The challenges of running a drop-in singing group (and why you shouldn’t start one)

Listed on May 4, 2015 in Blogs!

Some people run ‘drop-in’ singing sessions. People can drop in on any session they want, there is no commitment and no signing up for a ‘season’

Wivenhoe Jan 2014 (1)

It’s a nice idea: no commitment, no pressure, all very fun, sociable and informal. But there are plenty of good reasons why groups like this are hard to sustain. Here are ten of them.

Most choirs and singing groups:

  • meet on a regular basis (usually weekly);
  • have a rehearsal of between one and two hours;
  • have a core of members who attend for many years;
  • run in blocks of sessions (called ‘seasons’ or ‘terms’);
  • ask singers to commit to a season at a time (often by asking for payment in advance);
  • have a public performance at the end of a season.

But there are also ‘drop-in’ groups where singers can attend as many or as few sessions as they like. These groups:

  • usually meet on a regular basis (weekly or monthly);
  • have sessions of between one and two hours;
  • have singers who attend irregularly for a few months, then drop out;
  • tend not to bunch sessions into seasons;
  • do not ask singers to commit themselves to a given number of sessions (people pay when they attend a session);
  • seldom have any kind of public performance.

As far as the leader of a drop-in group is concerned, there are many challenges not encountered in a regular choir. Here are ten of them.

  1. different singers each time – hard to create a cohesive group and for singers to get used to singing with each other (see also It’s summer – where have all the choir gone??!!).
  2. no on-going development – hard to build on vocal technique and ensemble training from session to session. This leads to always teaching to the lowest level of experience in the room. Nobody benefits.
  3. new songs every time – you can’t assume that those singers who came last time will be there the next time so it’s easiest to teach brand new songs each session.
  4. can’t do complex material – the songs you teach can’t be too long or complex as they need to fit into a self-contained session.
  5. no idea which voice parts are going to turn up – hard to decide which arrangements to do if, for example, no tenors come to a particular session or it’s all sopranos.
  6. lack of commitment can affect attendance – if a singer is committed to a group (like a choir) then they have a sense of allegiance to their fellow singers and might overcome a slight cold or a rainy night to attend. But in a drop-in group there is no such allegiance and if a sunny day beckons it might mean that singers decide to stay in their garden instead.
  7. easy to forget when sessions are – some groups meet every fortnight or the second Saturday of each month. It’s very easy to lose track of when the next session is.
  8. fluctuating income – for the person leading, there is no way of knowing what their income will be for any given session, so hard to plan and budget.
  9. hard to work towards performance – if the drop-in group decide that they would like to perform, then it’s difficult to organise sufficient rehearsals where everyone can attend.
  10. other demands on people’s time – many drop-in groups meet on weekends, unlike most choirs which are on a weekday night. Weekends are when there are most demands on people’s time.

It’s not impossible to overcome these obstacles, and there are some successful drop-in groups out there (do let me know if you are in one!). But it can be much harder, more frustrating and limiting to run one of these groups than a regular choir.

Chris Rowbury