Articles featuring Chris Rowbury | LeisureCourses.net - short courses & residential study breaks in great locations - Part 3

  • Choir and workshop leaders: make sure you’re on the receiving end from time to time

    Listed on June 15, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I like being in charge, as do most choir and singing workshop leaders. Our job mainly consists of telling people what to do and helping them to sing the best that they can.

    ABBA, Brussells May 09 (1)

    Trouble is it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that. Which is why I always try to attend other singing workshops as a normal participant.

    We plan every choir rehearsal or singing workshop carefully: we are in control, we know what’s going to happen next, and if we’re lucky we get good results. We try hard to empathise with our singers and use our skills to help them in the best way we can.

    But sometimes we forget what it’s like to struggle to learn by ear, or to wrestle with foreign lyrics, or to listen really hard to nail a tricky harmony, or not to chat whilst other sections are learning their part, or to be a stranger in a large group.

    The only way to really understand what it’s like to be one of your singers is to put yourself in their place.

    Any good choir or workshop leader is always looking for ways to get better at what they do. In professional terms it’s called Continuous Professional Development (CPD).

    One easy way to learn about teaching and choral directing is to be a singer in a singing workshop or choir.

    It’s amazing what you can learn from being on the receiving end. You will

    • get an insight into what your own singers experience;
    • sample another leader’s style;
    • learn some new teaching methods;
    • possibly find out what not to do in a workshop;
    • discover what it feels like not to be able to hear the whole;
    • get the chance to hand over responsibility to someone else;
    • be subjected to some of your own teaching methods;
    • notice when you get tired or over-burdened;
    • realise which conducting gestures work best ...

    ... and much, much more.

    So what are you waiting for? Go and sign up for a singing day or scratch choir or even join another local choir for a term.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Coming back to singing after a long absence or a bad experience

    Listed on June 8, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Whether it’s bringing up a family or long-term illness or a bad singing experience, many people find it hard to get back into singing when they’ve been away for a long time.

    Anita_Kerr_Singers

    Here are some ideas for ways of gently easing your way back into singing after a long break.

    Many of the people who attend my singing workshops have not sung for many years. For some it might be 40 years or more since a teacher told them to “Stand at the back and mime” or “Stop that awful noise!”. Or maybe they gave up a professional singing career to raise a family. Or perhaps one day nerves just got the better of them.

    Whatever the reason, they they come back to singing because it’s something they need to do.
    How can you get back on the horse if you’ve had a bad singing experience or have not sung for a very long time?

    Here are a few ideas that may help.

    ease in gently – don’t try to carry on from where you left off. If you were used to performing professionally try your local community choir first. If you were in the top class choir years ago, maybe try a “singing for fun” group first. Pick a singing group that is run by someone who is caring and considerate, who puts people first.

    forget the past – if you had a bad experience (e.g. stage fright, harsh criticism, being told you can’t sing) it’s all too easy to dwell on it and bring it with you. You need to find a way to cultivate what is called “beginner’s mind” in Zen: behave as if this is the first time you’ve ever sung. Have no expectations and assume everything is going to be OK (which it almost certainly will be).

    share your war stories – singing is a very sociable activity. You will meet new people and make new friends. Feel free to share your own singing experiences and why you’ve not sung for a long time. You’ll be amazed how many people are in the same boat. This will help your confidence enormously. See also You are not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well

    take it slow – once you’ve dipped your toe back in the water you will almost certainly feel great that you’re singing again. Don’t be tempted to rush things though. If you’ve been away for a while – for whatever reason – it will take some time before you feel completely comfortable with your own singing, despite what you feel after the first few sessions. It’s so easy to have your confidence knocked in these early stages of reconnecting with singing.

    treat your voice kindly – if you’ve not used your singing voice for many years it will take a while to make friends with it again and to get it into good shape. Don’t go straight for the high notes or try to belt out too early. Give your voice time to develop again. Like any other form of exercise, it will take a while to re-condition your vocal mechanism and get it back into tip-top shape.

    that was then, this is now – it may be that over the years your voice will have changed. Maybe it’s deeper or has greater depth. It may come as a surprise at first, but try not to hang on to your image of your voice as it was when you last sang. Approach your new voice with wonder and excitement to see what it can reveal.

    try something new – now that you’re older (and possibly wiser!) you might find that the world is a bigger (and different) place from when were last singing. This is a great opportunity to try out different singing styles or genres of songs. Don’t put yourself in a box. Just because you used to sing only folk doesn’t mean you can’t now enjoy singing songs from the shows. Just because you used to only sing classical doesn’t mean you can’t now join a rock choir.

    it’s never too late! – some people think that they’re too old for singing, but it’s never too late to come back to singing. See also If not now, when? – start singing NOW! and Choirs: is old age an issue?

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Singing with a group of strangers – mixing and mingling ideas for learning names

    Listed on June 1, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    It always amazes me how surprised people are that a group of strangers can sing harmony together in just a few minutes. It’s not necessary to know the other singers to be able to sing well with them, but some people feel that they need to be introduced.

    Lost_in_the_crowd

    How can you get a group of strangers to get to know each other quickly without taking up too much time? Here are a few ideas.

    singing as the great leveller

    What I love about singing – especially working with a group of people I don’t know and who’ve never met each other before – is how we can create beautiful music together without knowing anything about each other.

    It doesn’t matter what someone’s job is, what their musical experience is, how much they earn, what their sexuality is, how old they are, what their life story is: it just matters what comes out of their mouths.

    You can read more about my thoughts on this in We’re all equal here: singing together is the great leveller.

    Yet many people still feel the need to know the names of the people they’re singing with.

    name games

    I don’t know about you, but I’m rubbish at remembering names.

    Many workshop leaders use name games to introduce people to each other at the start of the workshop. There are loads of these games, but they all come down to repeating the names of all the participants at some point. If there are, say, 40 people in a workshop this can take an hour or more. And if we add a little bit of introduction too, it will take even longer!

    I’m OK with the first five or six names, but then I blank out. There is no way that I’m going to put 40 names to 40 faces in such a short time. Besides which, haven’t we come to sing and not play name games?

    There may be a place for name games (if you still feel you need to know names) in a longer workshop, say a week or maybe a weekend. Then there is more time.

    I still maintain though that it’s best to sing together first and learn names afterwards. Knowing about someone too soon can hit your confidence, e.g. if you’re just starting out and the person next to you is a professional singer.

    name badges

    OK, for some reason you need to know everyone’s name, so let’s just ask people to stick name badges on.

    That’s fine if you’re someone who need to use a person’s name in every sentence “Hi Dave. How are you today Dave? Have you come far Dave?” but not everyone does that.

    In any case, name badges don’t help you learn names because you just have to look at their chest each time you talk to them instead of having to remember.

    ideas for singing workshops

    I’ve come up with a few ways of introducing names which don’t take precious time away from singing. Over time it can help a few names stick (at least as well as formal name games).

    Whether you need to know people’s names or not it also has the effect of mixing the group up and mingling people together so you feel like you’re all in the same team.

    Here is what I do.

    1. organise the singers in a circle in a particular order
    The obvious way is to order people alphabetically by first name. Fix a point that is ‘A’ and indicate that the alphabet goes round the circle clockwise so that ‘Z’ ends up next to ‘A’.

    This means that people have to talk to each other and introduce themselves in order to find out where they fit in. It gives people a purpose for mingling and also helps those who find large groups hard to handle.

    Once everyone has found their place in the circle get them to introduce themselves briefly to the person on either side – just a name will do.

    2. continue with the warm up or singing
    Then carry on with the warm up from these positions in a circle. Or if it’s later in the workshop you can teach a round or even sing a harmony song like this. It’s a great way of mixing voice parts up at random.

    At a later stage in the session you can mix the circle up again so that people end up standing next to different people.

    Here are some other ideas that I use to order the circle:
    • alphabetical order of last name
    • numerical order of birth date (don’t include the year!)
    • alphabetical order of town you were born in
    • numerical order of house number (put any house names A-Z before the number ‘1’)
    • alphabetical order of the town that you live in
    • alphabetical order of your first school’s name
    There are plenty more possibilities!

    ideas for regular choirs

    If you run a choir that meets regularly you can also use the ideas above.

    Inevitably you will have new members join from time to time who want to learn people’s names. But more importantly there will be people who’ve been in your choir for several years who still can’t remember that particular tenor’s name or that soprano’s name, especially if they sing a different part. It can be embarrassing after five years to ask someone to remind you of their name.

    So use the circle ideas above and everyone will be in the same situation, especially if you use more unusual ways of ordering the circle (height, colour of top, number of years in the choir, etc.)

    I also maintain a rogue’s gallery of mugshots on our (private) choir website. If a singer can’t remember someone’s name, they just go to the website and find the relevant photo. Avoids lots of potential embarrassment.

    I ask people to supply a photo when they first join. If one is not forthcoming in the first few weeks, I just bring my camera along to rehearsal.

    other ideas

    Do let me know if you have other ideas for getting to know people quickly. Also I’m intrigued as to why it’s so important for some people to know names and have name badges. Do share your reasons, I’d love to know why!

    I love getting your comments and I aim to reply to all of them as quick as I can.
    I’m also always on the lookout for new ideas for articles and ways of improving my blog in general.

    Thanks for reading!

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Four powerful ideas guaranteed to help you learn to sing better

    Listed on May 25, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    People are always asking me how they can learn to sing. Everyone is already a singer of course, but it’s always possible to learn how to sing better.

    wild

    Here are four simple but powerful ideas that will help you be a better singer, whether you sing in a choir or a band or are a soloist.

    I’ve written many articles about how you can learn to sing or how to be a better singer (I’ll put links at the bottom of this post if you want to find out more). But in this post I want to look at four really simple ideas that I believe are the key to helping you sing better.

    Each of these ideas may seem very simple, but if applied properly they are extremely powerful and will help you learn to be a better singer.

    1. trust – in your fellow choir members, in the rest of your band, in the time you’ve spent practising, in your audience (they’ve come to listen to you), in your teacher or conductor, in your own abilities, in your technique, in all those long rehearsal hours.
       
    2. act the part – however you feel about your own voice or the song you’re singing or the group you’re in or your own talent, just behave as if you know what you’re doing and are great at it. The rest will follow. That’s all that confidence is.
       
    3. listen – the secret to great singing lies with the ears and not with the mouth. Listen to the other singers around you, the backing track or instrumentalists, the way the overall sound fills the space. Prioritise your ears over your voice.
       
    4. focus – be in the moment and stop worrying about how well you’re doing. The easiest way to do this is to focus outwards and not inwards on yourself. Focus on communicating with your audience, or blending with the singers around you, or pitching your voice accurately against the other harmonies, or hearing all the voices and all the instruments.
       
    Don’t try to apply these all at once. Try one at a time until it becomes second nature.

