Like most choir leaders, we’ve been part of some fantastic performances with our choirs. We’ve also made lots of mistakes along the way. The experience we’ve accumulated, both as performers and as audience members, has taught us that there are ways of behaving on stage that should be avoided if you want to create a good atmosphere and achieve the best performance possible for your choir.
Don’t keep people waiting
I recently attended a gig where the band came on an hour late. By the time the musicians appeared, the audience was definitely getting restless. It wasn’t so much the lateness that caused the grumbles as the complete lack of an explanation. Perhaps they had technical problems or got stuck in traffic – who knows. The point is that if you have to inconvenience people, they’ll usually take it in good part if you keep them in the loop, explain the situation and give them an idea of when they can expect things to get going.
Don’t make excuses
Many of us are uncomfortable with playing the showman. It feels as though we’re bragging or over-selling our skills. This can lead us to be unnecessarily self-deprecating, which is often worse. We once saw a band performance where the leader announced to the audience that as two of their best musicians were missing, they shouldn’t expect too much!
Don’t be rushed
The converse to the point about not keeping people waiting is not to allow yourself to be rushed. An example of this is positioning the choir on the platform. Sometimes it can feel like it’s taking an age to get everyone in the right place, so it’s easy to get a bit flustered and crack on with the music without taking a moment to gather your thoughts. I did this, memorably, when I completely forgot to give the choir their starting notes in an unaccompanied piece because we’d spent five minutes faffing around getting a digital piano to work. I brought them in with tremendous confidence, only to be faced with terrified faces and a few (not bad) guesses as to the opening chord.
It’s sometimes appropriate and enjoyable to introduce songs or pieces to an audience. However, I’ve learned to keep the chatter to a minimum. If you offer information about the music you’re performing, make sure it’s relevant and is likely to add to the audience’s experience. Random trivia pulled off Wikipedia or, worse, accounts of what you or the choir think of the piece, are probably not going to be interesting to many.
Equally dull for your audience are endless ‘thank yous’. You and your choir might be eternally grateful to all the hardworking volunteers who made your performance possible, but the audience will be shuffling its collective feet if you start thanking them all by name.
If you need to make announcements, we’ve found that the best time is after the interval before the second half starts. That way, you’re not asking people to hang around at the end when they’ve probably had enough.
Don’t draw attention to problems
Things go wrong in performances. That’s a fact of choir life and always will be. There are plenty of things we can’t control, but we can control our reactions.
Our community choir recently did a performance where the sound engineering was completely out of our control. Unfortunately, the backing track that accompanied the choir was far too loud (I know because I was sitting in the audience). A few years ago, some of the choir might have winced and pulled faces, or just looked bemused, but they’re a disciplined bunch these days. They carried on very professionally as if nothing was wrong at all and gave the best performance possible in the circumstances.
As I often say to my choir, as long as we start well and finish well, what happens in between will probably be forgotten!