Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - How Do Know a Song Will "Work" for your Choir

Music conductor avatarWe have talked about choosing arrangements and choosing pieces that suit the choir you have.  Of course, you have to know your venue and audience but really how do you choose a piece that works for YOUR particular group of singers.

1. How OLD are they? - Now, you know that I am not talking about their chronological ages.  I am talking about where their thinking ages are.  Our choir is very eclectic.  They are happy to sing something very current as well as very classic pieces.  Of course, individuals enjoy some songs more than others but they all give their very best effort no matter what.  If your choir is reticent to sing one genre or another, you will have to work up to it.  Stick with pieces that light up their faces and that they do well.  Then, you can add a piece or two that challenge them differently.  You won't really know all of this until you get singing.  Some pieces may have to go on the back burner.  Nothing wrong with that.

2. What skills do they bring? - If you have sight reading capable singers and people who have had lots of choir singing then you can choose songs that have tricky harmonies and take more learning.  If however, like many choirs, you have a mixture of skills then please don't lean on your skilled people all the time.  Choose something that is fun to learn and that has repetitive phrases so that your less trained people can learn without having to hammer it home constantly.  A mixture of challenging & simpler songs will help bring everyone a feeling of satisfaction.

3. Have they got choir experience? - If you have soloists in your group then you will have to work on homogenizing the sound and lots of listening techniques.  Try choosing pieces they may know or learn easily.  That way you can work on creating that lovely blended sound without strong voices standing out.  Don't be afraid to keep it simple especially until the stronger voices get a better idea of how to blend.  If they are focusing on difficult passages then blending will be the last thing they focus on.

Above all, respect your singers.  When a song fits you will know by the smiles and the sound that they create.  I know sometimes I get so stuck on a song I just want it to work.  I have learned over the years to recognize after giving it a fair try and even a performance that it doesn't work and put it away.  We sang Mama Mia at the Embro Fair last year and although they did a good job, it just didn't suit us as well as other pieces.  It is gone from our repertoire.

The bottom line is that you don't always know that a song will work right away.  Be brave, try lots and then be wise and keep or let go according to your singers and your own brilliant assessment.  Life is too short to keep at something that isn't giving your choir a pleasant experience.


Anonymous said...

Thanks you, lots of useful points here. A tip I would add is to be careful of the vocal range. A lot of arrangements I have found use Fs and Gs in the soprano part, which doesn't work for the Community Choirs I work with! I really try to avoid anything that is higher than an E.

Embro Thistle Singers said...

I agree that is a very good point Martine. I am lucky that our sopranos have a very good range and can do the F's and G's. However, the tenors need something in a safer range more like a baritone. Thanks for your great idea.