    You’ll definitely end up being a better singer – I guarantee it.

    other useful posts

    Here are some of the other posts I’ve written that can help you learn to improve your singing. Just click on the title to read the post.


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • How much should you charge singers to be in your choir?

    Listed on May 18, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Most choirs charge their singers to be a member (‘subs’). The amount can vary a lot from choir to choir.

    cash

    What’s the best way to decide how much to charge your singers? Let’s look at some of the issues that can help you fix a suitable rate.

    There are basically four kinds of choir. Choirs that
    1. are funded by grants
    2. are hosted by organisations
    3. don’t cost anything to run
    4. are entirely self-funded
    The first kind of choir may or may not have all its costs covered by the grant, or might have funding for a fixed period of time so that at some point singers may have to be charged.

    The second kind of choir has its members’ fees determined by the organisation (such as an arts centre or workplace). The choir leader is usually paid a set fee by the organisation to run the choir which doesn’t vary with the number of singers.

    The third kind of choir is one that is more social in nature and might be held in someone’s house. There are no overheads (venue hire, choir leader fee, etc.) so the members don’t have to pay anything.

    The fourth kind of choir is perhaps the most common. It will either be run on a sole-trader basis (the choir leader runs the choir and is responsible for all costs and fees charged) or have a committee which oversees the running of the choir. This is the kind of choir I’ll be considering in this article.

    Here are some issues that you (or your committee) need to think about when deciding how much to charge your singers.

    • cover your costs – make sure that all your outgoings are covered by your income. Don’t miss anything out. Costs might include venue hire, accompanist, sheet music, tea & biscuits, choir leader’s fee, singers’ robes, etc.
       
    • size matters – since your main source of income is the fee paid by your members, it will fluctuate depending on how many singers you have. If you know you have a consistently large choir then you can charge less than if you have a small group of singers.
       
    • check out the competition – what do other local choirs charge? If you want to be successful you shouldn’t be wildly different from other similar choirs in your area.
       
    • what is your demographic? – do you live in a rich/ poor area? Are you targeting a particular group (e.g. retired people, single mothers)? What do you think they can afford?
       
    • other sources of income – rather than depending entirely on what the singers pay each session, you might like to consider any grants or other funding available to you. It might not cover all your costs, but might suit a one-off project, or part of your costs (e.g. sheet music).
       
    • start as you mean to carry on – it’s hard to start out not charging then introducing a fee at a later stage. Similarly if you miscalculate, it’s hard to raise the fee significantly. Make sure you get it right from the start.
       
    • don’t be greedy – just because you can get away with charging a certain amount doesn’t mean that you have to! Be consistent across different groups that you run and don’t raise the fee too often without good cause.
       
    • concessions? – are you considering offering any kind of concessions? If so, can you afford to, who will the concessions be for and what discount will you offer? More importantly, will it make a difference? If someone can’t afford to pay £10 a session, they might still not be able to afford to pay £7.50.
       
    • money up front? – or pay by the session? Asking people to pay for a season or term can help stabilise income. reduce admin and help singers with commitment. But some people prefer to charge by the session as a ‘drop in’ choir.
       
    • hardship cases – if you do ask for payment up front, do you have a mechanism for dealing with singers who can’t pay in one lump? You might be able to offer payment by instalments.

    I’m sure there are other models and ideas out there. Do drop by and leave a comment as I’d love to hear about your own experiences.


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Stepping up – how to find the courage to volunteer for solo or small group singing

    Listed on May 11, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    There are times in most choirs when a soloist or a small ensemble is required. These roles can be allocated by the MD but in many cases singers are asked to volunteer to try out.

    choir soloist
    photo by Paterm

    What if you think you’re up to the job but lack the confidence to step forward? Here are some ideas that might help.

    A concert is coming up and your choir leader decides it would be great if the last verse of one of your songs was sung by a quartet with one singer from each part. It’s one of your favourite songs and you know it inside out.

    But when she asks for volunteers to try out, your mouth goes dry, your heart starts to beat faster, your palms get sweaty and you find it hard to breath. You’d love to step forward, but by the time you’ve plucked up the courage, somebody else has beaten you to it.

    How can you find the courage next time to step up? Here are seven ideas that might help.

    1. the usual suspects

    When I ask for volunteers in my own community choir, there is a small group of singers who are usually the first step forward. The trouble with this is that the other singers then feel that they can’t try out. The solution is for your choir leader to quietly ask these particular singers to not always step forward, or to make sure that they’re not always in the running by saying “Let’s try someone else for a change.”

    2. not in front of the others!

    Although you’ll end up singing in front of the rest of the choir if you’re chosen, at the trying out stage it can be terrifying. Ask your choir leader if try outs can be held privately. It can also be daunting to actually volunteer in front of the choir, so you might want to have a private chat with your choir leader to say that you’d be interested in trying out next time there’s an opportunity. Declaring your interest in this way is a kind of commitment which may help to push your forward when the time comes.

    3. find a friend

    If you’re trying out for a small ensemble, find a friend (or friends) from another part and agree to volunteer together. Safety in numbers (and the familiar)! You might even want to practice at home together beforehand.

    4. ask for a workshop

    To give everyone who wants to try out a fair chance (and to develop skills within the choir) ask your choir leader if they’re prepared to run a workshop looking at small group and solo singing skills. This will be a chance for more choir members to see what it feels like to sing a part on their own in the relative safety of a workshop. If they find they can do it confidently, it will be easier for them to volunteer in the future.

    5. what’s the worse that can happen?

    Many singers lack the courage to step up and try out. They get stuck inside their head worrying about if they’re good enough, the embarrassment of getting it ‘wrong’, what the other singers will think of them, whether their voice will crack or if they’ll run out of breath. This happens to everyone.

    You’re putting yourself on the spot so it’s inevitable. But it’s precisely because of this that the rest of the choir will be behind you. It’s a team game and they’ll want to you to succeed (it means they won’t have to do it!). If you dry up or your voice cracks they will empathise and be encouraging (they’ve all been there themselves).

    6. not getting the part doesn’t mean you’ve failed

    If you do find the courage to try out, but don’t end up being chosen, don’t despair, there’s always the next time. It doesn’t mean you’re a ‘bad’ singer or not as ‘good’ as another singer – it just means that you weren’t the right person this time (which may have to do with the quality and timbre of your voice in this particular context).

    Next time you’ll be singing a different song with different singers and may well fit in perfectly. Or it might be that you simply need a little more singing experience so when the next opportunity comes round in a few months you’ll be ready.

    7. question your motives

    Some people give themselves a hard time when they don’t find the courage to step forward. And some even give themselves a hard time when they DO step forward (maybe too often). If your motive is to show off, or to prove to yourself you can do it, or to be famous, or attempt to be better than the other singers ... then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

    You should only step forward if you love the song, love singing solo or love singing harmony in a small group.


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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

    Listed on May 4, 2015 by Chris Rowbury 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


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • What should individual singers focus on when performing as part of a choir or small group?

    Listed on April 27, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Whether you sing harmony in a small group or a large choir there are many things demanding your attention: other singers, conductor, audience, your own part, remembering lyrics, sheet music, and so on.

    Magnifying glass
    photo by andercismo

    But what is the most important thing to focus on? It turns out that there are several.

    When we perform as singers in a group, there are all sorts of things we have to focus on. The worst thing we can do is to “zone out”, get totally lost in the music and start daydreaming.

    At first it can all seem overwhelming, rather like when we first learn to drive a car. But over time it is possible to leave some things to our subconscious and put all our energy into focusing on the important things.

    None of this is rocket science, but it’s all too easily forgotten in the excitement of live performance.

    Here’s a reminder of the important elements.

    inside vs. outside

    To perform effectively as part of any harmony singing group – whether it’s a trio or a 100-voice choir – we need to focus both inside the group and outside the group.

    Our inside focus needs to be both within our part (if there are several singers on each part) and between parts. We need to be aware of blending our voice, balancing volume (both with other singers and with the other harmonies), keeping time (and making sure we are matching the rhythm of the lyrics with the other singers).

    Our outside focus needs to be on the audience: communicating the meaning and feeling of the song, connecting with audience through eye contact and engagement, projecting sufficiently to be heard properly and also on the conductor (if we have one).

    Studies into so-called ‘multi-tasking’ have shown that we are actually very bad at it. We are not truly able to focus our attention on several things at once. What we do is shift our attention quickly between each thing that demands our focus.

    So we need to constantly and quickly shift our focus between inside and outside.

    It’s very easy to forget this and to choose just one thing to focus on (e.g. watching the conductor like a hawk or pleasing the audience) in which case the other elements will begin to suffer (e.g. tuning or timing or balance).

    ears vs. eyes

    Many choirs use sheet music or lyric sheets in performance. However, we live in a very visual culture and it’s all too easy to get our heads stuck in our books.

    I might know the lyrics to a song inside out and have sung it for years, but as soon as you put the lyrics in my hand, I will start to look at them and find it hard to look away.

    The most important sense when singing harmony in a group is our hearing. But it’s very easy to forget this when we have something to look at (audience, conductor, sheet music, lyrics).

    So like the inside/ outside focus shift outlined above, we need to constantly shift our focus between our ears and our eyes with a definite bias towards our ears.

    focus of attention in rehearsal

    In performance we constantly shift between inside and outside and between ears and eyes. After a while these shifts become second nature. Things only become problematic when we get stuck with our focus on just one thing to the exclusion of other, equally important elements.

    But in rehearsal we can be directed to focus on a single element in order to refine our group singing or to work on particular aspects of a song. For example, your choir leader might ask you to focus on volume the first time through, but then the blend or enunciation the next time through.

    This is fine as a rehearsal tool, but there is no way that you can focus on all these different elements in performance.

    When you come to perform you need to trust that the fine detail work has been done and not try consciously to apply any of the specific work you did in rehearsal.

    You just need to remember inside/outside and ears/eyes.

    further reading

    You might also find these other posts of interest.

    Singing is all about listening

    10 exercises guaranteed to get your singers listening more carefully

    Singing in harmony – small group skills

    Singing in a choir – balancing individual freedom with the demands of the team

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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

    Listed on April 20, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Being in a choir is great (see The pleasures of being a choir member), but most mixed choirs never seem to have enough men.

    Klapa singers
    photo by Roberta F.

    Here are 10 very good reasons why every single man out there should join a choir as soon as they possibly can. Use the hashtag #getmensinging on social media.

    10 reasons why all men should join a choir

    1. be needed
      Manly voices add depth to any song, especially songs from Africa. You don’t need many male singers to make a huge difference to the sound of a mixed choir.
       
    2. make new friends Being part of a choir is a wonderful social activity. There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people (maybe even new life partners!) who have similar interests.
       
    3. live longer
      There are plenty of scientific studies now that show how good singing is for the health, but not just any old singing, singing as part of a choir: it’s a stress-buster, helps with breathing problems, puts you in a good mood, reduces blood pressure, prevents social isolation, sharpens the brain, and much, much more.
       
