Top tips to help your choir connect with the meaning of a song

There are lots of issues to address when your choir is learning new repertoire: notes, rhythms, breathing, entries, rests etc etc. With so much going on it’s not surprising that understanding the meaning of the piece can get overlooked.

A piece may be sung with technical accuracy, but if your singers’ hearts aren’t in it, the message and emotion within the music may get left behind. Here are some ways that I help my singers to get connected with a song.

Ask questions

Don’t assume that your singers have thought about the meaning of the piece. Ask some open ended questions in rehearsal such as; What is this song about? What style of music is it? What emotions are being conveyed eg; is it happy, sad, regretful?

You may even want to look at it in a historical context. Was it written in a time of unrest or war? What might the composer or songwriter have been experiencing? Also consider whether it’s written in the first or third person.  In the first person, the singer is the character telling their story. In the third person, the singer is more of a narrator telling someone else’s story. This may determine how you and your singers interpret the story and how you tell it.

Find problems and solutions

Look for any changes of emotion in the songs you choose for your choir. For example, a song might tell a story of being lonely, then finding love. Or it could tell the opposite tale – of having love and losing it. Think about how you can use these changes to tell the story musically, using tone and dynamics to show the different emotions.

Try some different interpretations

There’s nothing like doing things the wrong way to highlight how to do them correctly! Take a piece of repertoire, either the new piece you’re working on or one your choir knows really well. Come up with a few different emotions which you will use to tell the story and try them out one at a time. If you’re piece is a delicate love ballad why not try it as angry? Perhaps your piece is a torch song and you can try singing it as if you’re shy. This exercise is great fun and will cause lots of giggles, while highlighting how important it is for your singers to connect with the emotion of a piece.

Techniques to help

Finally, remember to give your singers the tools they need to sing a song with meaning. These can include breath support, bright face, open mouth and good diction. All of these can be practised in your warm-ups.

Show them how much they already do by asking them to sing some of the piece with a neutral facial expression. The sound will feel dull and uninspiring, particularly if your piece is supposed to be upbeat. Now put all the good techniques back into place and hear the difference.

Comments on Top tips to help your choir connect with the meaning of a song

  1. Avatar Corryn Bass says:

    Thank you Christine,
    Excellent and timely ideas.! We are working on Easter songs right now. At times, I have also shown them pictures and / or a video ( if I’ve been able to find one) to help them visualize what they are singing about, in order to help them sing more meaningfully !!
    Corryn

  2. Avatar Sandi Ollenberger says:

    Thank you for the suggestions. Will try using these. I direct a senior community choir with ages from 60-90 years and sometimes it is really hard for them to show expression or emotion. I sometimes mimick their faces to show how they look like when singing. Of course this makes them laugh. Will use your suggestions for sure! Thank you

  3. Avatar Tony says:

    Thanks for this article. It’s quite timely as I am about to begin preparing repertoire for ANZAC day in Australia. I direct 4 choirs in a school ranging from years 6-12. I was struggling with how to encourage the students to fully grasp the meaning of the chosen music. This article has provided some very useful tips.
    Thank you.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      You’re welcome Tony. Best of luck with the performance.

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