Making an entrance: helping your choir to start well in performance

The auditorium goes dark, the stage lights come on, there’s the introduction and ‘boom’ the song begins. As choir leaders, we’ve all felt those crucial moments when our choirs start to sing in a performance. Nerves and excitement are high and the level of anticipation is almost overwhelming. It’s those first few seconds that need to grab the audience, to invite them in, to make them want to listen to more. So how do you create fantastic entrances which work time and time again? Here are my top tips:

Planning – As you work through your repertoire and rehearsal planning think about each of the pieces. How do they begin? Are they dramatic and loud? Are they subtle and soft? Not every entrance will be the same but it’s vital as choir leader that you have a clear vision of how each piece should begin so that you can relay this to your singers. If you are uncertain of exactly how the piece should start then practice some different options at home before taking the piece to the choir.

Breath – Think about the time signature and tempo of the piece and practice conducting this at home. Work on the choir’s entrance using clear signals and showing their first breath by breathing yourself. You can use a mirror to check that your communication is clear. It’s vital when starting a piece that the choir breathe together in the correct place so that the entrance is spot on, and not delayed or staggered. Practicing entrances multiple times with your singers will help them to gain confidence particularly if the entrance is loud and rousing as they may be nervous about coming in at the wrong time.

Clarity – Always consider the language and the first word of a song. Make sure they word has clarity and doesn’t sound muffled, mumbled or unsure. Under-confident singers may not use their mouths to their full capacity, trying instead to get the sound through the smallest gap possible where they feel unsure. In rehearsal, practice these entrances by speaking them first and ask your singers to over-emphasize their mouth shape. You will be amazed at the clarity this can create. Often singers don’t realise that they are holding back the sound by not opening up their mouths enough. By doing this exercise they will be amazed at the difference and realise how important it is.

Attention – When leading our choirs,  we all know how easily distracted we can get, focusing on the score in front of us. Be careful not to launch into a piece before the choir are completely still, quiet and ready. There’s not a chance of creating a crisp, clear entrance otherwise. Remind your singers that being in a choir is all about teamwork and each and every voice needs to be poised and ready for that all-important entrance.

Comments on Making an entrance: helping your choir to start well in performance

  1. Great reminders. Many years ago I used to work as a flight attendant on long haul flights. I often remind my choirs that the start of the song is like take off. The pilot (choir leader) needs to be fully prepared. The crew (the choir) follow the pilots briefing and all their training (like rehearsal practice) can pay off to give the passengers (an audience) the journey (in this case musical) that’s memorable and engaging. Next comes the cruise phase and then the ever important landing (end of performance bow).

  2. Avatar Lorilee Bajema, LTCL says:

    Thank you for this article. This has really helped encourage me as a Director as we we are four weeks from our performances. My “older” choir (55+ community in Southern California) has several less-than-confident voices. I loved in particular two reminders: wait until the singers are ready and not moving; and practice speaking an entrance with exaggerated mouths to hear the difference. I am often stressing the importance of words, and caressing the consonant, and thinking about the words as we sing so we tells story.

    I wonder if any of your subscribers use cue cards for opening sounds? I haven’t, but as I read your article it occurred to me how useful it would be. Perhaps something as simple as an index card with bold face cap of the first consonant (or word). It would be filed in with my music in order of the program. It would be a visual for the choir and remind me of the importance of a strong entry.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Lorilee, thank you for your message, I’m really pleased you found the article helpful. It’s often these little aspects of technique which can easily be forgotten but which make such a difference to the sound quality of a piece.

  3. Avatar Robin B says:

    Thankyou for putting this into words so well,Christine.
    You have reminded me how useful it is to put things in writing, where I can refer back to them.
    Very helpful pointers.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Robin, I’m glad the article was helpful. I agree, sometimes taking time to think or write about even the smallest aspects of running a choir can be really helpful.

  4. Avatar Ademola says:

    Great piece! Thanks soooooo much Christine. this has had fresh breath to my day. Today is my birthday.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Many happy returns, Ademola.

    2. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Ademola, glad you found the piece helpful and wishing you a very Happy Birthday.

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