    4. be part of a supportive community It’s extraordinary how quickly a choir becomes a real community. There are plenty of stories of how supportive other choir members can be at difficult times: bereavement, relationship break-ups, bad health, loss of job, etc.
       
    5. become more attractive Women go weak at the knees when they hear men singing! You’ll be amazed at how attractive you become when you start singing. And other men will be seriously impressed by your manly voice – whether high or low – and will look on in envy and admiration (and wish they’d joined the choir too). 
       
    6. find your singing voice
      If you’ve not sung much before, being in a choir is a great way to explore your singing voice in a safe space without being put on the spot. You are one of many and can hide at the back until you find your voice and feel more confident.
       
    7. show off to friends and family Once you’ve joined a choir you will soon want to share the amazing songs with your friends and family. Show them what you’ve been up to and bask in their pride and admiration.
       
    8. let off steam
      What scope is there in everyday life to scream at the top of your voice without causing trouble? Singing in a choir is a fantastic way to let off steam in an acceptable way. Sing at the top of your lungs and let all your worries and frustrations go.
       
    9. have fun You’ll be surprised how much laughter goes on in choir sessions. Yes, you might have to work a little to learn the words and get your part right, but above all, singing in a choir is FUN!
       
    10. cure baldness Everyone knows that singing in a choir cures male pattern baldness. If you see any bald men in a choir, it’s because they didn’t join young enough!
       

    further reading

    You might find these other posts of interest too.

    Singing: what a difference a man makes!

    Men and singing (a series of three posts)

    Everybody has a place in the choir

    The problem with men: getting them, handling them, keeping them


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • How to encourage regular choir attendance – balancing fun with commitment

    Listed on April 13, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Lately I’ve been wrestling with the problem of inconsistent attendance at choir. If not everyone comes each week it’s hard to do any development work and it means I have to keep teaching the same songs again and again.

    sing for your life choir

    Jane Christie-Johnston from Tasmania contacted me recently and we had a bit of an email chat. I asked her how she dealt with the challenge, and this post is based on her reply.

    Jane Christie-Johnston is the Director of Sing For Your Life! Choir in Tasmania. Jane has watched her choir grow from about 12 to around 150 singers in almost 10 years. As you can imagine this has brought many challenges and new adventures.

    Jane Christie-Johnson

    Here is what she has to say about the challenges of maintaining regular attendance and how to keep a choir fresh and exciting over the long term.

    Firstly, before I rant about some of the challenges, I have to stress that I love my choir. LOVE. With a passion. I couldn’t do it for nearly ten years if I didn’t love it and the singers within. But of course with any group, particularly a group that has grown so much and so quickly, there are challenges along the way.

    I often have the same thing going on in my choir in relation to sporadic attendance. It’s extremely hard to walk the middle ground between creating a fun, laidback, pay-as-you-go, welcoming choir which people can fit into their busy lives, and creating a committed group which strives to be its best, performing where possible and engaging audiences by being polished and rehearsed.

    In our choir we always stress that we understand that ‘people have lives’, and that singing in a choir is just one part of a busy life ... but that can be a double-edged sword for me in that it’s harder to build the ‘core strength’ of the choir when so many members are drifting around the edges.

    I have about 150 choir members, but each week between 110 and 130 come to rehearsals, across two rehearsal groups (I do the same thing at both rehearsals each week so people can pick and choose, swap around, come to one or two or none etc.). So we, like you, have a slightly different group each week, and there are always at least a few people looking a bit anxious or working hard to catch up on some foreign words we’ve gone through in detail the week before.

    Here are some things I’m doing to try and shift the situation. I acknowledge that these things are easier to do with a large group, because even if quite a few choose not to participate regularly, I still have a wonderful, large core group to work with.  As with anything, progress can be slow!

    1. singers need to do the work if they want to perform

    I try to make it clear (on the website and at rehearsals) that performing is optional, but that if people want to perform it becomes a lot more important for them to know the words, their parts, the songs, how to follow my conducting, and the ‘performance’ version of the song (e.g. beginnings and endings). Over many years I’ve continued to build an expectation that those who want to perform will put in the extra effort.

    2. don’t feel you have to go over the parts week after week

    I don’t spend too much time going over parts week after week. I try not to leave anyone struggling and feeling really lost, but apart from ironing out some wrinkles here and there I won’t go through a song/part from scratch if we’ve been singing it for a month already. It’s just not fair to the members who are putting in the time and effort.

    If someone misses several weeks and really can’t catch up, he/she needs to either find a way to catch up individually (with the help of me or a fellow singer) or, if that’s too hard, maybe postpone their involvement in the choir and come back the following year when I’m teaching new songs, and when they might have more time to commit. People soon get the message that, even though coming to choir shouldn’t be an arduous task, they do need to give it a little bit more effort and regular commitment.

    3. ‘informal’ doesn’t mean it’s a social club!

    I used to refer to our choir as an opportunity for a ‘social sing’, but really, we’re more than that, and the language around ‘social singing’ isn’t reflective of what we’re actually trying to do.  It’s informal, and laid-back, but it’s not just a social get together once a week; we have a bigger purpose than that.

    4. have a sensible policy on when new singers can join

    Over the years I’ve slowly been shifting the ‘rules’ (more like guidelines/expectations - nothing is very regimented) around joining the choir. It used to be that people could join any old time (our choir year usually runs Feb-Nov) which meant that I literally had people joining three or four weeks before our big end of year concert, where we were singing a dozen or so songs in four-part harmony.

    These days it’s quite clear on the website that we welcome new members up until around August (we conveniently have a singing festival in our city each July - this brings a new wave of members who have seen us perform). After August I tell people that they need to wait until the following February, when the year starts up and I start teaching a new program of songs (everyone, old and new members, learning together). A few will still join but it’s very much a ‘sink or swim’ situation!

    5. have catch-up days for new members

    In September last year I ran a ‘choir catch-up’ day for new members (those joining after July) and for anyone who felt they needed to polish up some of the songs. I used a whole day to go through all the parts of most of our repertoire, starting with the song I felt needed the most work and working down through the less certain or more difficult songs, so that those members could go back to regular rehearsals feeling more prepared for the lead-up to the end of year concert.

    This meant that I didn’t have to re-teach songs at choir that some people had been singing for more than six months. It’s good to boost the catch-up day with some regular choir members so new members don’t feel totally stuck out on a limb learning new things in a small group - quite terrifying for some of them!

    6. don’t spoon feed too much

    I stopped printing and handing out song lyrics. We’ve never used any sheet music in the choir but I used to produce documents full of song words. People are now much more comfortable trusting their memories and if they need to make notes to help them remember, it’s their responsibility to do this. Some choir members continue to struggle with this, but I love seeing people’s happy faces rather than the tops of their heads while their noses are stuck in folders every week, so I tell people to bring a pen and notepad, or type words into a phone.

    I was finding that people would take the song words home, make a few notes about their parts, and that meant they “knew the song”. Three weeks later they’d come to rehearsal and get a rude shock at how far the song had progressed, or that there was a vamp added, or a variation to a chorus etc.

    7. it’s up to the singers to make sure of their parts

    I tell people all the time that if they’re not sure about parts, either because they join the choir late in the year or they miss a lot of rehearsals, they’re welcome to bring along a phone or recorder and I’ll sing their part for them, so they can listen and practise at home.  Although I spend quite a few coffee breaks singing into phones, it’s a great help to people.  I do tell them that this is to supplement their learning in person at choir, NOT to replace it!

    8. it’s hard to get singers to come on cold, dark nights

    Tasmania has four distinct seasons and winter is cold, with very short days (getting dark by 4.30/5pm). My friends who are choir leaders all have the same story – choirs sometimes literally halve in numbers through winter, people get home from work and don’t want to go out again, or cold and flu bugs might take hold and spread through a group. Revving everyone up again during/after winter has traditionally been VERY hard.

    The Festival of Voices in July has shifted this wonderfully.  We now have a mid-winter event that is one of the highlights of our performing year, and attendance throughout June is at an all-time high.  We perform around the city during the Festival week, then we have about three weeks off, a perfect time for recovery, rest and hibernation, and in August we all come back with renewed energy, with our last wave of new members for the year.

    (Chris: interesting that we in the Northern Hemisphere seem to have the opposite problem: attendance during the summer months is very sporadic as people go on holiday or spend more time on their allotments! Winter is traditionally a time for people to start new adult education classes and January brings a flush of enthusiasm for new hobbies as people make New Year resolutions.)

    9. create milestones to give singers something to work towards

    I give them milestones to reach - performances, generally. I try to be clear about my expectations regarding what they need to know to perform. I have a couple of big milestone performances reasonably early in the year, then the Festival of Voices in July.

    If these milestones don’t come along naturally then I create them. Last year I ran a big social ‘Sing For Your Supper’ event, where I got the two rehearsal groups together. We sang all the songs we’d learnt so far that year, and many members were amazed by the combined sound after only singing with one rehearsal group for so long. Similar milestones could be something like having an open rehearsal where you invite families and friends to come and listen, share supper, etc.

    Next year I’m taking 70 of our singers to Ireland for the Cork choral festival - and travellers have signed a commitment to be regularly-attending in 2015 and that they will know all this year’s songs by the end of the year, in preparation for the trip. This has been a wonderful incentive to maintain regular attendance! ... maybe you should sign your choir up for the Tasmanian Festival of Voices in 2016 ... ??!!

    10. make sure you create a lively social programme

    I oversee an informal social program each year so that people have a chance to feel connected beyond just rehearsals - with connection comes a greater sense of teamwork. Social events are entirely optional but we have a pretty good attendance rate.  We’ve had Sing For Your Supper events, trips to the movies, karaoke nights, a sing-along Sound of Music movie night, picnics and barbecues. Most of the organising is done by one of our choir members who just loves to organise things - every choir has one (usually many) of these wonderful people. We sell tickets to events at choir sessions only, so that if someone wants to come to the karaoke party they have to be actively attending rehearsals to buy a ticket.

    We also have informal activities as part of our choir sessions usually during the mid-rehearsal tea-break. A few times a year we run things like swap-nights for books, DVDs, CDs, cookbooks, etc., and they’re great fun (and free!).

    11. give regular pep talks and emphasise that choirs are communities

    I try to give good pep talks and to keep things relatively light-hearted and humorous in front of a group even when they’re working hard. I work hard to outline expectations, shut down poor behaviour, rev people up, show that I’m excited about the sound and our songs, and give positive reinforcement. I’m not shy about telling the group that something needs work, and I’ll share my vision for performances or events. I often tell them what I imagine a song will sound and feel like in a performance, and why it’s so important for them to learn it properly, and to be patient and kind during the learning process, etc.

