We’ve all read numerous articles about the benefits of singing for health — especially when we’re singing in a group — but if you’re a singer, how do you know what sort of singing group is best for you? And if you’re looking to set up a singing group of your own, where do you start?
First of all I should set the scene… what I’m referring to as a ‘singing group’ here is what people would traditionally call a choir. So why don’t I just get to the point and call it a choir? Well, the main reason is that many people still associate the word ‘choir’ with the traditional choral singing that is based on church and classical music. While this type of choir is still widespread and popular, there are increasing numbers of the population who would love to sing in a ‘choir’ but may want to sing more contemporary forms of music styles such as pop, rock, musical theatre, gospel, jazz or R&B.
To those of you who are ‘secret shower’ singers or who only ‘let rip’ when they are alone in the car, I would say get out there and join the crowds. There is so much more to life than worrying about whether you can sing as well as the next person. Who cares! If you have got a voice then share it. We all want to hear it! For those of you who sing in public already — whether it’s a Friday night karaoke, in a band, on the local care home circuit, or singing covers to backing tracks at local clubs — that’s great! You are (hopefully) doing something that you love. But why stop there? There are so many health and wellbeing benefits of singing in a group that it seems silly not to spend a couple of hours each week using your talents with a number of like-minded people, to wind down and have some fun. You may even want to start your own vocal group!
If you are looking to join a vocal group, you first need to ask yourself what style(s) of music you enjoy singing and then find a group that suits your tastes. Many groups offer ‘free taster’ sessions where you can go along and try them out. From this you can get an idea of the size, mix and ages of the group as well as try out the different vocal sections, (e.g. soprano, alto, tenor etc) which is great if you don’t know what your voice type is or what vocal range you have. You can also speak to existing members who will share their own experiences of the group. I should note that if you want something a bit more specific such as a gospel or a cappella group you may need to look a bit further afield but they are out there!
You also need to think about how much time you want to devote to a vocal group. For example, some semi-professional groups may practise more than once a week and others may ask you to attend rehearsals with other vocal groups in different areas or towns if you are doing joint concerts. This tends to happen more with franchises or independent groups where the director runs more than one singing group. On this note, you will need to think about the sort of public performances you would be happy doing. You may relish having the chance to sing at the Symphony Hall or other large venues, which can be offered by professionally run independent choirs or some of the franchises that have popped up over the last few years. Alternatively, you may want something more low key with smaller, local performances which can be offered by many of the community groups.
For those of you who are looking to set up a singing group and are thinking of recruiting, the use of the word ‘choir’ can automatically make people assume that your group sings only classical or choral music, so if this isn’t the style of music you are covering, my advice would be to keep the use of the ‘c’ word to a minimum!
Another aspect to consider when setting up your singing group is the type of group you would like to establish. For example, are you aiming to create a local community group which will provide free performances for local charities and events 3 or 4 times a year? Alternatively, you may be looking to create a group of amateur or semi-professional singers who will perform at events across the region for a fee. This could be anything from weddings to concert halls. Of course, you may have small plans for your singing group and it may just end up taking a very different direction from your original ideas, so always keep your options open!
Your intentions regarding performance options will place varying pressures and demands upon you as a director, so you need to ask yourself initially how much time you are able to devote to your singing group. This time will not only include rehearsals but will also include arranging events, organising song materials for your group and the various aspects of admin, such as fees, memberships, marketing and communication with members.
The type of singing group you want to establish will also depend upon recruitment. As such, one of your first questions here will be whether to audition your singers or not. Of course, if you audition your singers you will need to set your benchmark but remember that by setting auditions you lower the accessibility to your group, which can make it harder to recruit. Obviously, the idea of a local community choir is to make it fully accessible to anyone, so that everybody can enjoy the benefits of singing regardless of their ability. The onus here can therefore be much more on the fun side of singing and socialising.
In terms of song materials for you to use, there are a multitude of websites out there providing songs for unison and harmony singing in all sorts of styles. Some of these are designed for rehearsal with a pianist or other musicians, while others provide backing tracks for you to use. If you have the ability why not even write your own arrangements?Bear in mind that if you use backing tracks you will need some sort of PA system to play them through. The scale of this will depend upon the size of your group and the types of performances you are planning but a simple starting point is a laptop and reasonable-sized speaker if you are starting with a small group.
Other aspects to consider are whether you would prefer to set up a singing group for children or adults (either mixed or female/male only). If you are aiming to set up a group for children you may want to approach local schools for rehearsal rooms and recruitment. You may also want to specialise in singing groups for people with specific health conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease and chronic lung disease, or in a particular area of wellbeing such as mental health or learning disabilities.
As can be seen, the options are numerous and varied, so why stop at being a singer or singing teacher when you can be so much more! My life is so much better for the groups I run. I have made some wonderful friends that I like to call my second family, and there is nothing like that sense of achievement when everyone comes together and ‘nails’ a song, whether it is in unison or 5-part harmony. We do it and we do it together!