How to handle quirky performances with your choir

When we perform regularly with our choirs, we come to expect certain things: a stage, a sound system, space for an audience, lighting etc. Once in a while, we may be invited to take part in something unusual that provides us with none of those things!

Two weeks ago my choir took part in an event in our village called Food Week, a biennial festival that celebrates food and drink sourced and produced locally. The organiser was keen for the choir to get involved in conjunction with our local eateries, so we decided that a choir singalong in our three village pubs was just the ticket. The plan was to sing five or six numbers and then move to the next pub. With over fifty singers turning up this was no mean feat, particularly as our delightful pubs are old buildings, not particularly designed with large performance areas! So how did I prepare the choir and cope as the leader at the helm? Here are some top tips should you fancy taking the plunge and trying a quirky performance - I definitely recommend this as we had so much fun and the performance took us into the heart of our community.

Prepare your singers to expect the unexpected

As you rehearse your choir for an unusual event, make sure they understand that it won't be as ordered as a traditional stage performance. They will need to be flexible and undertsand that space will be limited. Such a performane may not suit everyone, so as long as you have let people know what it will be like they can make a decision whether or not to join you on that occasion. I find that most tend to be willing to try something new and also with such performances like a pub singalong or an outdoor event, they are fairly short in length, so even if space is tight it's not for long.

Mix up singers in rehearsal

If you are bringing your choir together in a small space, whether indoors or outdoors, the chances are you won't be able to get everyone formed neatly in their sections ready to sing. Indeed, in a couple of the pubs we performed in it was pretty tricky to squeeze everyone in at all. By practising mixed up in rehearsals, you will be preparing your singers for this situation and they will feel much more comfortable about singing at the event regardless of what part the singers around them are on.

Liaise with the organisers and venues

If you are visiting a non-concert venue to perform, make sure you build a relationship and rapport with the owner or organiser at the venue. Quirky events are just that and there may be a certain amount of compromise needed for the duration of the performance. For example, while we were singing in our local pubs, we were definitely in the way of the waiting staff, so everyone had to flexible and good-natured. With a good relationship this can be all part of the fun but with no communication it could quickly become stressful.

Travel light

Depending on the type of choir you're leading, work out how you will play your music. Events in unusual locations may be very challenging if you need a piano, band or backing track. The best option may be to sing  a capella, but that doesn't work for every choir, especially in a noisy environment. Plan your equipment needs carefully. You need to ensure you have enough speaker coverage for the choir and audience to hear but not too much kit that you have no space or time to set up.
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