    For many years I’ve used the phrase ‘Choir = Community’, in newsletters, in interviews I do about the choir, and at choir rehearsals. I tell people that being in a community choir isn’t just about the individual. I get them to look to their right, their left, in front and behind - and I tell them that their responsibility stretches to those around them, both in the room and beyond. This becomes increasingly important for performances. The essence of teamwork is always remembered, so to not turn up is to let your team-mates down.

    12. if you don’t know the song, don’t sing it!

    I would NEVER target someone individually in front of others about his/her singing, and with so many of my members having bad singing/choir experiences at school or church I’d never suggest to someone that he/she shouldn’t be in the choir, or should mime at the back etc. But I will quite happily stand in front of the choir before a performance and say to the group, “if you’re not 100% certain that you know your part for a particular song, don’t sing it”.  I’m clear that if that means they have to mime a line every now and then, that’s better than coming out with something dodgy and unrehearsed and wrong.

    I don’t see why someone should miss a whole performance if they’re shaky on just one or two songs, but that doesn’t give them an invitation to just sing anything they think might fit for those songs - they need to respect the group and the overall sound, and the arrangements that have been written (no making up parts on the run!!). To date no-one has had a problem with this, and we talk about it with humour despite it being a serious subject.

    13. work gradually towards your ideal choir

    As hard as it is (I’m a perfectionist from way back) I give them, and myself, a break. The choir is a product of what I’ve set up – we’ve always been very relaxed and informal and any shift of those goalposts needs to be gradual.  I can’t expect them to suddenly care more about things that haven’t mattered for years – if I switch to being really pedantic about things that may matter in a more serious or auditioned choir, I know that our membership would drop significantly. It’s important for us to remember the big picture and all the reasons we sing together, while still working gently for continuous improvement.

    14. work out what you want and stick to it

    So, Chris ... after all that rambling, I think the bottom line has to be “it is what it is”. Outline your expectations, stand by them, and keep doing what you’re doing. Whatever you do will find the right market. Work out what your personal deal breakers are (they’ll be different from mine) and stomp on anything that crosses the line. I know from your writing that you feel that way - at the end of the day, as you’ve written previously, you can’t keep everyone happy. If you’re clear about what you offer and what you expect, including attendance and performance standards, your audience/market/team will form around you – and very importantly, you will be true to yourself as well as those in your lovely choir.


    Jane Christie-Johnston
    Director, Sing For Your Life! Choir
    choir@tadaa.com.au

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • 5 good reasons why joining a choir might not be right for you

    Listed on April 6, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    We all know that joining a choir is a good thing to do. But it might not suit everyone.

    Voicerox Choir, Southbank.
    photo by Dave Pearce

    Here are five reasons why it might not be such a good idea for you.

    If you are a singer who agrees with any of the following, then joining a choir might not be right for you.

    1. “I love to just belt out loud”
    Singing in a choir is about blending in with others so you won’t often get the chance to belt out loud unless the whole of your section is instructed to do so.

    2. “I get put easily off when someone sings a harmony to what I’m singing”
    Most choirs sing in three- or four-part harmony so it’s inevitable that there will be people singing different harmonies at the same time as you.

    3. “I enjoy making up my own harmonies”
    Unless it’s a very small choir which specialises in improvisation, the majority of choirs will expect you to learn harmonies that are set and have been worked out in advance by somebody else.

    4. “I don’t like commitment”
    Although it doesn’t have to be a huge commitment, being in a choir will entail regular attendance and commitment to being at rehearsals if the choir performs.

    5. “I want to be a famous singer”
    Choir singing is a team game and not a solo sport. Singing in a choir can certainly get you started on a singing career, but it’s not a suitable vehicle for fame.


    If you still think being in a choir might suit you, check out How to be a good choir member to see what will be expected of you.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Should your choir perform live? – arguments for and against

    Listed on March 30, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    When I started my most recent community choir The OK Chorale back in 2011 I decided it wasn’t going to be a performing choir.

    Brighton Vox

    But inevitably, over time, we have ended up giving local concerts. Not all choirs perform though. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

    reasons not to perform with your choir

    • too much focus on product rather than process – most singers enjoy the process of singing and learning together rather than having to always be aware of how good the finished product will be.
       
    • always rehearsing, no time for fun – it’s very hard to strike a balance in weekly sessions between rehearsing for your next concert and actually enjoying the singing. It can all too easily become like ‘work’.
       
    • less opportunities to learn new repertoire – if you perform frequently (and I know of some choirs who do up to a dozen concerts a year), then there is often no time to work on new songs.
       
    • can be stressful learning words, etc. – when the pressure’s on to get up to speed for a performance, many singers find it very stressful.
       
    • hard to integrate new singers into old repertoire – if you’re building up to a concert which involves some of the choir’s well-known back catalogue it can be problematic when new singers join the choir and you have to get them up to speed separately.
       
    • can put off new recruits – especially if you perform to a high standard. With my first choir, WorldSong, I used to think that we would recruit lots of new singers through our regular concerts. But because we sung to a high standard it actually put audience members off because they thought they wouldn’t be good enough to join!
       
    • singers who can’t make concert can feel left out – not everyone is going to be able to attend your next concert and it can leave them feeling excluded as you rehearse each week.
       
    • pressure to fill seats and raise bar each time – most people join a choir to sing, not to publicise, sell tickets and fill seats. There can also be a pressure to raise the bar each time and make each concert more spectacular than the last.
       
    • promotes static performer/audience relationship – many cultures in the world don’t differentiate between performers and audience, rather everyone joins in all the time. There are no ‘special’ people who perform for others as in our culture. Putting on regular ticketed concerts simply re-emphasise this false distinction and can reinforce audience members’ beliefs that you have to be ‘special’ in order to be able to sing.
       
    • hard to control environment – amplification, sight lines, etc. Often elements of a performance are out of your control and mistakes or bad/ wrong equipment can spoil an otherwise good performance.
       
    • always chasing the next ‘high’ – if a concert goes well, the singers will feel amazing afterwards. But that feeling doesn’t last long and they will want another ‘high’ in a short while. It stops being about the pleasure of singing and more about chasing external validation.
       

    reasons why it might be good for your choir to perform

    • share your accomplishments with pride – as you work together as a team your singing will improve and you will end up sounding great. It’s lovely to be able to share that achievement and sense of pride with others.
       
    • some people need something to work towards – not everyone is satisfied with just singing together each week but always need to be “working towards something”. It can be making your next CD, being part of a theatre show or putting on your next concert.
       
    • can raise profile of choir locally – if you want to promote your choir, doing public performances and showing everyone what you do it a great way to do it.
       
    • good recruitment tool – even though your high standards may put some people off (see above), hearing your choir perform is one of the best ways of recruiting new singers.
       
    • shows friends and family what you’ve been up to – many friends, partners and family members have no idea what you get up to at choir each week and sometimes it’s hard to explain well. If they get to come and see you perform they will find out what it is you do.
       
    • motivation to learn lyrics and polish songs – despite our best intentions, we often need some extra motivation to learn the lyrics to a song and really nail our part. A concert looming focuses the mind wonderfully!
       
    • big challenge can lead to sense of achievement – many singers who have never performed before find being part of a concert a real challenge, but afterwards it brings a wonderful feeling of achievement.
       
    • some people just like showing off! – it might not be your whole choir, but some people are just hard-wired to be performers and love showing off in front of an audience. It might be that you can do some smaller gigs (not involving the whole choir) during the year to satisfy their need.
       

    other posts of interest

    You might find these posts of interest too.

    Choirs that don’t perform

    What’s the point of live music performance?

    7 ways to share your choir’s singing without making a big performance of it

    Process vs. product: are you along for the singing ride or just the performance?

    Balancing fun with rehearsing for concerts

    Don’t peak too soon – effective rehearsal planning for your next concert

    Getting the best out of your choir: preparing for performance

    Why ‘singing for fun’ doesn’t mean low standards and poor performances


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • How ill do you need to be before you cancel a performance?

    Listed on March 23, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I’ve been laid up for the past 10 days with a nasty bout of ’flu. For the first time in my 18-year career I’ve had to cancel a choir concert.

    Cancelled concert

    In this case it was an obvious decision, but how ill do you need to be before you cancel a performance?

    It comes to us all at some point, whether we’re singers or choir leaders – a performance is looming and we become ill.

    If it’s a head cold or something else mild, it’s just an inconvenience and we soldier on. But what if it’s something worse? How can we tell if we should go ahead or cancel?

    Here are some questions you might want to ask to help make your decision (in no particular order).

    • can the show go on without me? – we all like to think that we’re indispensible, but the fact is that in a choir the show can usually go on with a few people missing.
       
    • do I have a replacement? – if you have an important role (e.g. a solo to sing, a section to lead or a choir to conduct), then it might be difficult to carry on without you. Many people have a substitute in these cases. If you don’t have one, maybe now’s the time to find one.
       
    • am I still infectious? – whether you personally want the show to go ahead or not, it would be irresponsible to turn up if you’re still infectious and pass your bug onto the entire choir. If you have ’flu you are infectious from day one (even if you have no symptoms) and can remain infectious for up to a week even if you’re feeling a little better. See also Keep it to yourself! – why colds, singing and choirs don’t mix
       
    • will it delay my long-term recovery? – it’s often possible to drag yourself off your death bed and perform, regardless of how ill you are (that’s Doctor Theatre for you). But what about any lasting effects? Will you delay your recovery and be out of action for much longer? Will you damage your voice by using it when you shouldn’t? Take care of yourself and your voice for the long term.
       
    • if I go ahead will the performance be up to scratch? – even if you’re well enough, will this concert be up to your usual standards, especially if quite a few choir members have also been ill and rehearsals have suffered? Perhaps it would be best to postpone rather than deliver a shoddy performance.
       
    • are there financial implications? – if it’s touch and go whether you go ahead, then any financial implications might sway the balance. How much are you likely to lose if you don’t go ahead (e.g. venue and equipment hire, publicity costs, ticket refunds, advertising, etc.)?
       
    • how easy is it to reschedule? – if you’re not likely to make much of financial loss and it’s relatively easy to reschedule, then it might be better in the long run to bite the bullet and postpone rather than soldiering on at less than full strength.
       
    • how important is the concert really? – we all like to think that our concerts are really, really special and important, but in the greater scheme of things it’s just a one-off singing performance. It’s not earth-shattering and life will go on regardless of whether you perform or not. Make sure you get a perspective. It’s all too easy to lose sight of what’s really important (your health, your singers) when the stress takes over in the run-up to a concert.
       

    Once I’d made the difficult decision to cancel our concert this weekend, there was a collective sigh of relief from the choir (quite a few of them were also ill with ’flu). Yes, some singers were disappointed, but the majority could see the wisdom of the decision. We hope to reschedule for later in the year.

