How to handle noisy choir rehearsals

We’ve all experienced those choir rehearsals where the chatting and background noise feels like it’s getting out of hand. It’s exhausting for you as a choir leader and counter-productive for the choir. In this article, I want to encourage you to think about the reason for the noise and consider what would be the ideal atmosphere for your choir rehearsals. I will also give you some practical tips for regaining control when you feel that you’ve lost your singers’ attention.

It’s not about you

When you’re faced with a noisy rehearsal, it’s easy to take it personally and imagine that the choir’s distraction is a reflection on you as the leader. But think about it like this: has your choir really come along to your rehearsal with the intention of being disruptive and upsetting you? Almost certainly not, so try not to take it to heart. Now consider the opposite end of the spectrum. If the choir filed in silently, sat down and looked at you with anticipation waiting for the rehearsal to start, would that be any better? Not at all. You’re always looking for a balance between the the choir’s enjoyment and exuberance, and the need for everyone to stay focused in order to have an effective rehearsal. Sometimes this gets heightened for all kinds of reasons and it’s at those times that you’ll fine that having some techniques in your pocket for keeping things under control will help you strike the right balance.

Not all ‘buzz’ is bad

In my experience (and I know from our comments section that many of you have similar experiences), there are a number of reasons that rehearsals can get a bit rowdy. The classic example is the first rehearsal after a big performance. Everyone is still on a high and excited about their experience. You don’t want to completely discourage that excitement as it’s part of the enjoyment of being part of the choir. Other factors that can affect the noise levels in the choir are things like hot weather (particularly if, like us, you don’t get much of it), which can send people into ‘holiday mode’. Any attempts by you to change things in rehearsal, such as the choir’s formation, can often lead to lots of chatter as well.

Re-channel the energy

So if you are faced with a noisy rehearsal what can you do to keep things on track without geting too tired and irritated with your choir? My first tip would be to re-channel their energy into singing activities. Always have some energetic warm-ups to hand that you can sub in if necessary. Something like a song or round with physical actions is perfect. This will focus your singers as they try to coordinate the lyrics, rhythm and action all at once.

If you have planned a lengthy learning session in a rehearsal, but you find that the energy in the room is detracting from the choir’s concentration, you may have to react in the moment and perhaps shake things up by singing something that’s familiar to the choir. Breaking the learning time up may prove much more effective and continuing on a course that isn’t getting the results you want.

Re-focusing after a break

One tricky part of a noisy rehearsal can be getting everyone’s focus after a break. The last thing you want to do is try to shout over everyone. Instead, make an announcement that the rehearsal is resuming. With those singers who are ready to start get a round or simple song going. As other members hear, it will be like a call to return. Before you know it you’ll have everyone back in position and singing the song. This doesn’t need to be a piece of repertoire, in fact a short warm-up song that you are used to doing is far more effective.

The golden rule is not to shout over your choir as this will tire you out. Calmly stand in front of the choir, poised for action and with a smile, wait for everyone to quieten down and you’ll soon be back on track.

Comments on How to handle noisy choir rehearsals

  1. Avatar Valerie says:

    Thanks, Victoria and Christine. A lovely article as always.

    I agree with Chris Rowbury that people come to have fun and get away from things, so I also cut my choir some slack.

    It is so true that the balance between working hard and having fun is a very fine line.

    Valerie

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Valerie,

      Glad you liked the articles. You are absolutely right about the balance between working hard and having fun being a very fine line. I know personally I always retain information better when I’m enjoying the learning process.

  2. I learnt a while ago that lots of chatter is a GOOD sign and means that your group is cohesive and really getting on. Better than awkward silences!

    Another thing that I forget sometimes is that people come to have fun and get away from things. Singing is not necessarily the most important thing in their lives (as it is for some of us!), so I cut them some slack. Important to find the balance between working hard and having fun. Not always easy to do.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Chris,

      I couldn’t agree with you more, it’s all about creating the right balance.

  3. Avatar Dick Price says:

    So infuriating! I have found that standing ready with baton/hands poised, and not saying a word, lets them know I mean business, and quite often members will shush others nearby. Shouting is a no-no, as is clapping hands, although very tempting!

    Another viewpoint, it is also very annoying to an accompanist to have continual susurration going on behind you, especially if some technical part-learning is going on.

    Just my .02p worth

    Dick

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Very good points, plus you taught me a new word! I will use ‘susurration’ to my choir and watch the eyebrows rise.

    2. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Dick,

      I think you’re absolutely right, being poised and ready for action is much more effective than trying to shout over everyone. The power of peer pressure as singers ssh each other when they see you are ready works nicely.

  4. Such good, sound advice, thank you.
    I have a male voice choir of 55 members and I always try to be very tolerant when the chattering (usually quite loud) starts up. Interestingly it’s always coming from one section!
    I usually focus on them, smile sweetly and say”When everyone’s ready, we’ll continue”.
    Since discovering Total Choir Resources I’ve adopted some of your warm ups at the start of the rehearsal, these are proving a great success.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Louise,

      Noisy rehearsals are certainly proving to be a hot topic. There’s certainly some comfort in knowing we all experience them, it can often be all too easy to think it’s just us! I like the phrase you mention ‘when everyone’s ready, we’ll continue’, it’s polite but to the point. Really pleased you’re finding some of our warm-up ideas helpful.

  5. Avatar Peter says:

    Thanks for this, as a matter of fact I get this all the time. Just yesterday, this same chattering and loud excitement occurred(which is usually caused by my little treble singers). Well, I shout at that them most times when they are not doing what I expect of them, I smile when they are doing the right things(singing of course). My reactions(s) is solely dependent on their performance at that time of the rehearsals. With this advice though, I will take things cool and handle the situation differently. Thanks TCR.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Peter,

      I sypathise as noisy rehearsals can be challenging even to the most patient amongst us. Really pleased the article gave you some alternative ideas to try out. Let us know how you get on.

  6. Avatar Sara says:

    Thanks for this advice. I have one lady in my choir who is persistently chatting and seems to just be there for a natter! I have directed my attention to her quite openly when asking the choir to resume rehearsing and focus back to singing. What’s worse is that she is s teacher and I would’ve thought she would be more aware!!!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Sara,

      Yikes that is tricky situation if one person is consistently chatting, it must make those around her feel awkward too when you are clearly waiting with the choir to sing! I hope things soon improve, if the problem persists it might be worth having a chat with her during the break or at the end of the rehearsal.

    2. Avatar Evelyn Sutherland says:

      I find that the teachers are the worst culprits fur this…amazing isn’t it!

    3. Avatar Aurora says:

      As a teacher myself I can tell you we are the absolute WORST at being still during meetings.. Try talking to her separately and remind her of how it feels to try and teach with a kid who won’t stop talking.

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