Running a Choir – Just how hard can it be?

CMVC Cirencester

Last weekend I was in Berlin to run a choir workshop for a Global Law firm.  The recipe for this event sounded fairly straightforward.  Take 60 legal types, feed well before placing in a conference room with an unlimited supply of achoholic beverages.  Then, once settled, dim the lights pull back a screen and reveal a stage with piano, microphone and theatre style lighting.  At this point install a choir leader and encourage the lawyers to sing.

Initially the lawyers probably thought they were going to be entertained by a female jazz singer and pianist.  They all settled down in their seats and called for more alcohol.  Their relaxed expressions changed somewhat when it was announced they were the ones doing the singing.  20 minutes later and approximately 60 lawyers from all over the world were singing and dancing to ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease.  In fact once they had learnt the song (and some harmonies too) they insisted on performing it three times.

The ‘official’ workshop ended at 9pm. However the lawyers were keen to sing more and so they all gathered around the piano.  Suggestions of songs were shouted out and everyone used their mobile phones to find the lyrics.  The assumption was that the choir leader, who seemed to be able to play the piano, would be able to play any song they could think of.  Fortunately this seemed to work quite well and occasionally if a song wasn’t known there was always google which could usually provide at least a suggestion of what chords might be needed.  As a result the singing went on until 1am!

What do you need to start a choir?

On the face of it then getting a choir together is really quite simple.  You don’t need any auditions, no one needs to read music and provided there are some words somewhere then most people will sing along.  If lots of people sing together then technically you have a choir.   This is the model used by a lot of choirs today – most of them install a monkey to stand out front and wave around a bit (no one really understands what the point of that is) while everyone sings along to a backing track which has been downloaded from somewhere on the interweb.

Now, if you like that sort of thing, that’s great. There are many choirs out there who will welcome you with open arms and you can go along and sing all your favorite songs and it will sound just like every other choir. Before I go on I should say I am not against backing tracks. I used a backing track for my workshop in Berlin, albeit one which I recorded in my studio the week before. However, the song was taught using the piano – the old fashioned way!  The first full run through was with piano – the backing track was used merely to give a sense of occasion to the final performance. The other issue was that apparently a full orchestra is slightly outside the constraints imposed by Easy Jet on customers only travelling with hand luggage.

Different types of Choir

Choir’s today essentially fall into 2 main camps. On the one hand you have the choral societies, chamber choirs and university choirs, most of which will be run by professional musicians who have spent many years studying the art of choral singing and direction.  And then on the other side you have Community Choirs, which is a rather generic term that seems to encompass everything else.   Most community choirs I have encountered are utterly brilliant.  They always seem full of happy, smiley people who are having a great time singing songs they love.   This absolutely needs to be encouraged.  I know some amazing choir leaders who are extremely inspirational and do fantastic things with their groups.  Curiously it seems to be the one profession where you don’t need any formal qualifications – some choir leaders I’ve met can’t even read music. But often this doesn’t stop such people creating fantastic choirs. And nor should it.

Resources for Choirs

When I am not running my own choirs, I spend an increasing amount of time preparing Rehearsal Tracks, Backing Tracks or Piano accompaniments for Choirs who either do not have their own accompanist or whose choir leader is not able to create such things for themselves.  This ensures that Community Choirs can be run by the most charismatic and inspirational people whilst all the music is left to the those behind the scenes who actually have some vague idea what all the black dots mean!


Jules Addison runs 4 Choirs in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire and is also a Sound Engineer who specialises in location recordings for Choirs.  To find out more about his production work and choir resources please call 01225 302143 or click here for more information