    Have you ever had to cancel a performance? How difficult was it to make that decision? Do you have any other guidance that might help others in a similar situation?

    further reading

    You might also find these posts of interest.

    Looking after yourself in a busy concert season

    Taking care of ourselves as choir and workshop leaders

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • When you don’t feel like singing, that’s the perfect time to do it – sing yourself happy!

    Listed on March 16, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Many of us wait until the mood hits us before we do something. But often the doing something is what changes our mood for the better.

    lazy

    The saying “Don’t sing because you’re happy, be happy because you sing” hits the nail on the head. Here’s why.

    Whether you sing in a choir, are a professional singer or a community choir leader, there will be days when you don’t feel like doing it.

    Like many of you, I’ve been fighting off a series of bugs over the last few months and it’s left me feeling low and unmotivated. I just want to slob in front of the TV and veg out. World go away!

    But I have a job to do.

    I need to turn up every Thursday to lead The OK Chorale whether I feel like it or not. And when I do, my mood is always lifted by the singing.

    If I don’t turn up there are consequences and at times it means I might not get paid. That’s motivation enough to get me off the sofa!

    But many of you won’t have the responsibilities that I do. If the stakes aren’t so high, it’s all too easy to stay at home and let your mood take over, making you feel even worse.

    Many of us wait around until it “feels right” to do something. Whether it’s waiting for our muse in order to start a novel or waiting to feel desire before we have a cuddle with our partner or waiting to feel happy before we sing.

    Yet it turns out (and there have been studies to show this) that motivation and desire follow action rather than it always being the other way round.

    If we cuddle our partner we will begin to feel desire; if we start writing, the creative juices will begin to flow; and if we sing, our mood will be lifted and we will begin to feel happy.

    So next time you’re feeling low and don’t want to do anything, take action: drag yourself to choir, or put some music on to sing along with, or take a shower and release your inner diva.

    You will definitely feel better for it afterwards. I guarantee.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Copying music – how to stay on the right side of the law

    Listed on March 9, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I get regular emails from people asking questions about songs and copyright. I’m certainly no expert, but I have written a few articles that you might find helpful.

    behind bars

    I’ve also just discovered something called The Code of Fair Practice which (in the UK only) allows people in certain circumstances to get around copyright issues.

    UK copyright law

    I’ve written about songs and copyright before:

    If a musical work is in copyright (which it will be if any of the composers, editors or authors have been dead for less than 70 years, or if the printed edition has been published in the last 25 years, whichever is the longer) then copying the work and/or arranging it are infringements of the copyright unless the person doing so has gained permission from the copyright owner to do so.

    Simply put: no copies, no problem.

    (You’ll see references below to reprographic copies which means any copies made by mechanical or electrical means, e.g. photocopying or scanning into a computer.)

    If you do want to copy or arrange songs that are still in copyright, you’ll need to ask permission.

    But there are some circumstances where you CAN make copies without the copyright holder’s permission.

    exceptions to the law

    There are some exceptions to the current UK copyright law (the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988). This is just an outline. You can find more details here: The Code of Fair Practice.

    1. Research and Private Study Fair dealing for the purpose of research or private study is permitted

    2. Class/Music Room
    Teachers and students are permitted to copy (by hand) in the course of instruction. A reprographic process must not be used.

    3. Examinations
    Nothing done for the purpose of an examination (including continuous assessment) infringes copyright, except that candidates performing a musical work in an examination may not use reprographic copies.

    4. Limit Under Act
    Educational establishments may make reprographic copies providing that they do not exceed 1% of any work in any one quarter of the year and providing a licence scheme is not available which covers this provision.

    5. Libraries
    Librarians (of prescribed libraries) may make and supply a copy of part of a musical work for the purpose of research or private study to a person who must pay for the copy.

    6. Visually Impaired Persons
    A single copy is permitted to be made for a visually impaired person who is in lawful possession of a publication. See www.mpaonline.org.uk for further details.

    7. Licensing Schemes
    Permission to copy may be obtained through a licensing scheme such as the Schools Printed Music Licence which enables school teachers to copy publications, subject to certain conditions (see www.schools.cla.co.uk/your-cla-schools-licence/schools-printed-music-licence). There are also several licenses for the reproduction of hymns and hymn texts available from CCLI (see www.ccli.co.uk).

    the code of fair use

    Copyright owners (composers and their publishers) recognise that musicians and students need reasonable access to copyright material so that their music may be widely performed and studied.

    To this end they have come up with a Code of Fair Practice which allows for some further circumstances where copies can be made without being prosecuted. For the fine print check The Code of Fair Practice website.

    1.Emergencies
    Music which has been lost or damaged when it is too late to replace it by purchase or hire before a pre-arranged concert may be copied, without any application to the copyright owner

    2. Performance difficulties
    A performer who possesses a piece of music and who needs for his personal use a second copy of a page of the work for ease of performance due to a difficult page-turn, may make one copy of the relevant part for that purpose without any application to the copyright owner.

    3. Study and Research
    Bona fide students or teachers, whether they are in an educational establishment or not, may without application to the copyright owner make copies of short excerpts of musical works provided that they are for study only (not performance).

    4. Classroom Sets
    In the case of works published in classroom sets and where the publisher has expressly stated in writing extra parts are not sold individually but only in sets, copies of extra parts may be made provided that the number so made does not exceed a ‘quarter set’ in quantity.

    5. Out of Print
    If a work appears to be out of print, any person or organisation wishing to obtain that work should give notice of this intention to the publisher. The publisher shall then within 3 weeks inform that person or organisation of the terms on which the publisher is either able to supply it or will allow copies to be made.

    6. Non-Supply
    If a person or organisation has ordered music from a dealer or publisher and it has not been supplied within one month of the order date, that person or organisation must give notice to the publisher requiring them to supply within three weeks or give permission to make the necessary copies on payment of a fee.

    7. Extracts from Complete Editions
    If a person or organisation wishes to use a whole work which is only published as a small part of a complete or collected edition and which is not published separately, notice must be given to the publisher who may either offer to provide such separate publication on given terms or allow copies to be made on payment of a fee.


    A bit long-winded I know (as are most laws), but I hope this has been of some help.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • Less is more: don’t feel you have to teach or learn new songs all the time (by Betsy Sansby)

    Listed on March 2, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Many choir leaders end up feeling like song factories because we feel that our singers crave novelty. If we don’t keep giving them new things, they might leave.

    One World Community Choir
    One World Community Choir conducted by Betsy Sansby

    Actually most singers in a choir welcome singing the old, familiar songs and find it hard learning new stuff all the time. It’s important to find the balance.

    Many choir leaders end up feeling like they’re a song factory, churning out song after song, week after week. It all ends up feeling a bit like a production line.

    But we bring this upon ourselves! We feel that unless we’re continually bringing new, shiny things for our singers they’ll get bored and run away to join another choir.

    Not so.

    Most singers relish going over old, familiar material. It’s a chance to have a good sing (see We’ve come to sing, not to learn!) and an opportunity to refresh and polish old songs.

    less is always more

    Betsy Sansby, who co-leads the One World Community Choir in Minnesota sums it up really well:

    “What I’ve learned these past seven years since starting our choir is that less is always more.

    “In the beginning, I was hot to teach new songs each week, so people wouldn’t get bored. Finally, after making myself — and everyone else, it turned out — crazy, Al Dworsky (my husband and our source of comic relief each week) suggested I ask the choir what percentage of new material they wanted each week, compared to going over songs we’d been doing for quite some time.

    “I was shocked. The consensus was (drumroll, please) 75% old to 25% new each week. I now believe they had it right. The songs we know and love are getting richer and deeper, with much greater nuance in dynamics and emotion. The longer we stay with songs we’ve learnt, the better they sound, and the more we enjoy them.

    “So rather than aim for so many songs in so many hours, I try to deepen songs we’ve been working on that have the potential to grow better over time. I have yet to have anyone in my choir say: “Can we stop singing Follow the Heron? We sing it every week!” And it’s been seven years since I first taught it.

    “I think the fact that I’ve elected to have a non-performing choir has helped me enormously. My friends whose choirs do regular performances are without exception, stressed out most of the time: always rushing, never having enough time, neglecting other activities and people they could be enjoying more in order to put up flyers or hold extra rehearsals.

    “All week I work with people who are in some kind of pain (in my therapy practice). Choir is where I get to laugh, and make mistakes, and take my time. That way, I can pretty much teach anything I want, even if the rhythm or words are tricky.

    “Al used to tell me to simplify parts to make them easier to learn. But I've always refused. I find that our choir — made up of mostly people in their 50s who don't read music — can do anything, no matter how hard it is if we go slowly enough. My goal is not to simplify songs to make them easier, but to simplify my life by going slower and enjoying small bits more completely.

    “I like to treat each line or phrase as a chant or groove we sing over and over before moving on. It took some getting used to for some people, but because I’m fond of African and East Indian chants, my choir members are all used to this way of singing now.”

    (you might also like to read Betsy’s account of the first seven years of her choir: How to run a choir without driving everyone nuts)

    other related posts you might find interesting

    How many songs can you teach in an hour?
    Why I teach so fast and try to squeeze too many songs into a session.

    Helping new choir members learn the old songs
    If you’re always teaching new repertoire, how do new choir members catch up?

    Over-rehearsed or under-prepared: which is better?
    Is it ever possible to over-rehearse a song, or will you always go deeper?

    10 ways to breathe new life into old songs
    If you get bored going over old songs, here are some ideas for refreshing them.

    Sometimes old is best – finding the balance between new and familiar
    This is the last time I wrote on this topic where I also consider warm ups.

    How long does it take to learn a song?
    It takes much longer than you think to really get a song under your belt.

    How to keep the old songs in your repertoire from going stale
    10 more ideas for refreshing old material.

    Process vs. product: are you along for the singing ride or just the final performance?
    Really learning and polishing a song can be a long process and some people want to rush to the end.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • If you don’t feel nervous before a concert or a singing workshop then something’s wrong

    Listed on February 23, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I never sleep the night before running a singing workshop and I always feel terribly nervous before a concert – whether I’m singing or conducting.

    nervous
    photo by Francesco

    But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The day you stop being nervous is the day you should give up. Here’s why.

    blast those nerves!

    I did a corporate singing workshop recently very much outside my comfort zone (large group of non-singers, mainly men). I was very, very nervous. Everyone who knew me said “It’ll be fine”. But that didn’t help.

    No matter how prepared I am or how many times I’ve done something I always get nervous.

    The night before a singing workshop I never sleep well (just imagine what an amazing workshop I could deliver on a full night’s sleep!). Even if it’s a theme I’ve done many, many times I don’t sleep. I’m not consciously worrying about anything and I’m always fully prepared, but I don’t sleep.

    Immediately before a concert – whether I’m performing or conducting – I get extremely nervous: butterflies in the tummy, slight shakes, dry mouth, worrying that I’ll forget everything. You know the kind of thing. It doesn’t matter that I’m fully prepared or that I’ve done these songs hundreds of times before, I still get very nervous and I’ve been doing this for years.

