World Choir Games Flanders 2023

I know over 600 songs so how come I can’t think of one when someone asks?

  • [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]

     

    I added it up the other day and I’ve taught over 600 songs in 3- and 4-part harmony over the last 15 years or so. [EDIT: As of March 2022, I now know over 700 songs taught over the last 20+ years!]

     

    photo by Eric Kilby

     

    But when someone unexpectedly asks me to teach or sing a song, I can’t think of one! What’s that about?

     

    memory aids

    I’m a very visual person, so although I don’t use sheet music to teach, I do write all the songs down because 600 songs is a lot to keep in your head (and every part too!) and I remember things better when prompted visually.

    Same with lyrics: I only have to see them written down once, but it does help me to remember them.
    When I plan a singing workshop, I spend a lot of time organising the warm up and order of songs in the workshop so it has a journey and  sense of development. But I have to write it down and refer to it as I teach.

    I used to give myself a hard time because I couldn’t create a warm up off the top of my head or teach a song at the drop of a hat. But I’m comfortable now with the fact that that’s how I work best.

    If you need props or memory aids or written notes or a pitch pipe, then so be it. Don’t give yourself a hard time because some other people can do it from memory.

    the tyranny of complete freedom

    Most people think that being able to choose anything at all from an endless list of possibilities is freedom. However, it turns out that complete and unfettered choice is a hard thing to deal with.

    If I give you a blank sheet of paper and ask you to draw something or write a poem, you’ll probably be stuck. If I ask you to improvise a song or dance routine, you’ll probably feel stumped.

    But if I ask you to draw a cat or write a poem about winter or improvise a song around three notes or create a dance in a small square only using your arms, you’ll be off like a shot.

    It doesn’t matter about the quality of the end product, the point is that by restricting your choices it gets the creative juices flowing.

    Now back to those 600 songs.

    If you ask me to teach or sing any song that I want from my extensive catalogue, there are simply too many to choose from. I have nothing to guide me, my selecting mechanism becomes overwhelmed and I draw a blank.

    But if you ask for a song from Zimbabwe, or one in two-part harmony, or a song about harvest time or a song in French, then I’ll happily oblige.

    we’re not performing monkeys

    One last element of this issue. Have you ever been at a party and someone asks what your profession is and then tries to get you to demonstrate that profession?

    “Oh, you’re a therapist! I have real problems with my mother right now.”

    “A dancer? Great! Let’s see some moves.”

    “I didn’t know you were a poet! Can you recite something for me?”

    “So you’re a choir leader. How about teaching us all a song?”

    We’re none of us performing monkeys. Whether we’re an accountant, social worker or musician, we all want to have some time off now and again. We’re also not defined by what we do as a profession, so please don’t ask us to demonstrate.

    other reasons?

    So there are three possible reasons why I might not be able to remember a song from the 600 or so I’ve taught. I’m sure there are plenty of others.

    Can you relate to any of these experiences? Do you have difficulty coming up with stuff on the spot? Any ideas why?

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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