I’ve never referred to our choirs’ performances as ‘concerts’. They are much more about sharing the joy of the songs we’ve been singing. I like to call them gigs. My community choir gigs locally at events such as the Proms in the Park and the Christmas lights switch on. We also sing in a local pub which is always a great night out. We usually don’t get paid, nor do I charge for my time. Sometimes we have raised money for charities through afternoon tea gigs – I don’t get involved in the organisation of this, I leave it to the pros!
This begs the question…. why do we gig at all? Is it necessary?
I’ve always believed that a goal for a choir is important. Something to aim for. Something to show how proud we are. Many of our singers haven’t sung since school and saying those magic words “I’m singing with my choir in the pub next week” were something unimaginable! The important thing for me is how we go about this.
I plan backwards. I think about the gig first, the audience, the venue and the time of year and create a set list accordingly. Some things will work brilliantly at the pub and not so well at the family friendly gigs. I need to imagine the atmosphere and create something magical around that.
We do not work under pressure. If a song isn’t working, we don’t go on and on at it – we ditch it. Sometimes this is necessary (case in point, ‘September’ where the singers couldn’t learn the words int time so sellotaped them to Dorothy’s t shirt without telling her (very naughty) so we tore up those lyrics at the next gig.) Occasionally, I’m right. I had a vision (which I fully shared) about ‘Vienna’. I created a complicated instrumental section vocally from the depths of my imagination and it took aggggeessss to learn. But I persevered. You see, I could hear it in my head, I could see it going down well in the pub, I could imagine the audience joining in for the bits they knew then being utterly vowed when we sang it for real. Rather than pushing the singers, it was more of a coaxing….. gently telling them they could do it… keeping team focused and believing in themselves. Coming up with inventive ways to teach it so that it became easier to learn. And guess what? It was an absolute triumph!
I took on a double workshop with a group of 14 invited singers last month. We just wanted to learn one song ‘Hyperballad’ by Bjork and arranged by Ed Aldcroft. It was complicated, tricky and out of our comfort zone but I really wanted it to work. So I set expectations at the start… if we could nail it, then we would sing it at the next gig the following week. This gave singers the reason to rehearse in private (which they did, I meant they REALLY did!) and allowed us to show odd something really special to everyone else. Quite a few people said “I’m doing the next one of those!”
Gigs are great for recruitment. People look at us, listen to us and think “I’d like to feel and sound like that!” then ask to join. We always finish our gigs on a total high, excited and proud of ourselves. If bits don’t go so well, nobody (least of all me) dwells on it. The good bits (of which there are so many) are what people focus on and remember. It’s lovely to get out and show our friends and families what we’ve been singing and how good we’ve got at it. We smile, we laugh and we love it.
When we were unable to gig through the lockdowns we still needed a focus and a goal and so we created virtual recordings. Again this allowed us to have something to feel proud of – an end product of us all together at a time when we were very much singing alone.
Our ICU Liberty Singers have now started to gig too! We’ve ben invited to sing at their industry conferences and I actually even got to speak at one about the benefits of singing for wellbeing. As we rehearse online and our singers are from all over the UK, not everyone can attend the gigs. For this reason we sing along with the virtual recordings we have made or the recordings we created when we met socially. This means everyone is included and we have a bit of something to lean on in performances.
Not everyone gigs with us. It’s not an expectation of being in our choir. The community choir is large in number so to be honest, if everyone turned up to gigs we’d have trouble fitting them all in! Some people don’t sing at gigs at all – does this stop them enjoying rehearsals? No. Some people start by not gigging then join us later when they feel ready. Some people don’t feel able to sing sometimes. But I love it when they come along to watch and just be a part of what we’re doing.
To answer my own question, I love to gig. It’s always a yes from me but we do pick and choose where we sing and who we sing for. It is totally necessary for the lifeblood of all of my choirs and I absolutely love it!