3 Powerful Ways to Get More Out of Your Choir
If you have ever directed or been part of multiple choirs, you KNOW no two choirs are ever the same! Something is always different. In some choirs, everything feels exciting and with others, the hour-long rehearsal never seems to end. Whether a director or singing member of a group, being a part of a fun choir that makes the hard pieces feel easy is special. The good news is, you have the power to influence and create an environment where singers love to work hard, bring a lot of energy, and get better. As the director, you can lead the way to cultivate a choir that has the X-factor, and here’s how:
1. REMOVE THE LABELS:
Teach your singers that while the standard voice types such as soprano, alto, tenor, and bass classifications are a wonderful guide, it does not cage them into that one label, nor does it equate to a certain value. Get to know the singer personally beyond the range of notes they can cover, and spend time learning their unique qualities in tone and texture throughout their vocal registers. This way you have the option to mix and match your singers into different voices whenever needed, to get certain tonal characteristics more distinguishable within various songs. This is an amazing chance for your singers to learn that they are not defined by any one vocal type or register. They get to discover that, above any label, they are a singer! This gives you many more choices and soundscapes as a creative director. A good place to start is by asking your singers what parts they prefer to sing. You may have a soprano in your midst dreaming of singing the tenor line! And who knows, their voice may be perfect for it in the next piece you’re preparing.
2. ENCOURAGE CURIOSITY:
Create a safe space for your singers where music and the sounds they are creating are not deemed “good” or “bad”. Although we strive for good technique, accurate pitches, and strong sense of timing in our delivery, it’s important that you allow your singers to make mistakes and have the freedom to create new sounds that, in time, will shape into art. Encourage your singers to explore different genres, tonal qualities and vocal textures. In fact, do it with them! Allow yourself to be vulnerable and set an example of risk and curiosity without the expectation of it being “good” or “correct” right away. You can even invite them to teach you a thing or two about their favorite music genre that you might know nothing about and grow together. The more each singer understands that their voice is a reflection of who they are, and that each and every one of them is a key part of the group, the more open they will be to your leadership and learning new material while continuing to challenge themselves.
3. TELL A STORY:
Before asking your singers to jump in and memorize a song, take some time to discuss the intentions of the piece as a team. Let them hear the song and ask how they interpret the music and lyrics on both a technical and emotional level, rather than just telling them how to feel (though the context of a storyline or character/composer based on history may be beneficial). Getting your group’s input on the story you want to tell can be incredibly enriching for everyone involved because this collective thought process will better connect them to the music’s intention and sing as a unit. Once a clear picture has been painted and the singers have learned their parts, it’s time to connect the two with the right tonal qualities, dynamics, visual expression, and subtle sound textures that will bring the song to life. The more connected you and your singers are to the song, the more connected your audience will feel with your choir!
Pour your heart into it and your singers will do the same! If you create a safe, joyful, environment and communicate clearly, you are guaranteed to get the most out of your choir. Make the experience of singing in a choir as curious and adventurous as possible, so that your singers can embrace not only what they learn, but how they learn and take it with them through life. At the end of the day, the art of singing and music-making should never be an elitist experience or competition between peers. Remember, your choir is made up of unique instruments. So make it a place where making music is open to all and can bring joy and healing.
Article written based on insights from music educator, composer and choir director Laurence Tallman.