Using live music with your community choir

Many rock and pop community choirs, like mine, perform using recorded backing tracks because space and funds don't allow them have resident musicians. However, it can be a fantastic change of pace for this type of choir to work with live music. For those occasions when you are lucky enough to be able to work with a band, here are some tips to help you along the way and ensure you can manage and enjoy the experience.

Prepare your choir and rehearse together

It's so easy to get set in our ways. When singers are used to backing tracks (or a piano accompanist), they become familiar with a particular sound and structure. With live musicians, your choir will have a very different experience. The sound is different, often louder, and the tempo can vary. .

Although this can seem daunting, with preparation and joint rehearsals, everyone will soon be on the right track. Indeed, the process of rehearsing with musicians will probably be very rewarding for your choir as they learn this new skill and meet new people who share a common goal. Rehearsals together should not be kept to the last minute. Make sure you arrange sessions at various stages in the learning process. The earlier you can expose your singers to the sounds and feel of the music the quicker they will feel comfortable with it and know what work needs to be done. The aim is that by the time of the performance they will comfortable performing together.

Work closely with the leader

Getting to know and working closely with the orchestra or band leader is vital to successfully bring the whole project together. Check you are on the same page. For example, last year our chamber choir worked with a local orchestra. At the beginning of the project it may also be a good idea to invite the band's leader to one of your rehearsals, and vice versa. The more the groups bond and understand each other, the better the final performance will be.

Consider blend and balance

A good rapport with the band will allow you to have honest discussions about the blend and balance between instrumentalists and choir. Trust your judgement on this and don't be afraid to make adjustments. The last thing you want is for your singers feeling they have to shout. If you are performing with a amplified rock band, you will need to mic the choir and ensure that there is sufficient 'foldback' for them to hear the band and themselves.

Think about logistics

If performing in a venue which is new to you, make sure you visit it to see the space and sound provisions. Is the stage large enough? Where will the choir and musicians be located? Will everyone be able to see and hear? Ideally, you'll want to speak to the sound engineer about what will be required and build in some set-up and sound-checking time before the performance.

Rehearse in the venue

Finally, make sure you hold a rehearsal in the venue before the performance. This could just involve 'topping and tailing' songs rather than running through everything, but it's vital that choir and musicians experience the venue if at all possible. That way any issues can be ironed out beforehand to create the optimum conditions for you and your performers to enjoy a wonderful experience.
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