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)