More and more people are discovering the joys of singing together in a group. Whether it is in a traditional choral society tackling one of the great oratorios, or with their a local community choir singing Adele or Céline Dion, many people up and down the country are deciding to give singing a go.
I have been working with amateur singers for several years as choir master, workshop leader and singing teacher. I currently run choirs of all kinds, and I bring my experience as a professional singer and singing teacher to bear in helping people to sing to their full potential.
In my experience, the vast majority of people in a choir would like to be able to sing better (although in many cases I suspect that they don’t really believe that’s possible). I’m here to tell you that everyone can sing better, and what’s more, your voice matters!
#1: You can sing!
Do you sit in choir rehearsals, hoping that the conductor won’t notice you? Do you try to make sure that the people either side of you won't hear you? Do you feel a sudden rush of anxiety when the conductor asks your section to sing on its own? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. But I’ve got news for you… You can sing!
If you possess the muscles you need to speak, moan, whine, shout etc etc., then you have the muscles you need to sing. And those muscles can be trained!
#2: YOUR VOICE MATTERS!
The sound you make is valuable to your choir.
If your choir numbers 50 people, then you have 1/50th of the responsibility for how your choir sounds. If you believe your voice doesn’t matter, that will colour everything that happens for you in rehearsals. You will be less engaged. You will give less effort, and lose attention quickly. You will lose your place in the music more easily, and ultimately you will enjoy rehearsals a lot less. And that is the key thing, because you sing in choir to have a good time!
#3: TAKE FEWER BREATHS
“But I run out of breath easily…” Are you sure? I sometimes ask my choirs, or a section within the choir, to start a phrase with their hands in the air, and only to put their hand down when they really must take a breath. Almost invariably, people find they are able to take far fewer breaths than they habitually do. You stop your sound when you take a breath, and having your hand in the air is a tool to make you focus on the breaths you take, and whether you really need to take as many breaths. This technique encourages an efficient use of breath (trying to hold your breath in your body is always to be avoided) and it helps you to keep your sound energised and spinning. It helps you to focus on really singing the phrase, rather than just a series of notes. It also means the overall sound of the section has fewer holes in it where singers are taking breaths. Try it at your next rehearsal!
#4: LET THE SOUND OUT OF YOUR BODY
Quite often singers are reluctant actually to let their sound out of their body and into the room. This is understandable - it is scary to let your full sound ring out. Does #1 above apply to you? If so then this will be particularly relevant, because one of the ways you can “hide” in choir is to sing as though you are a ventriloquist. If the gap between your teeth is too narrow, and the space in your mouth too small, then your sung sound will be like a man trying to leave a room by opening a door two inches, and trying to squeeze through the gap. The whole process will feel much easier if the man opens the door fully and just strolls through. Of course, if you really open up your resonator and let your sound out, there is a risk that the conductor will hear you - but your sound is the clay that your conductor needs in order to make a beautiful pot!
#5: SINGING ISN'T MAGIC
Singing is not magic. It is much more like athletics. Singers use a system of muscles that we all possess, but in a highly energised way. The ability to do this, and to get better at it, requires training (in music, this is known as “practice”). But everyone can do it.
I have never run a marathon. I’ve never even come close to running a marathon. But I know plenty of people who have. They are not so different from me. They have just shown the dedication and application necessary to get their body into the right state to be able to run a marathon. I haven’t (yet!). But I could…
Everyone can sing - and if anyone has ever told you that you can’t, they were wrong!