World Choir Games Flanders 2023

Keeping it fresh: 5 ideas to keep regular choir attenders engaged

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    We all have our favourite warm ups and our favourite jokes. But if someone comes to choir every week, they may soon get weary of our patter.

     

    photo by Tobias Toft

     

    How can you keep things fresh so choir members stay engaged? Here are some ideas.

    I run many singing workshops across the country. At each of these one-off events I deliver a similar spiel, including several ‘jokes’. I also have favourite warm up exercises that I come back to again and again.

    I’m very fortunate that I have many singers who come to my workshops regularly. And when I ran weekly choirs, there would be singers who stayed for years.

    I quickly realised that a particular vocal exercise or visual image or “off-the-cuff” remark can soon get stale if you encounter it for the 100th time.

    As soon as singers think “I’ve heard this before” or “Here we go, same old warm up”, then they can easily zone out. If singers aren’t in the moment, then the work can suffer.

    How can you overcome this?

    One possibility is to introduce new warm ups, new patter, new songs, all the time. However, not only is that a lot of work, but singers like to sing familiar repertoire, enjoy well-known warm up rounds, look forward to regular stretching exercises. Having to confront something new every single time can be tiring.

    You need to find a balance between the familiar (without letting it go stale) and the new.

    Here are five ideas that may help keep your singers engaged.

    1. use different imagery – I use a lot of visual imagery in my warm ups. I find it helps singers to engage with each exercise in their own way. Each time you use a warm up exercise, try to vary the imagery you use with it.
       
    2. change focus of attention – you really want singers to approach each warm up/vocal exercise as if for the first time. If they are full engaged in the moment, they will learn something new every time and reap the maximum benefit. Each time you present an exercise, try to use a new focus of attention: shoulder tension, jaw, back of the mouth, the audience, loose knees, sounds outside the building, the other singers, etc.
       
    3. adapt your patter – I don’t know about you but I tend to zone out when the air cabin crew launch into their safety patter. I’ve heard it loads of times before, nothing changes. You may also be delivering the same blurb at the beginning of each workshop: where the toilets are, when people can sit down, what to expect from the workshop, etc. It’s important to try to find different ways to say this each time or regular attenders may stop listening. It doesn’t have to be a big change. You might just re-order the points, or use slightly different language (and jokes!).
       
    4. change the context – you can defy expectations by simply changing the context. They might be exactly the same warm up exercises or words of encouragement, but if they’re presented in a different, unexpected context, singers will pay more attention. It’s as if everything has become unfamiliar. For example, you could go outside, squash into a small space, stand in a different configuration or face a different direction.
       
    5. swap things about – this is another way of changing the context. Although you keep the material pretty much the same, you can simply change the order. I once started a choir session by going straight into a big song. Afterwards we did our usual warm up. Then I asked if people had noticed a difference. Most singers came to realise how important the warm up is, and many of them were able to connect individual exercises with how they sang the song. Less radically, you could just change the order of your warm up sequence.
       


    I’m sure you can think of plenty of other great ideas for keeping it fresh. Do drop by and leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

    You might also find these old posts of interest:

    Breaking the habit of a lunchtime

    Re-booting your choir: shake things up for a new season

    Singers and choir leaders: what bad habits have you got into?

    Sometimes old is best – finding the balance between new and familiar

     

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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