Community Singing Groups

A month or so back someone asked me for a few pointers about community singing groups/ community choirs, so I came up with some ideas and issues that I have come across and here they are in a quick blog post:

  • Do they perform publicly, or is it just for fun? If it is just for fun what other milestones might be put in place so there is a sense of direction. I still struggle with this particular issue with my non-performing groups, but things we do include singing for a short stint at a christmas fair (so not a whole concert), singing at a care home, going on boat trips and going for meals (these last two they organise themselves). Others might include making a CD, or joining with a larger community sing such as Wateraid’s Sing for Water. On the other hand, these sorts of things may not need to happen at all.
  • Think about outcomes not just outputs because this can free you up creatively – I found working on a project that said here’s a basic framework (1 hour per week) – these are the outcomes we want (uplifting, creating something, owning and belonging, building confidence etc) … now off you go, was a far more helpful approach than simply defining the output, I think because it invited me to use my imagination and put together in a new way all of my skills and knowledge and prior experience.
  • I guess with this sort of choir (community choir) members won’t be auditioned and won’t be expected to read music, so that might require a different approach to teaching new music. I teach a lot by ear, singing a line and asking the group to repeat it back. It is repetitive but it works. I also wave my hands around to indicate pitch, a la the Iona Big Sing people, and Chris Rowbury talks about using graphic scores (although I’ve not used this technique)
  • How can warm-ups be fun and engaging? Youth Music, Sing for Pleasure and Voice Works publications are all really good for repertoire and warm-ups, and although mainly written with children and young people in mind, they work just as well for adults.
  • How are people welcomed and how is the group helped to bond? e.g. getting to know everyones’ names
  • Keep repertoire varied – don’t be afraid of different languages, different cultures. Rounds can be wonderfully effective ways of initiating harmony singing without having to learn a part. Also ‘partner songs’ – I’m using the song Shalom with the English folk melody Dives and Lazarus together and somehow they work
  • Be clear on values – a performance-focussed choir might define itself by its size, sound, repertoire, a community choir may not define itself by its performances, but perhaps by the equalising nature of singing (for example)

One thought on “Community Singing Groups

  1. Chris Rowbury

    Hi Rachel, nice list!

    Good point: what milestones do non-performing choirs need? It’s important that they realise that their singing improves week on week, so good idea to do recaps every now and then to point out how well everyone has come on, how the songs they’re tackling now are much more complex, how they seem to breeze through the long phrases without taking as many breaths, etc. etc.

    Welcoming new singers is very important. It’s quite hard to walk into an existing group even though they might be very friendly.


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