etc. equally.
    • tailor your publicity language to suit each target group – e.g. if you’re targeting football fans you’d use different language to when you approach the local folk club.
    • emphasise the benefits10 great reasons why all men should join a choir – now!

     

    get them through the door

    Once you’ve told men that singing is available you need to actually get them through the door. It’s not enough to send out loads of glossy leaflets, men (especially those who’ve not sung before) need to feel comfortable about actually turning up on the day.

    Make sure you have the right approach when someone phones up or emails you. How can you make them feel safe and wanted? It’s scary trying something new for the first time!

    • they want to feel safe and supported – let them know they won’t be on their own, won’t be put on the spot, that the sessions create a safe space, that someone will ‘buddy’ them when they join.
    • many men need to feel “trained up” – before they open their mouths. Let them know that there will be training elements to choir sessions. Emphasise the fact that they will learn to sing (better). e.g. use “Come and learn how to sing” in your publicity. Offer extra sessions for new male singers.
    • reduce emotional/ fuzzy/ touchy-feely language – most men respond best to clear instructions and clear benefits/ outcomes.
    • lots of other demands on their time – spell out the benefits: health, social, etc.
    • take the singing to the men – not the other way round. When recruiting, especially hard to reach groups, don’t expect the singers to come to you. Go round town running short taster workshops in places where men already gather. Then tell them they’re welcome to join your choir if they’ve enjoyed it.
    • men want to feel needed – ask for help/ support: “Can you help us out? We’ve got a big concert coming up and could really use your help.”
    • reduce barriers – e.g. cost, venue, commitment. Keep it cheap. Make sure the venue is central, accessible, fixed and has plenty of parking. Don’t have long rehearsals or too many each week.
    • start a men-only group – for a variety of reasons, some men find mixed choirs difficult to cope with. They feel much more comfortable making mistakes and trying things out in the company of other men. So maybe think about starting a men-only group. It can exist as a choir on its own, or act as a recruitment tool for your mixed choir when the men feel more confident (or both). 

     

    engage them

    You’ve found the men, managed to get them through the door, now you have to engage them each week!

    • variety of styles of songs, games, etc. – make sure you have a wide range of singing styles, song genres and activities each week so that there’s something for everyone. Move singers around a lot (i.e. don’t put all the men in a bass ‘ghetto’) so everyone feels like an equal member of the choir.
    • beyond the bass line – choose your song arrangements well. Don’t expect the men to always sing a dull bass line. Give them the tune sometimes. Remember that most men are baritones so that some tenor notes will be too high and some bass notes too low. Mix the genders on each of three parts: high, medium, low.
    • separate sessions for men only – not only will it make the (new) men feel special, but having separate sessions allows for their training needs to be met and makes a safe space. Joining a large, mixed group can be scary! 

     

    keep them

    I once had a guy join my choir and after a term he wrote to say he was leaving. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy it, but he assumed everyone was better than him and that he was the only one struggling. When I pointed out that most people were in the same boat, he was surprised, but he stopped worrying, came back and was still there years later.

    Just because you’ve managed to recruit a few men to your choir doesn’t mean you can stop trying. You have to keep them.

    • go to the pub afterwards – not everyone drinks, but it’s an obvious space for a social gathering. Most pubs serve hot drinks nowadays any way. If you can choose a pub that allows for the occasional sing-along, then all the better.
    • introduce them to each other – often men are in the minority in a mixed choir and it’s quite easy for them to get left out on a limb (especially if they’re all in the bass part). Don’t assume that socialisation happens naturally. Make sure you introduce all the male singers to each other, and then introduce them to all the other singers. Have lots of warm ups where you mix all the singers up.
    • give them a song of their own – it’s wonderful to hear just men (or just women) sing together and can add an extra dimension to a mixed voice concert. Give the men a song of their own and rehearse for a few minutes at the end or beginning of rehearsals. This will help build confidence, make them feel important and bond them.
    • talk to them regularly – as individuals and as a group. Get regular feedback. Let them know they’re doing fine and find out if there’s anything you can do to make things better or easier. 

     

    new type of men’s choirs

    There has been a movement of late to create choirs of male singers which attract younger singers and which are very different from most people’s image of a male voice choir. Many of these were inspired by the Australian group The Spooky Men’s Chorale.

    Some UK-based examples are the Chaps Choir in London, Man Choir in Oxford and The Magnificent AK47 in Wiltshire. There are more starting as I write!

    over to you

    I’d love to know if you have any other ideas or strategies that you’ve used successfully or if you think I’ve left something out. Also if you try any of the above, it would be good to know which are the most effective. Do drop by and share your views and join us on Twitter to #getmensinging

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
    blog: blog.chrisrowbury.com
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