Tips for new (and established!) choir members
We recently found a couple of fantastic articles written by Chris Rowbury a choir and singing workshop leader, who wanted to reassure new choir members that everyone is in the same boat and none of the members are really as confident as they make out!
I remember how long it took me to pluck up the courage to join Decibellas and just how terrified I was on the first day. I didn't read music, I knew none of the repertoire, felt like the weak link and really didn't want to let anyone down! I can honestly say that I am so glad I joined and persevered in those first weeks, picking out the notes on a keyboard, listening and practising as much as I could, so that I could keep up in rehearsal. I soon realised that everyone was in the same boat, doubting themselves at first until the new repertoire was more familiar. We stick it out because singing in a choir is AWESOME! Making music brings so many benefits to mind body and soul - it's magic!
Chris offers some excellent tips and tricks for new choir members and stresses that everyone is important in a choir.
Here they are: Ten tips to help you make the most of being in a choir.
Everyone is in the same boat – looking around, you might assume that everyone else is comfortable, confident and knows what they’re doing, but you’re wrong! You’d be surprised how many other people feel the same as you: they can’t sing, they don’t know what they’re doing, everyone else is better than them, it’s hard, etc. etc.
Be patient – if you’re new to singing you might think that ‘proper’ singers can pick up a song by hearing it just once. They don’t. Even for a professional singer, it might take up to six months for a new song to really settle in. So after the first stab at learning a new song and when you get home you can’t remember a single word or even how the main tune goes, don’t panic. Slowly, slowly over the coming weeks and months that part of your brain where songs live will absorb the song until it feels like you’ve known it forever. (see also, The importance of being confused)
You are vitally important – lots of new singers, especially those in large choirs, don’t think they count. “They won’t miss me if I don’t turn up”, “I’ll just stand at the back and mime, nobody will notice.” Wrong! If everyone thought that, there would be no choir at all. Everyone is a vital part of the greater whole. Everyone is equally responsible for creating that amazing sound. (see also, How to be a good choir member)
Sing loud and proud – and don’t care what anybody else thinks. If you’re going to make a mistake, make a BIG mistake then you can fix it later. If you always sing hesitantly, you will never know if you’re singing your part correctly or not. And if you don’t like your voice at this stage, you still need to sing out loud and proud so it will develop over the coming weeks. If you sing quietly every week, you’ll never get any better.
Stand at the front – it’s natural, as a beginner, to want to hide at the back. You’re nervous, don’t think much of your voice, and you’re not sure you’ve got the part right yet. But if you’re at the back you can’t hear the others in your part very well, won’t hear what your director is saying and maybe not even be able to see their hand gestures. Scary as it is, if you stand at the front, you have the whole of your section backing you up and reinforcing your part by singing into your ear. The director will also be able to see if you’re struggling with anything and be able to help you. (see also Hey, you at the back!)
Behave as if you know what you’re doing – it’s amazing, but if you just behave AS IF you are a wonderful singer and know your part inside out, then it WILL HAPPEN! Just go for it.
Smile! – to help even more with looking like you know what you’re doing. It will improve the resonance of your voice and your diction; even if you’re feeling miserable it will cheer you up; and it will cheer up those around you and inspire them to sing better.
Mind the gap! – there are two main gaps to avoid. One is the gap between you and the other people in your part. Stick close to them and work as a team. You’ll be amazed at how supportive that will feel.
The other gap is the one between different parts. If you’re not comfortable (yet) with harmony singing, then standing right next to another part may well put you off at this stage. Make sure you’re embedded well in the middle of your own part until you feel confident enough to enjoy the way harmonies work. Then you can head for the gaps between parts and enjoy the singing even more!
If it’s not working, change something – anything: where you stand within your part; how you stand (are you in a balanced, easy position or do you slump to one side with your hands in your pockets?); change parts – the one you’re in may be too high or low for you (although maybe just for this one song); your attitude – if at first hearing you don’t ‘like’ a song, imagine it will become your favourite and give it even more attention than normal; become someone else (pretend you’re Italian/ African/ a diva/ famous) as it helps to liberate you. The ultimate change is to change choirs if this one is not working for you.
Don’t switch off – when the focus has moved on from your own part and others are learning theirs, it’s all too easy to switch off and start daydreaming or (worse!) chatting. But this is a wonderful opportunity to stay focused (it’s less tiring than switching off) and hear the words one more time, check that you’ve got the rhythm right, sing your part in your head at the same time (to feel how the harmonies work), and if you’re getting pretty good at this choir lark, you can even learn another part.
So stick with it and you’ll soon find the joys of singing in a group. Check out The pleasures of being a choir member to see what other singers get out of being in a choir.