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

Listed on June 27, 2016 in Blogs!

Most weeks when I lead my choir I know which singers are going to turn up.

ABBA, Brussells May 09 (1)

But when I run a one-off workshop, I often don’t know who will be coming. How can you be prepared for the unknown?

I have a singing day coming up where all I know is that there are currently 43 singers booked. I don’t know how many men there will be nor if the women like to sing high or low.

I run a monthly drop-in singing morning locally. Because people don’t need to book in advance I never know exactly how many singers there will be until I arrive on the day.

Sometimes I know exactly how many singers will be coming to my workshop and how many of those will be men. But until I get there I won’t know how experienced they are, how many of the men are tenors, how quick they are at picking songs up, how many – if any – sopranos there will be and so on.
How can you be prepared for all possibilities?

The simple answer is: you can’t.

You can, however, make sure that you have plenty of flexibility.

Here are some things you can do to prepare:

  • don’t make assumptions – if you assume you’ll have an equal distribution of voice types or plenty of singers to tackle that complex five-part arrangement, then you risk ending up being disappointed and probably struggling.
  • have a few simple songs – whatever the number of singers or how experienced they are, it’s always a good idea to have a few simple songs up your sleeve: rounds, two-part harmony, chants. Even with an experienced group there is plenty of work you can do around simple material.
  • allow for alternative arrangements – when you’re planning your workshop, have an alternative in mind for each song. Can you drop a part if necessary? If you have no male tenors, can you change the key so women can sing the tenor part? If you end up with all women (or all men), can you adapt your arrangement easily?
  • lower your expectations – since you’re heading into the unknown, it’s best to keep things simple and flexible. Don’t take all complex material or hard songs or songs with lots of parts. Maybe take one, but be prepared to let it go. Mixit up.
  • don’t pander to the worst case – on the other hand, don’t assume the worst. If you just take simple stuff and you end up with an amazing group of singers who pick stuff up very quickly, you might be left with not enough material.
  • try not to rely on handouts – if you’re going to use sheet music or printed lyrics, you might be in trouble if you don’t know how many singers will be coming. Try to avoid handouts entirely (I put A1 size sheets of paper on the wall with lyrics written on them) or make sure there is somewhere to copy more at the workshop venue.
  • what’s the worst that can happen? – having no expectations is really, really hard. It’s very difficult to hide your disappointment if only a handful of people turn up. Imagine the worst possible case and then it’s bound to be better than that! I ran a workshop once with just three other people. In retrospect I used material that was too hard. With the experience I have now, I could make it work much better. The absolute worse case is that you might have to cancel or reschedule.

You might also find these other posts useful:

Planning ahead: leave space for the unexpected

Best laid plans – dealing with the unexpected in singing sessions

How do you deal with planning for the unknown? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Chris Rowbury




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