    I even get nervous before my weekly choir sessions, especially if it’s a new song or something different in the warm up.

    what’s the alternative?

    Imagine if you didn’t get nervous.

    There would be no adrenaline, no ‘edge’, no feeling of excitement, no concern that everything will turn out well.

    You can easily become complacent. You’ve done it hundreds of times before so why worry?

    It’s so easy then to stop being conscientious and professional. It worked last time, why shouldn’t it work this time? Why bother trying to get it right or make it better or pay attention? I can do this in my sleep.

    Feeling nervous shows that you still care.

    It shows that you care about

    • getting it right,
    • making things better,
    • being prepared in case anything goes wrong,
    • doing it to the best of your abilities,
    • continuing to learn and grow.

    beneath the surface we’re all paddling like mad

    Despite the fact that I feel so nervous I always appear calm and in control to those around me.

    Many of us look calm and confident even though we’re not. My motto is: behave as if you know what you’re doing. It’s worked for me so far!

    Next time you see someone who looks calm and confident remember that most of us are paddling like mad under the surface just to stay afloat. It doesn’t mean that we’re out of our depth, it means that we’re somewhat nervous and the we care deeply about what we’re doing.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • What if the singing session is a success, but you feel like a failure?

    Listed on February 16, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Sometimes we’re asked to lead a rehearsal or run a singing workshop or perform a song and we do our job very well. But afterwards we don’t feel particularly good about it.

    success failure

    What’s going on here? Is it possible to be successful, but fail at the same time?

    I recently ran a workshop for a conference of senior executives. There were almost 90 non-singers of whom around 80 were men. It was a difficult gig (they wanted something that would go down in their corporate history – no pressure then!) with such an imbalance of men and women and not knowing what their singing abilities were.

    I only had 1 1/2 hours to create a ‘choir’ from this disparate group, none of whom knew what I would be doing with them in my session.

    In the end, after a fun warm up, we launched into a simple round, and by the end of the session we’d done five easy songs, some in foreign languages.

    As a model of co-operation, team-building and non-hierarchical structure it was perfect. Everybody had fun, everybody had been stretched, and everybody ended up doing something they had not thought they were capable of. They were still talking about it the next morning.

    A result then. So how come I felt flat and not very pleased with the outcome?

    I realised that, although I had met the expectations of those who’d hired me and delivered to the participants, I had not met my own expectations. In my terms I had failed.

    I realised that my measure of success is for a group of people to make beautiful music together. I love hearing the gorgeousness of the final result.

    On the way to producing this lovely sound people might feel empowered, feel good about themselves, share and collaborate with others, work as a team, stretch themselves, discover a new ability, make friends and so on, but for me, these are side effects of the way in which I work, not the reason why I do it.

    Of course, your needs may be different to mine. It is enough for many people to see others expressing themselves, or to build communities, or to help people overcome obstacles, or to see a group bond – no matter what the quality of the end product is.

    Whatever your own measure of success is, you need to be careful then when accepting work to make sure that the outcome of any project matches your own needs. Just because you deliver what others want doesn’t mean that you get what we want.

    If you end up doing too many jobs where you don’t feel fulfilled, then you may as well get a ‘proper’ job that pays better!

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • What’s the best recording device to use in a choir rehearsal or singing workshop?

    Listed on February 9, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    How long’s a piece of string?! There are so many options that I’m not going to specify any particular type or model.

    tape recorder
    photo by svennevenn

    However, here are some of the things you need to consider.

    what to consider when choosing a recording device

    • is it small and convenient and easy to use? – you won’t want to carry around a big, heavy object and have to look in the manual every time in order to use it. If it needs an external microphone that’s one more hassle and one more thing to forget to bring.
       
    • can it use batteries or does it have to run off the mains? – batteries make the device more flexible (no need for power supply), but batteries can run out. Can it be recharged? Or make sure you have spares. Or don’t forget your mains cable!
       
    • how much can you afford? – it’s no good having the latest whizz technology in mind if you can’t afford it. What is available within your budget?
       
    • will the recordings be easy to find afterwards? – if you end up with hundreds of workshop recordings sitting on a shelf (or computer folder) unlabelled and unordered, there’s a good chance you will never get around to using them. Make sure you file them away sensibly so you can find what you want at a later date.
       
    • is it easy to transfer the recordings to a computer? – transferring recordings to a computer means that you can edit them, store them easily and even email them to others or upload them to the web. I used to transfer analogue cassette tapes to my PC, but it takes as long as it does to play the whole cassette. Similarly when I had a digital minidisk, I still had to play it in real time whilst it transferred. With more modern devices you simply drag and drop files and it takes a matter of a few minutes to transfer even long recordings.
       
    • what kind of quality do you need? – if you’re just recording the occasional workshop for your own purposes so you remember a song at a later date then you just need to make sure you can hear the audio clearly (i.e. cheap digital dictaphone or your even your mobile phone will do). Other than that you won’t have to fuss about bit rates and other audio jargon. However, if you want to record something to give (or sell) to others you might need better quality audio (i.e. a better quality digital dictaphone or a dedicated music recording device).
       

    what I use

    For years I used a Sony minidisc. The quality was excellent and several of my choirs released professional CDs of live concert recordings. This technology has been largely superseded and, as mentioned above, it takes ages to transfer audio files to a computer.

    When I handed over my first choir WorldSong, they kindly clubbed together and bought me a Zoom H4. This is a fine digital recording device which can record up to four tracks simultaneously so would make a great sketch pad for you songwriters out there. I don’t exploit all its capabilities, but use it as a simple stereo work horse for recording concerts and workshops. It records to better than CD quality if you want it to.

    Again, this has been superseded by more recent models, but the brand is still a good bet.
    If you haven’t got as much money to spare (or don’t need CD quality) then there are plenty of digital dictaphones or voice recorders out there.

    what do you use?

    I’d love to hear about the technology you use for recording choir rehearsals and singing workshops. Do drop by and leave a comment. I’m sure we all have lots to learn!


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • Recording during singing workshops and choir rehearsals – why, what and when?

    Listed on February 2, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Despite my strong belief in the oral/ aural tradition, there is an increasing number of handheld recording devices appearing in my singing sessions!

    recording-device_thumb

    People ask if they can record during a singing workshop; choir members record their parts on their phone whilst learning a new song; I record the songs we’ve learnt at the end of each workshop I run. But what’s the best, and most appropriate way of recording during singing workshops and choir rehearsals?

    always ask first!

    If you want to record during a singing workshop or a choir rehearsal you should always ask first.

    Not only is this polite and shows a professional courtesy, but it’s also important because some of the songs may be in copyright and some people might not want to be recorded.

    1. copyright

    If a song you’re learning or singing is in copyright, then you’re not allowed to copy it any form – either by notating it quickly (yes, some people can do this!) or by recording it in any way (see Choirs and copyright: a beginner’s guide for the bewildered).

    That means you can’t record the parts on your phone or take a photo of the big lyric sheet pinned on the wall. Even if it’s only for your personal consumption.

    Just because you’re learning a song by ear in a workshop doesn’t mean that somebody hasn’t arranged or written the song. It might be the workshop leader or your friend who lives down the road or someone who’s just published an amazing songbook. You can’t just pass these songs on regardless.

    Check with the person leading the session: Where does the song come from? Is it OK to pass it on and teach it to others? Is it in a songbook that you should buy?

    It’s important to support people who have written and arranged songs as well as making sure that – if it’s a traditional song – you pass on the correct context, meaning, translation, pronunciation, etc.

    2. other singers

    Some people may be very new to singing and lack confidence in their voices. The last thing they’ll want is somebody recording them! So please ask everyone first if it’s OK.

    The leader of the session may do that on your behalf or you can ask them directly. A compromise might be for you to record the song at the end with those who don’t want to be recorded stepping back temporarily.

    what to record and why?

    When I first started running choirs I used to be desperate to collect as many songs as possible. At every singing workshop I attended I used to press Record at the beginning and get hours and hours of stuff that I had to wade through at home. At some point I just stopped listening to the recordings I’d made as it would take too much of my time to process them. I started to accumulate a huge library of minidisks that I never listened to.

    So I became a little more selective and would only record each part of the song as it was being taught and maybe the whole thing when it came together at the end.

    But there was still a lot of processing to do when I got home.

    So I stopped taking my recorder to singing workshops and found that I learnt more!

    I began to listen more carefully. I could pay more attention because I wasn’t faffing around putting new batteries in. I realised that I got a much better overview of the songs and I was able to remember the ones that I really liked (rather than just recording them all).

    If I really, really wanted to teach one of the songs later and didn’t think I’d remembered all the parts, I would ask the workshop leader and they would always be able to point me to a songbook or sheet music or website or even send me recorded parts.

    learning by ear in a choir

    Choir rehearsals are slightly different from one-off singing workshops. You can attend a singing day, learn a few great songs and then never sing them again.

    But in a choir there will often be a performance to work towards or simply the joy of singing those oldies that everyone loves. So you’ll need to be able to remember what you’ve learnt.

    One good use of recording devices is to record your part as it’s being taught. Then forget it.

    Weeks later, when you’ve really got the song under your belt as a choir, you have the option of going back to that original recording if you need to practice before a concert or if you haven’t done a song for a while and it’s gone a bit rusty.

    Try to avoid the temptation of going home and practising on your own whilst the choir is learning a new song. It’s possible to be too keen which then makes the whole thing a bit too much like school. Also, learning in a group is more social and allows you to hear how the harmonies work together.

    process or product? – recording the results of a singing workshop

    At the end of every singing day or singing weekend that I run I record all the songs that we’ve learnt together.

    Often in the feedback forms I get comments like: “Why didn’t you record it when we’d first nailed it rather than at the very end? It was much better the first time we did it!”

    Here is why I record the songs at the end.

    1. If you learn songs quickly (during a day of singing, say) then you will forget them quickly. If I send you a recording of what you learnt you will have something to help you remember after the workshop.
    2. You will always hear the others in your part most clearly and not get a good sense of the overall sound. By listening to a recording of the workshop you get to realise how good you sound! Also you’ll hear how the whole song fits together.
    3. Having something to aim for helps to focus the mind. There is also evidence that if you repeat something just before the point of forgetting it, then it is more likely to end up in your long term memory. So getting to repeat all the songs at the end of the workshop rounds off the learning process nicely. It’s NOT about the quality of the final performance then. Yes, there may have been better renditions earlier in the day, but that’s not the point.

    Next week I’ll be looking at the kind of recording device that you might want to use.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • The singers who didn’t like warm ups (and what became of them)

    Listed on January 26, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Once upon a time there were two singers: Olga and Little Erik. They  did not like choir warm ups. Olga always came late so she could avoid them. Little Erik did them in a half-hearted way with a scowl on his face.

    boy and girl

    What became of these two reckless singers? Read on to find out.

