3 Great reasons to run sectional workshops for your choir

When you work with a choir over a long period, you learn their strengths and their challenges. But not all vocal sections are the same. Sectional rehearsals allow you to focus on the needs of a smaller group, praise their strengths and encourage them to take repsonsibility for their own performance.

Teambuilding and solidarity

Working with a section individually can make some singers, particularly the ones who like to hide at the back, feel suddenly exposed. My mission for my sectional workshops is to encourage everyone to work as a team, to show those less confident that their role in the choir is as important as anyone else’s and to prove to them that they have the skills they need.

Rather than sit in rows as we would in choir, we form a circle. We start with stretches and simple warm-up exercises which I know people would find familiar and therefore comfortable. Once warmed up, I move to some more advanced exercises to promote harmony and blend. For these, I mix the singers up to encourage interaction (and to help them gently out of their comfort zone). For some exercises, we walk around the room, weaving in and out of each other so that everyone could hear the harmony and how their voice fits.

Fine-tuning repertoire

I make sure that, while I deliver similar content and value to each section in the workshops, I also make it specific for them. I do this by choosing exercises carefully to suit their voices and range, by referring specifically to their part in current repertoire and talking about their role within the pieces. For example, are they singing the melody? Are they offering supporting ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’? How does their part fit into the overall arrangement?

Based on current rehearsals, I make a note of the songs I want to work on with each section. Teaching one section at a time really allows me to focus in on specific parts and build confidence and a better sound. As a choir leader used to juggling a room full of singers on different parts, this is such a treat for me!

Invest in your relationship with your singers

Running these workshops is also a great way for me to really get to know my singers. This can be hard to achieve, particularly if you run a large choir. Sometimes you can miss things when you’re just listening from the front to the overall sound. By working with each section, I can really hear what’s going on, I can interact on a more personal level, teaching fewer singers at once, and I’m able to convey to them that their role within their section is important, contributes to the overall sound of the choir and matters to me.

Comments on 3 Great reasons to run sectional workshops for your choir

  1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

    Not sure what you’re asking John.

  2. Avatar John Newell says:

    No basses? (speaking as one)

  3. Avatar Joanna says:

    Hi Christine, I have been wanting to work individual sections for some time but because my choir pays per term it would mean either teaching for free which I do way too much or asking them to pay for a special session. May I ask how you manage the financial aspect of extra workshops ?
    Thankyou so much

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Joanna,

      Thanks for your query. My choir pays a monthly standing order for their membership. Usually when we run workshop sessions they are in addition to this and we charge a fee. In the case of our recent sectional workshops, I had taken a hoiday week missing one rehearsal, so we did the workshops instead and included them without charging an additional fee.

  4. Avatar Diane says:

    I really like this idea. Could you share please your suggestions for what I could do with the rest of the choir while I am working with one particular section?

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Diane, thanks for your message. In this particular instance I hired my usual choir venue for a Saturday afternoon and then each section came for a one-hour slot. For me this meant the following:

      1.30pm – 2.30pm – Altos / 2.45pm – 3.45pm – Tenors / 4.00pm – 5.00pm – Sopranos

      This timing seemed to work really well and meant my attentions could be completely focused on one section at a time. In a normal rehearsal where I have all the sections in the room, my top tips would be not spending too much time on one section without visiting the others, asking singers to hum or sing their part quietly whilst focusing on one section or getting everyone to give each part a go – this latter point supports the section in question and gives the singers a better overall understanding of the parts in a piece.

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