World Choir Games Flanders 2023

“This is the right space, and these are the right people” – working with the singers you’ve got, not those you hoped for

  • [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]


    A singing session is coming up and you’re excited. It will be in a grand hall with loads of singers!


    photo by Pierre-Henry Muller


    But the day comes and it’s a tiny space and only a handful turn up. How can you manage your expectations and work with what you’ve got?

    It happens to the best of us, whether it’s a weekly choir rehearsal or a one-off singing day. We build an expectation in our minds but the reality doesn’t quite match.

    It’s very easy to get disheartened because things aren’t working out as you’d hoped. The secret is to realise that what you’ve got is what you’ve got. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and don’t dwell on what might have been.

    In fact, you can turn it into a positive.

    “This is the right place, and these are the right people.”

    It was meant to be. The universe has conspired to put you in this situation and it’s exactly what it needs to be.

    Instead of seeing lack of numbers as a problem:

    • relish the fact that you can do some small group work,
    • maybe even some individual tuition.

    Instead of bemoaning the lack of men:

    • give them something important to do (like the tune for a change!), and,
    • if there are no men at all, glory in the sound of women singing in harmony together.

    Instead of fighting against any perceived limitations of your work space, use its strengths:

    • if it’s a small space, sit or stand really, really close together;
    • if it’s a huge space, spread your small number of singers around the space and focus on listening;
    • if it’s a dark space with no natural light, turn all the lights out and really, really listen to each other;
    • if there are pillars or tables in the way or walls at strange angles, make your session more theatrical and use the space to your advantage – a chance to place the singers in interesting ways.

    Instead of feeling frustrated that your singers are not as experienced as you’d hoped:

    • go back to first principles and do lots of unison singing, simple chants, call and response – it’s amazing how easy it is to forget the simple things.

    You get the idea. It’s all about being in the moment and accepting the reality in front of you.

    Remember this phrase:

    “This is the right place, and these are the right people.”

    It will stand you in good stead!

    further reading

    You might also find these other posts useful.

    How to plan a singing workshop when you don’t know who’s coming

    When nobody comes to your concert or workshop – how to avoid or recover from a marketing fail

    Best laid plans – dealing with the unexpected in singing sessions
    Planning ahead: leave space for the unexpected




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    Chris Rowbury

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