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Choosing a choir

Singing in a choir can be a very rewarding experience. In order to get the best out of it, it's important to choose a choir that's right for you. Here are some thoughts and questions you could ask of choirs you might be interested in.

Experience

How much experience do you have as a singer? If you're a beginner, look for choirs that don't audition and don't ask you to be able to read music. There are plenty of community choirs available, and they range from very informal with no aspirations to perform, through to very accomplished groups. Consider some of the other factors listed here when making your decision.

If you have plenty of singing experience, you might be stretched more by a choir that performs regularly, with challenging repertoire. Groups that audition normally require a higher standard than groups that don't, and you can probably be expected to read music for these choirs.

Cost

For once, the old adage "you get what you pay for" doesn't necessarily hold true. Some choirs are subsidised by the Arts Council, local government, or by other activities, and so can afford to charge less than others. It's also worth considering what is included, and how flexible the payment options are. If you are asked to pay for a term, season or year, find out if you can spread your payments. Work out how much you're getting for your money - how many sessions are included, and how long are the sessions. Is there an initial outlay when you join, such as an admin fee or a requirement to buy branded clothing? To get a fair comparison between different groups, ask them to tell you the effective price per hour - that smooths out the differences between groups that rehearse for different lengths of time. You'll find some groups are charging three or four times as much per hour as others - make sure you're getting three or four times as much benefit!


Repertoire

You're going to end up devoting quite a bit of time to singing your choir music, so you should make sure you pick a choir that sings music you enjoy. Ask what has been included in previous concerts, and what the process is for picking new music. How often are new songs introduced? (You don't want to be singing the same songs month after month - but you also want to have enough time to become comfortable with them).

Performance

Does the choir perform, and if so, where and when? What standards do they aspire to? Do they take part in festivals (competitions) - these normally attract a high standard, which means lots of work and pressure. How many times does the choir perform the same songs (just once and all your effort learning the songs will be gone in a few hours - hundreds of times and you'll be bored of them - look for a happy medium).

Ethos

Why does the choir exist? How is it run? Who has final say in how things are done? It's important that a choir has a clear sense of its own identity, and that it matches your expectations.

Leadership

At the heart of every choir is a leader, and their influence will be felt throughout the organisation. Whether the choir is run by a single conductor, or whether it is a whole network of groups co-ordinated by a central office, the way the choir is led will make a large difference to how you get on with it. You need to trust the person taking the rehearsals, and they need to make you feel comfortable and at ease. Most choir leaders are big personalities in one way or another, so take a little time to get to know them and their methods so you can be sure that you'll get on well - or at least that they won't annoy or upset you regularly!

Resources

There are several places you can search for local choirs on the net. Try British Choirs on the Net at www.choirs.org.uk, and Gerontius at www.gerontius.net. Both allow you to find choirs local to you. If you work for a medium to large company, you could ask them if they'd consider running a workplace choir - point them to www.theworkplacechoir.co.uk so they can see what benefits it can bring. Also, I run a contemporary community choir myself - see www.bevox.co.uk for more details.