    Olga had never liked warm ups. She didn’t see the point. Why couldn’t they just get on with the singing?

    She hated the choir warm up so much that every week she came late so she could miss it.
    Little Erik wasn’t quite as naughty. He came on time every week like he was supposed to and joined in with the warm ups. But he really didn’t like them.

    He didn’t stretch quite as much as he could, he refused to make silly faces, and he did the humming very quietly. And he always had a dark scowl on his face.

    One week the choir leader sprang a surprise.

    She didn’t begin the session with a warm up, but started off with a gentle song instead. Little Erik was confused, but he was very happy that there was no warm up.

    When Olga arrived, they were already half way through the song, but she managed to catch up any way. Then to her horror, the choir leader started to do the warm up exercises. She had been tricked!

    Little Erik just started to scowl and got on with it. There was no escape for Olga so she had to join in too.

    After the warm up, they began the gentle song again.

    To their amazement, both Olga and Little Erik found it much easier to sing the song. Their voices felt richer and more resonant and they reached the high notes with ease. They didn’t get as confused with the harmonies and (despite themselves) they even found themselves smiling. What was happening?

    Their choir leader had many years experience of leading choirs and working with singers. Every week she carefully planned a series of exercises that helped the singers in her choir prepare to sing.

    These exercises included warming up the voice, getting in touch with the breath, making a transition from the everyday world, reducing stress and tension in the body and helping singers to listen more carefully. All so they could have fun and make beautiful music together.

    Every exercise had a clear reason and was very carefully thought out.

    Even though Olga and Little Erik thought some of the exercises were stupid (sometimes they had to make silly faces which made them look a bit ugly was embarrassing) or a waste of time (like speaking in made-up languages, or clapping in a circle, or running around the rehearsal room), each one had a very specific purpose.

    Ever since their choir leader had surprised them that day, Olga and Little Erik realised that the warm ups did make a difference and helped them as singers.

    Olga began to turn up on time each week and even began to look forward to the warm ups (she even had fun!). Little Erik began to do the warm ups with more enthusiasm and stopped scowling so much (although he did scowl sometimes each time he started to learn a new song).

    Over time, the choir just got better and better and the warm ups became more exciting and more adventurous. The choir’s concerts became better attended and the singers began to smile all the time when they were singing.

    And everybody lived (and sang) happily ever after.

    THE END


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • 10 exercises guaranteed to get your singers listening more carefully

    Listed on January 19, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I went to a workshop recently run by the amazing Su Hart who has spent around 25 years working with the Baka people of Central Africa. Living in the rainforest as they do, listening well is literally a matter of life or death.

    ear to the ground
    photo by Rex Bennett

    Su’s workshop reminded me yet again that singing is all about listening. But how can we get our singers to listen to each other better? Here are 10 exercises to get you started.

    Unlike the Baka, listening well is not a matter of life and death to most choirs, but it IS the key to great singing as an ensemble.

    Being a very visual culture, we use our eyes far more than our ears so need a bit of help to remember how to listen properly. Here are some simple exercises you can use with your choir to help them listen better. You can do them separately or blend one into the other.

    1. hear the silence – every song starts from silence. Remind your choir. Ask them to stand in silence and focus on the sounds they can hear from outside the rehearsal room (wind, cars, children playing, dogs), then ask them to re-focus on the sounds from inside the rehearsal space (breathing, creaking floor, shuffling, throat clearing, doors banging).
       
    2. hunt the vowels – write each of the five vowels down on separate pieces of paper until you have enough to hand out to every choir member. Ask them to keep their vowel a secret. Then at your command, everyone begins to sing their vowel on any note and sets off to find everyone else in the room who’s singing the same vowel. Remind everyone to sing very quietly.
       
    3. sing the same note and disappear – choose a note that everyone can sing comfortably in the same octave for quite some time. Get everyone to stand very close together facing different directions. Mix the usual parts up. Everyone starts to sing on an ‘aw’ as a sustained drone. Tell the singers that after they’ve taken a breath they need to gently ease back into the overall sound. Ask them to match the quality and volume of all those around them. Tell them that you want them to disappear into the sound so it’s not possible to tell who is singing what.
       
    4. call and response chords – sing a note, any note and ask the choir to sing it back to you (choose one that the whole choir can sing in the same octave). Comment on their accuracy and repeat. Sing a different note. Then sing two notes and tell them they can choose either (from now on it doesn’t have to be in the same octave). Play with unusual intervals. Comment on their accuracy and repeat. Then try three notes. Start with familiar chords, then less familiar. Comment on their accuracy and repeat.  Continue building up chords as far as you want to go.
       
    5. play with pauses – in the exercise above begin to leave longer and longer pauses between giving out the notes and when you ask them to sing them back. Don’t allow them to ‘rehearse’ their note by singing it quietly to themselves!
       
    6. softly does it – take a song and see how quietly the choir can sing it. Then sing it even quieter. The quieter it gets, the closer they should stand. Try to get them in a huddle rather than standing in normal choir formation. Maybe even put their arms around each other. The closer the better.
       
    7. sing in trios – pick a song that everyone in the choir knows really well. Divide into small groups with one from each part, so you will have lots of trios or quartets. Tell them to stay in their small group and to focus within it, but to stand very close to everyone else as reinforcement. Get everyone to sing the song. Give feedback. Then ask the small groups to spread out and make more space between each group. Repeat the exercise. Continue until the groups are as far away from each other as possible. Ask for feedback.
       
    8. focus of attention – each time you repeat a song, ask the singers to focus on listening to a different thing, e.g the person standing next to them, the altos, the overall sound of the choir, their own breathing, etc. Gradually ask them to focus on more than one thing at a time.
       
    9. stop conducting – one problem with a choir can be that the singers become so used to someone standing in front of them conducting that they stop taking responsibility for themselves and start to believe they can’t do it without that person guiding them. Without telling the choir, start a song off, gradually stop conducting, then walk off and listen. There will be an initial blip probably, but then they’ll manage fine and begin to listen more to each other. Repeat the exercise, but just give the starting notes and tell them they all have to begin together but without you bringing them in.
       
    10. turn out the lights – this is really an extreme version of the previous exercise, but it’s also more powerful because by depriving the singers of one sense it helps them to focus on another. Get the choir to sing a song they know really well completely in the dark. You might start it off for them then turn the lights out, but eventually they should be able to do the whole thing completely in the dark.
       
    So there you have it: ten exercises that I’ve developed over the years. I’ve got lots more, but I hope this will encourage you to invent your own (and maybe even share them with us in the comments!).

    Remind the choir (and yourself) that listening is key. And if you get a chance, go to a Su Hart workshop – you’ll be amazed at how inspiring it will be.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Build it and they will come – why you can never have too many choirs

    Listed on January 12, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I had a friend who moved to a new town and set up a new choir, blissfully ignorant of the 100+ community chorus that already existed there.

    Estonia choir festival

    What was amazing was that the new choir quickly attracted 40 or so new singers, none of whom were from the rival choir. How is that possible?

    We choir leaders like to kid ourselves that people come to sing with us because they like us and what we do.

    The reality is that people come to a choir mainly because it’s at a convenient time and day!

    You’ll be surprised at how many singers are out there waiting for a choir to spring up on a Wednesday evening or a Monday lunchtime. As soon as you build one, they will come.

    Don’t worry about poaching singers from existing choirs. Unless the singers are seriously disillusioned with the repertoire and the way things are run, they have found something (at a time and day) that suits them so they will stay.

    So if you’re hesitating about setting up a new singing group and worrying that there are not enough singers to go round: don’t! Build it and they will come (but make sure it doesn’t clash with something else that’s already on).

    If you’ve not set up a choir before, you might like to read my series of 10 posts called How to start your own community choir. And if you’re not a choir leader and want to start a choir, then check out the two guest post called How to set up a choir if you’re not a choir leader.

    Good luck!

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Increase your enjoyment of singing in the choir in the coming year

    Listed on January 5, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I wrote a post a while back called Ask not what your choir can do for you – ask what can you do for your choir. The more you put in, the more you get back!

    The OK Chorale, Woodbridge
    The OK Chorale, Woodbridge, Suffolk

    There are plenty of practical things you can do to help you get more out of your choir. Here are a few. Why not try them in the coming year?

    Liz Garnett’s wrote a post on her blog Helping You Harmonise recently called Four Non-Musical Contributions You Can Make That Can Transform Your Choir.

    In it she suggested “four things that every choir member can manage, whatever their current skills or levels of experience, that will actively help their choir improve”. Here they are:
    1. Turn up
    2. Be ready to start at the start
    3. Be ready to start again after the break without having to be chased back
    4. Be organised
    If only every choir member took these responsibilities seriously! It’s all pretty obvious stuff, but it’s amazing how many singers forget their lyrics, arrive late, can’t remember which part they’re singing, get distracted by chatting to their friends.

    I mentioned some similar points in my post How to be a good choir member.

    Yes, singing in a choir is fun, but if you can balance it with a few basic responsibilities, it makes the whole experience much more rewarding for all concerned.

    If you recognise a bad habit (or two!) of yours when reading these posts, make a note of it/ them. Don’t try to change everything at once (those kind of New Year resolutions are bound to fail), but maybe pick one important one and see how that goes.

    You might also enjoy my post from last January: What small changes will make you a better singer in the coming year?

    I wish you every luck with any changes you want to make and hope you have a wonderful year of singing ahead.

    further reading

    You might also find these posts relevant.

    The pleasures of being a choir member

    How to deal with unwanted talking during choir rehearsals without killing anybody

    How to get people back after the break

    Don’t stand too close to me! – finding the right place to stand in your choir

    How will your choir cope if you don’t turn up?

    You are the most important singer in your choir

    Don’t try to help your fellow singers – it’s not your job!

    Dealing with choir members who are always late

    Joining an established choir: a guide for new singers

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Busily doing nothing – 5 reasons why downtime is important for singers and choir leaders

    Listed on December 29, 2014 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Feel like you’re on a treadmill? Constantly learning and practising and planning but never arriving? Not enough time to catch your breath between concerts?

    downtime
    photo by Roger Gordon

    Then you need some downtime! That is, time spent doing things completely unrelated to singing and choirs. Here’s why.

    It often feels like as soon as one choir season is over then the next one is upon you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a singer or a choir leader, it’s all to easy to lose sight of why you loved singing in the first place.

