Teaching & conducting workshop experience

True to its description as a ‘community choir’, Sing! regularly provides exciting opportunities for all of its members to become more involved both in the local community and also within the community of the choir itself.  One of the things which makes Sing! quite a unique choir is the way in which it is run, sharing out the teaching and conducting of songs, encouraging its members to take risks and to draw out their hidden talents. So providing a conducting workshop which is entirely free is one way the choir leaders empower us, the members, to improve our skills and to really feel part of the community.

Some people might feel somewhat trepidatious about taking part in a conducting workshop, but in fact, there is absolutely no obligation to teach or conduct afterwards. It’s a great opportunity if you’re interested in finding out about conducting, but lacking the confidence to do it in front of the choir. This provides a safe environment in which to try out new things and to make mistakes without feeling silly! It’s also a great chance to meet new people you might not have had the chance to chat to before. Risk taking is always a great environment for building friendships.

Bearing this in mind, with some very amateur conducting experience under my belt, I jumped at the chance to learn some new skills and meet some new people at the workshop in April. There are lots of things you forget when standing in front of a choir. So this workshop was great for learning simple tips and tricks I hadn’t tried before.

We began the workshop by sitting in circle, listening to Boof’s tips for teaching new songs from scratch, for example, teaching words with actions, rhythm and part or unison teaching. Next, we split into pairs in order to teach a simple song to each other and test out our new tricks. My choice: ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’. I wanted to keep it really simple because there are always more things to think about than you realise – words, melody, rhythm and endings of phrases. Afterwards, there was a shared discussion about how to gain people’s  attention (a broad and varied range of interesting techniques), followed by coverage of some of the symbols and signs which might be used for each section, for example: bridge, chorus, outro etc. Finally, we finished off with a game of Tag Conducting to simple song, Amazing Grace. This gave the chance to everyone who was interested, to have a go at leading a friendly choir in dynamics, speed or lyric changes. Again, there was absolutely no pressure to lead, so only the people who really wanted to have a go actually did. (Naturally I couldn’t resist the opportunity and it is great to take the chance to lead a choir who already know a song so you can focus on fun things like dynamics. This is an area I have to admit, I have probably let fall to the wayside during previous conducting attempts!)

Top tips I’m taking away: Teach dynamics right from the start. This is not really something that had occurred to me before, but it makes total sense that if a choir learn a song with a crescendo from the start, then they will never forget it and it will make things easier for you later on. Top Tip number 2: Be clear with people as to when to finish singing the phrase. It is very easy, if you read music, to forget that the choir have not seen it and that simply singing the phrase might not be enough. Boof, Naomi and Tizzy are all very clear with their hands about ‘taking people off’ at the end of a phrase, so this is something I plan to emulate in the future.

All in all it was a super fun afternoon with some lasting and useful tips which have definitely increased my confidence and given me lots of new ideas I’m now eager to try. This was all topped off with a delicious meal at Bella Pasta around the corner where we had the chance for a chat and a well-earned meal! The conducting workshop was a great opportunity for learning, socialising and becoming even more involved in our lovely choir. If another opportunity arises again, I would really encourage anyone who is vaguely interested to just try it out. It was a really supportive environment and a fun chance to try out something new!