Breaking my own rules – a choir-leading confession!

I know I’ve talked in past choir-leading articles about my reluctance to include any sort of movement as part of my choir’s performances. This stems primarily from my belief that the piece has to be vocally perfected first, but most importantly because any movement requires every single singer to be absolutely in time. This second aspect is no mean feat. If you use movement or have experimented with it in warm-ups then you’ll probably know what I’m talking about – even a simple ‘step-clap’ can often look like a total mess.

Why the change?

So why am I admitting to you now that I’ve relented and included some movement in our upcoming performance? Well, firstly I’ve been working on some exercises in warm-up sessions over the last few months which involved stepping and clapping. What I noticed is that over time, these skills have improved and, given the right song in the right environment, I thought maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Getting it right

Now let me be clear, I don’t intend on this being a regular occurance in the performance of our repertoire and for many pieces I don’t think it would work, but I have an upbeat song that we’re using in an outdoor summer festival performance. In the middle, there are eight bars just crying out for some clapping. In fact without any interaction from the singers in this eight bars, the song feels like it loses momentum. So last week we tried it out on the understanding that we’d only do it if we all stayed together – this would be my call from the front, as I wasn’t about to name and shame any poor singers who couldn’t quite get the timing right and I certainly didn’t want my singers to start pointing them out!

Our hard work in practice paid off, the clapping was completely in time and was again at the next rehearsal. The energy in the song is amazing and is kept alive over the middle eight bars with the clapping (no step I might add – one thing at a time)!

So to conlude, my point is that sometimes it can benefit us to look again at our own ideas and self-imposed rules because breaking them just once in a while might turn out to be something special.

Comments on Breaking my own rules – a choir-leading confession!

  1. I love a good bit of clapping in the right place in the right piece! You’re right, it really does bring an energy to the performance. Finger clicks can be really effective too (fourth beat of the bar in Stand by Me for example), stamping all together on the first beat of a bar to give emphasis, also other non-singing vocalisations – whistling, vocal percussion etc All generally much more successful than movement but that can enhance the right song too and can bring much fun to the rehearsal room! You get much better results if you are doing the movements as well as you face the choir. You just have to remember that you are their mirror so if you want the choir to step to their right, you must step to your left and so on. I started as MD with a community choir in January and they had never done any movement and only those who could do it well had ever been allowed to clap. The choir members were frightened of it at first but now love to do a bit of clapping and even ask if we can put some in!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Thanks for your feedback, sounds like your choir are really enjoying a bit of movement. Great point about the choir leader needing to be in time in order to lead by example! I think the key is to practice at home before leading a choir into clapping or clicking – a bit disasterous if you try it for the first time in front of the choir and get it wrong!

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