When I recently met a friend for coffee, she couldn’t stop beaming. She had, she told me, joined a choir, and it was the best thing she’d done in years. She enjoyed the venue, the music, the singing, the performances, the company, the socialising. And, she said, she felt her memory was sharper than it had been in years.
I smiled, encouragingly, all the while wondering where I had gone so wrong in my attempt to join a choir a few years before (my attendances lasted all of 4 weeks!). My experience was the antithesis of my friend’s (although I did quite like the songs the choir leader had chosen). The thing is, I wasn’t at all experienced in group singing. And I was completely illiterate where reading music was concerned. I had no idea if my voice would contribute anything to the group other than confusion, and I felt completely exposed because the choir was so small (just 12 members). Added to that, rehearsals were over the winter months, and the venue was a large hall without heating. And we were expected to take the music home with us to learn it during the week. All in all, being in a choir was hard, unpleasant work, and I’ve never joined another.
After talking with my friend, however, I now realise my experience could have been quite different if only I had had the benefit of the following pointers:
Most urban environments offer a plethora of choirs. Some are more serious than others. If you’ve had voice training, or even if you’re simply determined to put in the hours that will see you rise to an occasion, check out classical or opera-based choirs. If you want a casual group that is more about everyone joining in than it is about gaining perfection, go for a big group where you can hide behind the numbers. If intimacy is what you’re after, audition for a cappella or a barbershop group. Above all, if you fear rejection, choose a choir that doesn’t demand you audition first.
Some choirs can be very demanding of your time. While they may meet just once a week, you could be required to learn words and music off by heart in your own time. There may also be extra rehearsals for part singers, and even more practice sessions as performances draw closer. On the other hand, some choirs are sticklers for simply rolling up for a good time once a week, with the promise that no one is ever going to ask you to lay down your words or music.
Most of us like a challenge, but merely singing our way through a song as best we can is challenge enough, without having to perform in front of others. Ask, before you join, what the performance target is. You may be quite happy to rock up to the local rest home at Christmas or sing on school fair day, but recoil from the thought of singing in the town hall for a paying audience. On the other hand, the school fair may not quite cut the mustard!
Some choirs are all about getting down to business and getting straight home again afterwards. There’s nothing wrong with this but if you’re looking for company, make sure there’s a cuppa as part of the agenda. Some of the best ‘social’ choirs are found through word of mouth so contact Citizens Advice for a recommendation or ask among friends.
Pay a visit
Once you have a choir in mind, don’t hesitate to ask if you can sit in on a rehearsal. There’s no better way to gain a feel for the vibe and the venue.