It’s a no no – performance gaffes to avoid with your choir

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.

Don’t waffle

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!

Comments on It’s a no no – performance gaffes to avoid with your choir

  1. Avatar Claire Wilkshire says:

    My singers often look grumpy, angry or bored when actually they’re just concentrating. They have no idea, and when I tell them, they don’t necessarily believe me :) Sometimes they’re shocked to see video of themselves. So I find it helps to record them a week or two before the concert, send out a link to the video, and let them see for themselves what they look like; it’s a good reminder to smile!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Claire, thanks for your message, I think you make a very good point. Often we are so focused on getting notes, parts and words right that our singers end up looking very serious and forget how that looks to an audience! As choir leaders we are perfectly positioned to spot this and deal with it before getting up on stage!

  2. Avatar Megan Mackney says:

    Here’s another one…make sure your choir knows not to wave at friends and family DURING A SONG…or at any time!
    I recently conducted my choir on the highest stage they had ever been on…they were all brilliant but one member spent most of one song waving at his friends and pointing to himself…despite my catching his eye and frowning so hard my eyes disappeared!
    Next rehearsal I went through all the things they should not do while performing…sadly he wasn’t there.
    And yet I got an email this week from him wanting to know the set list for this saturdays performance!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Megan,

      Oh no, how frustrating! I feel for you, you must have felt helpless up on stage trying but not suceeding to get this singer to stop him waving. A shame for everyone else. I guess you’ll have to mention it again when he is at rehearsal.

  3. Avatar Teresa-May says:

    Happy New Year Victoria and the TCR Team – great article.

    Re: “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!” – oh no, how awful would the other band members feel! Huge, huge no no that is.

    Others are:

    – In line with the above – don’t degrade your choir members or praise some over others – just remain neutral and professional and get on with singing your best as a group.

    – If someone is sick but is still able to sing, don’t point it out to the audience beforehand (if someone is really sick, don’t come to choir)!

    – Accompanists – please don’t drown out your singers!

    – Don’t chatter and congratulate each other between songs or praise individuals after their singing (i.e. ongoing commentary on how people went) – feedback and dissecting can come later if necessary. Really focus on the singing and the message you are trying to convey to your audience.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Teresa, some great tips here.

  4. True story: from my knowledge of the individuals in the choir I can confirm that there was only one with perfect pitch

    Many years ago I attended a concert given by a choir of whom my wife was a member. One member of the choir was designated to play a pitch on the piano before retaking his place in the bass line. At the appointed time the bass went to the piano and sounded a pitch. He went back to his place and the conductor began conducting but the choir did not come in. They were a good choir so this was very strange indeed. The bass went back to the piano and sounded the same note a second time. Once more the conductor started but it was as if someone had taken out the batteries – another non-start from the choir. By now everyone was looking perplexed. For a third time the bass went back to the piano. on this occasion he sounded a note a semitone higher than previously. The choir started without a problem!

    though they did not have perfect pitch the choir knew the pitch did not feel right!

  5. Hi Victoria, happy new year ! Thanks for this.

    One I’d add is:

    Educate your choir and practise with them in rehearsals (or as close to possible as you can in your rehearsal space), going on and off the stage and the etiquette of being on stage e.g. what to do with hand bags, how to hold their folders, and NOT to talk in between songs when announcements are being made etc! Holding their heads up and keeping still at the end of a song, not starting to chat, looking down, mucking about with folders etc. Once they are on that stage they are in the spotlight and it takes a while for novices to realise how they might come across – photos and videos help them to see!

    Best wishes, Maddie

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Great advice, Maddie.

      1. Avatar Veronica says:

        Absolutely correct, Maddie!

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