Every choir has its own unique approach to sessions, so in this blog post we share how and why a Starling Arts choir rehearsal has come to be shaped as it is.
Based on over nine years of leading group singing sessions, we share some of our methodologies and shed some light on what to expect from a choir session.
Namegames & Icebreakers
For the Starling Arts community, group connection is not only important but essential. To develop the bond we have within our groups, this starts with knowing each other’s names and characters. We find that if groups feel comfortable with those around them, they are more open, enthusiastic and encouraging when it comes to singing later on in the session.
Out favourite icebreakers get small groups of people chatting and talking in a low pressure way, before sharing their names and whatever they’ve been tasked with with the rest of the group.
At the heart of our work is a passion for providing a safe, supportive and encouraging space for relaxing, unwinding and creating. All our sessions include a short exercise in connecting with the breath or body, letting go of whatever has come before. Our choir rehearsals are often at the end of the working day, or in a lunch break following a busy morning. We have found that if we jump straight into singing there is a jarring that occurs, stopping people from fully embracing the new activity in front of them. When everyone is relaxed onto the same page, there is a new collective energy that can be taken forward with a cohesive group. Here are some examples:
10 fully present deep breaths
A visual body scan
Moving and releasing parts of the body, bit by bit
Setting up the posture
Most of us get into bad habits with our posture, and singing helps to remind us to stand properly so that our voices are free and supported. We lead a guided physical warm up that can be adapted to the needs of the group and leaves everyone feeling energised and ready to sing!
Before we launch into a song, we explore our voices through simple yet effective warm ups. These include humming and lip trills, along with other voiced sounds that prepare our vocal apparatus as well as our minds for the singing ahead.
Tongue twisters and scale-based warm ups come next, practicing disciplined and controlled singing. Our complete body is set up, from jaw to tongue and beyond!
We love to include simple, well known pop choruses in three part harmony, taught by ear. These get the group pumped and raring to go, having achieved something really satisfying nice and quickly. Our favourites include Happy by Pharrell and anything by Queen.
With all the foundations in place, we’re ready to move on to the next stage of our session: learning the main song. We start with a straight forward section (such as a chorus), delving into the harmonies straight away. We usually build each harmony line up from the bottom, singing first the bass line along with the piano, and then adding each harmony on top, one by one. Sometimes parts need only be sung once whereas other lines require several repetitions before moving on. As we teach, we focus on pitch, rhythm, pronunciation and tone.
This is the point where we build the character of the piece. Once the harmony lines are taught, we begin to delve deeper into the song. What is the meaning? What’s the mood? Where can we add dynamics to emphasise certain phrases with soft or loud? What does each song require to best engage the audience? We use a variety of methods from the world of music and theatre to explore this with the group.
Bringing to life
Sometimes a song works best with staging, movement, or more complex choreography. Taking into account the style of the song and its unique challenges, we build up staging that enhances the music and adds to the audience and performer experience.
Even when we don’t have an audience present, we still like to replicate the experience of a performance by setting up the idea of presenting a finished product. By using correct performance techniques, a song picks up momentum and a professional edge. When we come to showing off our hard work to a crowd, our groups are prepared for the extra pressures and demands of singing in public.