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.