World Choir Games Flanders 2023

Just because a song is hard or you don’t like it doesn’t mean you should give up on it

  • [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've already looked at why singers might be finding a song hard going in If a song’s not working, when do you stop flogging the dead horse?


    photo by Tanya Little


    I suggested easy solutions to most situations, but what happens if the singers don’t like the song or are finding it harder than you thought they would? Give up or soldier on?

    When a song is proving to be difficult, these are probably the hardest two circumstances to deal with.

    In both cases you can’t be led by the singers, but must trust your own intuition based on your experience.

    When I started my first choir WorldSong back in 1997 the singers hated the ‘weird’ Eastern European songs I made them sing, especially the Georgian ones. A couple of years down the line though and Georgian songs were their favourites and they couldn’t get enough!

    With Woven Chords I taught a complex arrangement of La Bamba which took weeks and weeks to nail. But once it was in the bag you could see the delight on the singers’ faces as they sang it with gusto.

    With my most recent choir, The OK Chorale, we had quite a few long slogs with songs that seemed impossible at the time. Many singers wanted to give up, but we persisted and they ended up being some of the most requested songs to sing at the end of a session.

    I ran an Eastern European folk song weekend recently and introduced a tricky Georgian song which proved to be much harder than I’d thought. I almost gave up, but reckoned that it was such a beautiful song that if we persisted, the singers would really get a sense of achievement.

    After a good night’s sleep and running through a few easier songs, we tackled it again and it all came together. There was a real sense of satisfaction and achievement and everybody enjoyed singing it.

    So the short answer to whether you should abandon a song or persist with it is: it’s up to you, the teacher of the song.

    Here are some pointers:

    • trust your instincts – you’ll know deep down whether the majority of singers are responding positively (despite themselves!)
    • singers will grow to love the songs over time (honestly!)
    • when singers say they “don’t like” a song, they often mean something else (“it’s hard”, “it’s unfamiliar”, “I can’t see what it’s going to end up sounding like”)
    • try putting the song to one side and coming back to it later – even a year later you’ll be surprised at how much singers have remembered and it’s always easier second time around
    • leave it for a while then approach it in a completely different way – break it down differently; do it slower/ faster; choose an ‘inappropriate’ style; mix the parts up; move the singers around; tell them it’s a different song; add a new part.

    Good luck! Do write in and let us hear your own stories of ‘difficult’ songs – whether you’re a singer or a choir leader. I’d love to hear from you.




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    Chris Rowbury

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