How & Why do I get 130 students at choir?

I want to start by making something very clear – I am not writing this to show off. I have no intention of saying – “Hey, Look at me, I had 130 at choir today”. Depending on context, 130 might be small or just unrealistic, who knows, and it isn’t really what I want to focus on here. The purpose of me writing this is to just share what I have done with my girls choir over the last few years in the hope that it might help someone. I would love to hear from anyone who is looking to start a choir or revamp a choir.

So where do I start?

Well about 5 years ago I started the girls choir – I have a boys choir too, but there are only 30 in that. But look, it isn’t about numbers at all it is about so much more than that. When I started the group there were about 12 girls and they were committed and worked so hard. Today I had 130 and it is just the most fun, inspiring, exciting and rewarding thing to be part of. I love all of my extra curricular work but I am so pleased with how the choir has developed. Here are some thoughts:

  1. We sing what they know, like, love, enjoy.
  2. We don’t try to be something we are not – a choir of this size is all about access to singing and there is no sense of it being an advanced choral group. It is a choir for everyone. It isn’t really classical or chamber like – you know what I mean.
  3. We meet twice a week to rehearse and this continues for the entire year. We rarely miss a rehearsal. Commitment is key! As is punctuality.
  4. Rehearsals are accessible. Girls are allowed to bring their lunch along and it is casual whilst being structured. The atmosphere is just lovely, a real community feel.
  5. Simple but effective – I aim to make sure that we get songs ready for performance quickly and we are then able to perform at the start of term in events such as open evening. I don’t try and sing anything too hard, but also push them to sing with style and good technique.
  6. I don’t use music of any kind. I don’t give out any paper and they are able to look up lyrics on their phones and learn them at home. But having said that, I mainly choose songs that they already know.
  7. On occasion we add some simple choreography/dance moves. This brings the choir and our performances to life – those sessions are called Dance Club, it is fun! But it isn’t for everyone or for every song. Just once in a while.
  8. I like to think that I make the rehearsals enjoyable. Sometimes we just have a sing – Posh Karaoke I like to call it. We sing through some stuff and it gives me a chance to see what they know and what might work.
  9. I work out the parts and harmonies as we go and I am not afraid to do a lot in unison. The thing is when 130 girls then go into harmony after a verse in unison, it sounds amazing!
  10. I make sure that we perform as often as possible in a variety of settings and locations. Finding out where you can perform locally is crucial and Christmas is a great time to go out and get singing.

Making an extra curricular group work is about making it about the students in front of you. Some might say that I could be doing more with SSAA arrangements or that I could be pushing the more able singers. But I love what I have. I love it that lots of girls can be part of a community and enjoy singing. And the thing is, they sound pretty good and they enjoy themselves and so do I. The harmonies/arrangements I come up with (with the help of the students) are not always easy. I make sure they are pushed and I make sure that they work hard. We split into 4 parts at times, but as I say, unison is amazing.

If you have a choir and numbers are low or you want to just try something different then maybe have a go at some of the things I have suggested or get in touch. Repertoire is key and so is the atmosphere that you create. If they are giving up their lunch it better be worth it! And I give up my lunch because I just absolutely love it.

Would this work for boys, maybe. I am working on that this year.

Oh and to finish with, today we sang:

Build Me Up Buttercup – 3 part harmony that I have developed with the girls

Wannabe – The Spice Girls at their best! The rapping bits were so much fun with that many students

Bring It All Back – A timeless Classic from S Club 7, 4 part harmony at one stage, the only harmony is in the chorus!

Happy Singing!

3 comments

  1. Hi James, interested in this and what rep you do. Im at a different school this year and they have a strong choral tradition. Boys choir, girls choir and auditioned girls chamber choir. I’ve got 27 years’ experience in cathedralmusic so have lots of that repertoire. However, your idea appeals to me and I think there are lots in the school who would love this. Do you sell your arrangements?

    Like

  2. Hi have you written out your arrangements? I would love to sing some songs kids know but I would rather teach the parts than write them not that good at it.

    Like

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