Can I be in your choir?

Jules Addison - Choirmaster, Pewsey Belles

Despite the increased publicity surrounding choirs in recent years, mostly due to the genius of Gareth Malone bringing all types of choirs into our living rooms, there are still many people who shy away from joining a choir.  I always get the impression there are thousands of people out there who really want to be in a choir but are either; Too shy to admit it or believe they aren’t ‘good enough’.  Or in many cases probably a combination of the two.

Choirs are for girls:

Back in 2008, Gareth Malone set out to disprove the notion that “Boys Don’t Sing”.  Taking on a school in Leicestershire which was more interested in sport than music, he did manage to get a group of boys to sing at the Royal Albert Hall.  Ok, so without being cynical, I dare say the notion of being on the television helped matters along a bit.  However, from what I know of Gareth Malone, he’s not the type to fake it and generally doesn’t present a scripted programme.  A lot of what you see is genuinely what happened.  His show in 2008 was all about addressing the potential gender divide which surrounds choirs and probably some aspects of music as a whole.

Certainly when I was at school this was an issue.   Rugby was considered a proper man’s sport. Music was basically for wimps and the business of ‘dressing up as girls’ to sing in the choir (wearing a cassock) didn’t help this stereotypical image!  Of course there are some choirs where the opposite can be true.  Cathedral choirs, for example are still very reluctant to accept girls. And indeed, whilst there are now a few ‘girls choirs’ at various Cathedrals the main choir is still a very male dominated environment.

I also haven’t forgotten the vast number of Male Voice Choirs, which are not just limited to Wales nowadays. Some of our best choirs are Male Voice choirs.  But despite all this, I can fairly safely say that if you set up a new ‘community’ choir it will be heavily balanced in favour of female voices.  I currently run 4 choirs.  2 of which are ladies choirs, 2 are mixed choirs.  In one of the mixed choirs I have 15 ladies and 3 men, in the other I have 59 ladies and 5 men.

I can’t sing:

How many times have I heard this from potential choir members? For many, the perception that they have no singing voice appears to be a barrier to joining a choir. Now, at this point I should make it clear that I am not one of those choirmasters who believes that everyone can sing. There are some amongst us, albeit few in number, who cannot pitch a note. However, this is very rare. I do believe that everyone who wants to sing should have an opportunity to do so.

This is exactly why some of my choirs are auditioned and some are open to anyone without any kind of vocal test. What I have found is that in the vast majority of cases, when someone says they can’t sing, what they actually mean is they can’t read music or don’t know anything about choirs. This is actually quite a reasonable perspective. I think a lot of us claim not to be able to do something which we haven’t tried, and particularly if it is something we believe others spend time learning to do. For example I would be the first to say I can’t play rugby. I’m sure technically with some guidance and a bit of effort I could probably make some feeble attempt at the game, but aside of anything else it just isn’t my idea of fun.

In conclusion:

To answer the original question, can I be in your choir? The answer in the vast majority of cases is yes you can. Nowadays there are so many choirs out there, you are bound to find something which suits you. Whether you want to sing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater or Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, somewhere there will be a choir doing just that. So, to my mind, the question is not can you be in a choir but rather, do you want to be in a choir?

If the answer to this question is yes, then don’t waste time trying to self audition your voice or talk yourself into believing you aren’t good enough. Go out and find a choir that sings the sort of music you enjoy and you may surprise yourself at just how good you are.