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How to cope with too many male singers (a rare and unusual problem!)

  • [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]

     

    It’s very common for choirs to be short of men. Most of my singing workshops attract far fewer men than women.

     

     

    But sometimes – very occasionally – loads of men turn up unexpectedly. Which can be a problem too. Here are some ideas for what to do.

    I have been running choirs and singing workshops in the UK for the last 20+ years. In my experience, I reckon that most mixed singing events get around 10% men.

    For example, if I run a singing day with 35 singers, I’d expect three or four men to turn up.
    In that way I can plan ahead and choose suitable arrangements for a minority of men. I also assume that most of them will be baritones (I.e. not too high and not too low).

    Many years ago I ran a Beatles singing day. I came with arrangements suited to women tenors, assuming that not many men would be attending. Imagine my surprise when out of 40 singers, around 20 of them were men!

    Last week I started my 21st Singing Safari to create a choir from scratch in just six rehearsals. Around 27 singers turned up to the first session, of whom 10 were men!

    It’s not something you can plan ahead for if it’s a one-off singing workshop. But it is possible to be flexible and open to making adjustments on the fly.

    Here are some things you can try (they also apply if the opposite happens and you have far more women than men – the more usual situation!):

    • spread the men evenly – it was very common in British harmony singing (before the Italians came with their ‘soprano’ and ‘tenor’ notions!), for genders to be mixed when singing harmony. If you spread your men evenly through the parts, singing an octave lower than the women, it can create a rich, rounded sound.
    • feature male voices – there might be a way to use the men to your advantage. You can give them the melody (even though it might be an octave lower than planned); if you’ve spread the voices evenly (see above) you could feature just the men singing or just the women singing for some variety; alternate between the women having the lead/melody and the men.
    • don’t have women tenors – many formal choirs won’t have women tenors, but in most community choirs – due to the lack of men – most arrangements allow for women to sing the tenor part. If you suddenly find you have more men than expected, you could try lowering the whole arrangement so that men can sing the tenor part (bearing in mind that most men are baritones and can’t sing too high). The women who were singing the tenor part can now migrate to the alto part which will be lower than before.
    • teach separate songs – if you have time, space and/or more than one choir leader, you can teach separate songs to the men and the women. After the songs have been learnt, each group can sing to each other. This won’t work if there’s just one leader and a single rehearsal space.


    I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been in this situation. I’m sure you’ve found other effective solutions!

    You might also like to read these older posts:

    What to do when only one man turns up to your mixed choir

    Singing: what a difference a man makes!

    Effective ways to recruit more men for your choir

    10 great reasons why all men should join a choir – now!

    Men and singing

    Is one of your choir sections thin on the ground? 10 ways to find more singers to fill the gaps

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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