5 ways to get a head start on your next choral season

Give yourself a great Christmas present – the comforting knowledge that you’re all set for the new year.

As Christmas approaches and our rehearsals for various festive performances are well under way, it’s tempting to rest on our laurels until the Christmas break.  However, Victoria and I reckon that well have a merrier Christmas if we feel that we’re sorted for the new year, so we’re busy turning our attention to plans for 2014.  For the Contemporary Choir, January will mark the beginning of our fifth year, which hardly seems possible!  This milestone has caused us to review where we are and think about the kinds of projects we want to take on next year.  We’ve found this process extremely helpful and if it’s not something you’ve already put into practice, here are five tips you might find useful.

1. Don’t get complacent

Your choir may be running along smoothly but its important not to get complacent, particularly if, like us, you’ve been doing the same thing for a while.  To keep your singers coming to rehearsals and enjoying themselves, you need to challenge them.  Perhaps it’s time for some unusual repertoire, or a different kind of performance. You may have some singers who want more challenges than others, so one way to approach this is by offering solo parts or small group ensemble opportunities. Most people won’t want to come along week after week if they don’t feel that they are learning anything new.

2. Keep yourself inspired

As with anything you do week after week, it’s incredibly easy to get stuck in a rut, particularly if you work alone and don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off.  I used to find this before Victoria joined me in the business.  Sometimes the burden of making every tiny decision on my own made me question myself and go for the safest option.  But that can lead to boredom and apathy. It’s so important that choir leaders find inspiration and passion for what they’re doing. If we’re inspired, we’re more likely to inspire our singers, who in turn will create performances that communicate emotionally with their audiences. If you don’t have anyone within the choir to bounce ideas off, perhaps you can recruit friends or family to help you come up with new ideas.

3. Listen to your members

I think this point is absolutely crucial to run a successful choir.  If we don’t listen to our members or ask them what they want then it’s really just a guessing game. At Total Voice we have found the best way to canvas opinion is through very short questionnaires (no more than three questions) which just require a tick with a space at the end for any additional comments. We’ve also used online polls in the membership area of our choir website.  These can all be kept anonymous if you like.  As well as actively asking members what they think, it’s important to be reactive.  An example of this happened at my choir rehearsal last week.  One of our members quietly told me that a few people had said they’d like to do some more modern songs.  Now, rather than run away and think ‘they hate it’, I had a think and ten minutes later when I started rehearsal I told the choir that we were busy planning some exciting and modern songs for next year and I’d love their input so next week there would be a song suggestion box.  By doing this I was addressing their needs straight away rather than letting them fester and maybe lead to the choir losing members.

4. Keep asking yourself why

This is a particularly important point when you are coming up with new performance ideas.  Don’t always just go for the easy route.  What will your members enjoy, find exciting and challenging?  Why will they want to come to rehearsals and take part in this performance?  If you keep this in mind you are more likely to be giving them something they will enjoy and value.  Plus, there’s nothing more exciting than telling your choir about a really amazing performance opportunity.  The question why is always a good one to ask yourself whenever you launch anything – songs, performances, workshops, merchandise.  Why do my members want/need this?

5. Get ahead of yourself

We all lead very busy lives and this is perhaps the hardest one of all.  Getting ahead of yourself is not easy particularly if you are juggling lots of different responsibilities.  As I mentioned above, at Total Voice we are going into our fifth year and this is the first time ever we have two new arrangements finished and ready for the new year before Christmas and it feels great.  It’s taken time management and planning but if all goes well when we break up on the 20th we should be able to put our feet up for a couple of weeks without worrying about the first rehearsals of the new year.


Comments on 5 ways to get a head start on your next choral season

  1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

    Hi Laura. Thanks for your comment. We use microphones for our contemporary choir in most performance settings, but particularly outside. There are lots of considerations, but of paramount concern is the weather. You have to be very careful with powered equipment if there’s any chance of rain. As we’re in the UK, there’s usually a good chance of rain! Wind is also pretty perilous because unless you’re going to spend a fortune on equipment, it can sound awful with anything beyond a light breeze!

    I think you’re wise to hire first. Then you can experiment a bit with what’s going to work best for you before you invest in anything.

    We’re actually going to rope our sound man into doing some articles for us in the new year to cover basic tech issues. So many musicians, particularly those from a classical background, don’t have the first clue how to use microphones and we hope they would value some basic training.

  2. Avatar laura Stephenson says:

    Thanks for that – we have an agm every January (12 members) – to talk through our aims, our mission statement etc which is helpful. This year I am going to circulate a list of our achievements, including those of individuals, as everyone helps in different fields.

    Our next issue is amplification. We have prided ourselves on singing with no amplification, but as we do sing outside where sound really does not carry, we are reviewing our options. Hiring seems the best short term plan as with our numbers a good quality system plus monitor (vital) and mics would be well over £1000 – and we also of course would need lots of practice as it is quite different singing with mics and needs to be really rehearsed so that it doesn’t throw some of my members.

    Any thoughts on any of this would be helpful – thanks Victoria, I am enjoying your site. And I loved the round, something for January, brrrrrrr! xxLaura

  3. Avatar Jamie Serafi says:

    I agree with time planning and planning ahead in general. My terms are just ten weeks long and we learn a new song every fortnight so that’s my regular deadline to ensure I have a new song ready to teach – a fortnight. We are slightly behind you, this being our third year only but the suggestion box has been a quintessential part of the choir experience since the first rehearsal three years ago. I collect hundreds of suggestions which i sort through, then narrow down to say, ten which i feel would work well. These are posted online in a poll and emailed out to the members across three counties. I give them two weeks to vote and the top 4 or 5 most highly voted songs are those we sing the following term. I did this a few weeks ago so have known the results of the poll for next term’s songs for some time now. There I have already arranged the first song for the new term in January and I now have another 4 weeks to arrange the second and possibly the third so next term should be less ‘build-the-track-as-you-go-along-it’ hopefully!

    i wish i had somebody else to bounce ideas off for sure though – maybe in the future!

    Another great, helpful and useful article as always, thank you!

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