Performance skills: arranging your choir on the platform

I must admit that placing my choir on stage in preparation for a performance is not my favourite part of being a choir leader. It can be very stressful trying to herd everyone into position, not to mention demanding on the voice.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about how it should be done and some just don’t want to stay where you put them! Before you know it there’s such a din, you can hardly hear yourself think. Over time I’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t.

Plan in advance

This one may sound obvious, but on several occasions over the years, I’ve got to a performance venue and realised that I haven’t considered in advance how the choir will be arranged on the platform! Chaos generally ensues. What I now endeavour to do is think it through beforehand, speak confidently to the choir and get them positioned section at a time until I am happy with the placement. Even if I’m not 100% sure at the time, I try to sound sufficiently confident that I can keep the chatter to a minimum and won’t encounter several people coming up and giving their own different opinions.

Check entrances and exits

As well as placing your choir on the platform, it’s useful for them to practise walking on and off the stage. Remind the choir that their entrance and exits are part of the performance – they should be swift and silent. If the choir has seats on the stage, decide in advance whether everyone should be on and standing before the whole choir sits, or whether it’s okay for people to walk and sit down immediately.

Consider the platform geography

Are their risers on the platform? Are they accessible to everyone? It’s great to have the choir elevated so that every face is visible to the audience. We have a set of portable risers that we can take to venues that don’t have them. Remember to ask your singers to tell you if they have any mobility problems that might dictate where they stand or need to sit. We had an incident a few years ago when we noticed one of our singers trying to clamber awkwardly onto a riser. It turned out she’d just had knee surgery! Needless to say, we quickly assured her that there was ample space for her on ground level. It is also a good idea to suggest to singers that they wear ‘sensible’ shoes, both for safety and to limit noise from movement during the performance.

In sections or mixed?

There are numerous choir formations you can experiment with (see this article for ideas), but fundamentally, you’re probably going to have your choir arranged either in their vocal sections, or mixed up. The latter can produce an amazing quality of sound and can be really inspiring for your singers. However, it does create challenges for you as a choir leader because you can’t direct a specific section, only the choir as a whole. Also, if your choir are nervous or lacks confidence, being away from those singing the same part may really unnerve them.

Make sure everyone can see

Every singer needs to be able to see the conductor and their score (if they’re using one), so there are two aspects to this issue – sight lines and lighting. Lighting at a venue is often something we don’t consider, but it’s vital to ensure that your singers aren’t trying to read music in the dark and have ample light. Once the choir is on the platform, take a moment to ensure that everyone’s well-placed and can see you. In the slightly nervy moments before a performance starts, it’s easy to rush into the music without checking this.

Taking the time in the planning stages and at the gig to get everyone placed properly on the platform can be the difference between an okay performance and great one.

Comments on Performance skills: arranging your choir on the platform

  1. Avatar Charlie Taylor says:

    Thank for the review. I have lead children’s choirs and adult choirs over a period of 40+ years. To lead children’s choirs, the leader must be well planned, rehearsed, and do not allow for any down time or the children will start to lose their own control and pandemonium can ensue. While working with adult choirs the only difference I noted: body size. What I learned from children’s choirs translates easily to adults. Just don’t tell them. :)

    Thank you for this page. It is good for those of us who call ourselves choir leaders.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks for your lovely feedback Charlie. I couldn’t agree more, we have to be super organised and on it whether teaching children or adults! Really pleased you’re enjoying the blog, there’s lots more coming your way in 2018!

  2. Avatar Annette says:

    Over the summer we were invited to join other musical groups at local Fetes, festivals etc. as part of the day’s entertainment; some of these events were quite a long distance away. In my innocence I initially trusted the organisers’ descriptions of the size of the venue, where they wanted the choir to stand, where the instrumentalists would be placed, only to find on arrival that nothing was as agreed or as described on the phone. I learnt very quickly that no matter the distance I had to check personally that the verbal assurances given when invited to be part of an event matched the physical reality. Saves on time on the day and nerves!!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      A valuable lesson learned Annette. What a shame the organisers didn’t do what they said they would.

  3. Avatar Mary says:

    We find it’s best to think about choir placement when you are booking the venue – if there’s not enough space, or it’s too difficult to get in/out of, then book somewhere else. Also, if you need to get risers made, try to collaborate with other groups who use the venue, they may be willing to share the cost or help with storage.

  4. Avatar Ann says:

    We regularly have solo spots and so the strongest singers can tend to be at the front, so less able singers have to take responsibility for their own line. Recently we tried having the choir in two rows of 12 but found that three rows gave a much better, tighter sound.

  5. Avatar Valerie says:

    A MERRY XMAS TO YOU ALL.

    Our choir is made up of senior citizens and we have to consider mobility and hearing problems. They are wonderful people and are so enthusiastic.

    The article on placing choirs was wonderful. We got through the placing with a lot more ease than usual.

    Thank you, so much.

    Valerie

  6. We are having the problem of not everyone being able to see me . I am thinking about buying portable risers . Would love to know where to get them .

    1. Avatar Heather says:

      Before you buy try some out. Ask your local schools if they have portable staging that you could borrow. Of course giving a donation to school is always appreciated by the school or the school’s PTA

  7. Avatar Pat Cannell says:

    I am in mid ‘choir arranging’ mode. Having tried several formats in the past I have settled on ‘in sections’ with the strongest singers at the back so that their voices come forward to help those less confident. This is fine once we are on risers but when practising on the flat can make for taller people towards the front – it will be alright on the night!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Pat. I agree it can be a real challenge to have the voices exactly where you want them when you have to take into account height as well.

    2. Avatar Dyrck says:

      I exercise care with the “strongest singers at the back” layout, it can lead to the less strong just leaning on the strong singers and not giving their all to the performance. So long as your singers are reasonably confident exposing them a bit (particularly in rehearsal) can do wonders for them.

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