    It’s vital to factor in some downtime for yourself where you do nothing related to either choirs or singing. Here are a few reasons why it’s so important:

    1. your subconscious needs time and space – many creative problems can’t be solved by a head-on attack. But give your subconscious time to work and the solution will appear. Whether it’s an arrangement that’s not working or a song that you’re finding hard to learn, leaving it alone for a while works wonders. See also How songs are stored in your brain
       
    2. you’ll feel refreshed and renewed after a break – and remember why you loved singing in the first place. Doing it all the time can make it feel like a chore and you’ll lose all the fun. A break doesn’t necessarily mean stopping everything (although vacations are important too!), just make sure you’re doing things unrelated to choirs and singing. Make your choir life richer by tapping into other interests. You’ll be surprised at the unconscious connections that get made.
       
    3. it’s possible to overwork things – yes, too much practice or too much planning really can start to bring diminishing returns. Stepping away from rehearsal or lyric learning gives the brain time and space to make new connections. The amount of time you spend practising is not as important as the quality of that practise. Constantly bashing away at something isn’t always the best way. See also Over-rehearsed or under-prepared: which is better?
       
    4. you need to look after yourself – or you’ll burn out or get ill and then be no use to anyone. Remember all those activities that relax you and give you pleasure: listening to music, making a meal, going for a walk, reading? Take time to pamper and take care of yourself. See also Taking care of ourselves as choir and workshop leaders and Keep it to yourself! – why colds, singing and choirs don’t mix and Looking after yourself in a busy concert season.
       
    5. you need time to organise and reflect – even though it is related to choirs and singing, it’s important to make time to do things like tidying up your sheet music, archiving the previous choir season, cleaning up your work space, filing CDs and recordings away. You’ll not be dealing with choir-related issues head on, but these relatively mindless tasks can throw up all kinds of ideas: songs you’d forgotten about, new ways of organising your music, better ways of planning, etc. See also Putting your house in order or how to clear up after a busy choir season 

      It’s also good to have space to look at the bigger picture by reflecting on how the last choir season went, whether you’re still heading in the right direction, what things you might do better in the future. All done in a very loose and casual manner! See also Getting the best out of your choir 6: self-reflection and The secret to great singing that teachers don’t tell you.
       

    further reading

    You might also find these related posts of interest:

    What I did on my summer holiday – why we all need a break some time

    Use the long choir break to get better at what you do


    This quiet time between Christmas and New Year is the perfect opportunity to take some downtime. Come and join me?

    Happy New Year to all my loyal readers and I hope all your dreams and wishes for 2015 come true.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Why a choir can never be truly democratic

    Listed on December 15, 2014 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Ever asked your choir members how they think things are going? Is there a large committee helping to run your choir? If so, you’ve realised that a choir is not a democracy!

    show of hands

    A choir is more like a benign dictatorship. Here’s why democratic choirs don’t work.

    getting feedback from choir members

    Many choirs send out an annual questionnaire to their members to get feedback on how things are going. Is the repertoire to their taste? Are there too many or too few performances? Can the weekly sessions be improved in any way?

    If you’ve ever conducted one of these surveys you’ll realise that there are as many different opinions as there are singers in the choir! In fact, the only thing holding this disparate group of people together is you, the choir leader.

    Even if there is some kind of consensus in the responses, it can become divisive. The choir ends up being in two different camps, for example, those who want more pop songs and those who want less.

    If you try to seek the choir’s input on every matter – song choice, frequency of performances, length of warm ups – then it becomes rather like trying to run a country by having endless referendums. It’s best to elect someone to represent you and then trust them to make the right decisions.

    Which is where choir committees come in. Trouble is, sometimes they don’t end up representing the views of the choir members, but are often made up of people who have strong views and who like being on committees.

    Far better (in my opinion) to choose the right choir leader and let them get on with it.

    the benign dictator

    People join a particular choir for two main reasons:
    1. the rehearsals are at a convenient time and day for them, and
    2. they like the way the choir is lead and the choice of songs
    Basically (if they’re free on that day), a singer will join a choir because they buy into the choir leader’s vision. They like their approach to singing, ways of working and choice of songs. If they stop agreeing with that vision, then they can leave and join another choir which suits them better.

    It’s like a benign dictatorship.

    But if the choir leader is always seeking feedback and always trying to please everybody, then you end up with a strange beast that has no clear direction, keeps changing what it does, and never pleases anyone.

    By all means do an annual survey. It might turn up a few interesting ideas or concerns that you weren’t aware of. But don’t take too much notice of complaints about length of warm up, song choices, style of performance, etc. – that’s the choir leader’s job.

    further reading

    You might also find these older posts interesting.

    Using feedback forms for choirs and singing workshops

    If some singers want more and some want less, you must be doing something right!

    You can’t franchise charisma – why your choir leader is special

    Too many cooks – benign dictators rule!

    Exactly who’s in charge of my choir?! – how to deal with change

    Trying to please all the people all the time

    What the job of choir leader involves

    Whose choir is it any way?


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Songbooks and other resources for choirs (that will also make great Christmas presents)

    Listed on December 8, 2014 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I’ve written before about finding songs for your choir (Where do you find all your songs? and Easy songs for your choir and Finding songs for your choir). But times move on and new books get published all the time.

    unesco-album

    Here’s a round up of songbooks and other resources that are either fairly new or which I haven’t mentioned before.

    Here is a list of recent and not so recent songbooks, DVDs, CDs, etc. for use with your choir. Click on the large image under each description to find out more.

    Fill the room with sky

    BRAND NEW! A varied collection of 25 of Jane Schonveld's songs and arrangements for community choirs, all in 3- and 4-part harmony. You can buy the physical songbook and then get access to free MIDI downloads of individual song parts.

    Fill the room with sky

    The Best of Village Harmony: a 25th Anniversary Collection

    BRAND NEW! Compiled and edited by Village Harmony co-directors Larry Gordon and Patty Cuyler to commemorate Village Harmony's 25th anniversary in 2014, this mammoth undertaking includes nearly 100 songs from around the world for a cappella choral ensemble. The accompanying mp3 CD-R has sample recordings for nearly all the songs in the book, with performances by Village Harmony, Northern Harmony and associated ensembles.

    The Best of Village Harmony: A 25th Anniversary Collection

    Community Voiceworks

    BRAND NEW! Community Voiceworks: 40 inspirational songs and warm-ups for community choirs by Alison Burns and Gitika Partington. Book and two CDs. Part of the Oxford University Press’s Voiceworks series, due to be published in July 2015.

    Community Voiceworks

    The Choral Imperative

    Patty Cuyler and Mollie Stone have produced a series of songbooks and DVDs called Raising the Bar which currently covers songs from Georgia, Bulgaria and South Africa. Teaching a new ‘world music’ genre can be an intimidating prospect. The Choral Imperative resources assist you in helping your singers learn proper pronunciation, and do research on the song and its cultural milieu.

    The Choral Imperative

    Voices of Iceland

    DVD of Icelandic folk songs and dances. An informative booklet, in English and Icelandic, about the various forms of Icelandic traditional music and dance, accompanies the DVD.

    Voices of Iceland

    UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music

    Comprises more than 125 albums of music from around the world. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings are gradually re-releasing all of those recordings published between 1961 and 2003 and out of print since 2005 as well as publishing a dozen previously unreleased albums. All will be available in both digital and physical formats.

    UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music

    Slovakian Roma songs

    Žudro is a non-profit, non-political, non-government, voluntary association in Slovakia. Their aim is to increase the tolerance of ethnic, social, cultural or otherwise different groups of people by monitoring, documenting, processing and subsequent visibility of cultural, spiritual values ​​and expressions of these groups of people at home and abroad. They have published several CDs and songbooks of ancient Roma songs from Slovakia, for example Phurikane gil'a.

    Roma songbooks

    99 Georgian songs

    The Centre for Performance Research has just raised money through Crowdfunder to re-publish 99 Georgian Songs in a revised and extended edition. It does exactly what it says on the book cover! Available in 2015.

    99 Georgian songs

    The Sephardic Songbook

    By Joshua Horowitz and Aron Saltiel. 51 Judeo-Spanish songs in a book containing musical transcriptions, trilingual song texts (Ladino, German and English) and explanations.

    The Sephardic Songbook

    Traditional Cuban Songbook

    An on-line resource maintained by Jorge Fernández Crespo containing a bilingual Cuban traditional songbook with lyrics and audio recordings.

    Traditional Cuban Songbook

    Anthology of Traditional Prikamye Folklore

    Prikamye or Perm Krai is a federal subject of Russia in the east of the East European Plain and the western slope of the Middle Ural Mountains. The region is one of the top in Russia by its ethnic diversity, home to over 120 peoples. This website has plentiful music, videos and photographs of many of these ethnic groups. Some of the CDs are for sale.

    Anthology of Traditional Prikamye Folklore

    Amidon Music

    Peter and Mary Alice Amidon are versatile and widely respected performing and teaching artists who for the past twenty years have dedicated themselves to traditional song, dance and storytelling. Their website is packed with music downloads and songbooks for sale, mostly arrangements by the Amidons of traditional songs in SATB. You can download sheet music or buy physical products like CDs and DVDs.

    Amidon Music

    Jewish Songs for Harmony Singing

    BRAND NEW! This is a set of 20 of Judith Silver's own compositions. The songbook includes extensive notes, translations and pronunciation guides. There are recorded full versions on various CDs/iTunes etc., and sound files of the separate parts are available on request.
    Please email info@judithsilver.com to order and for further details of how to pay by cheque or PayPal. More information soon on Judith's website: www.judithsilver.com.

    Judith Silver book cover

    Open To the Day

    BRAND NEW! Open to the Day is a collection of 20 original songs, with music and lyrics by Ros Thomas. Composed specifically for unaccompanied, harmony singing, all of the songs have been tried, tested and enjoyed by a variety of singing groups and workshop participants, with content ranging from simple warm-ups and light-hearted short pieces, to more complex rounds and full lengths songs sung in two to five part harmony.

    The songbook contains 20 song scores and two audio CDs containing recordings of full songs and individual parts — all sung by Ros for the relative ease of learning from one voice rather than many. It costs £25, and is available by emailing ros@naturalvoice.net.

    Open to the day book cover


    And as always, if I’ve missed anything out that you think should be included here, then please leave a comment. Remember it’s mainly about traditional music from around the world, not Western classical or pop!

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • The differences between a ‘natural voice’ choir and all the rest

    Listed on December 1, 2014 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    You may have come across the term ‘natural voice’. You may also have realised by now that I am a member of The Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network.

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  • Using world songs in the classroom: a teacher’s guide to sourcing songs and how to teach them

    Listed on November 24, 2014 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Some teachers find themselves having to lead singing sessions at their school, but don’t have that much experience of using songs from the world music repertoire (‘world songs’) or of teaching songs by ear

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  • Choirs and copyright: a beginner’s guide for the bewildered

    Listed on November 17, 2014 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    [NB this post is about UK copyright laws. Although the situation will be similar in other countries, the various copyright and performing rights agencies and websites will obviously be different]

    I wrote extensively about copyright way back in 2010 (see my series of seven posts Songs and copyright)

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