One of the universal joys shared by cultures across the globe is singing in a group. The tradition of group singing stretches back to time immemorial, and it continues today in many forms. In most communities, there are singing groups, or choirs, which bring together individuals to perform at events throughout the year. While the details will vary based on your local music scene, these tips will help you join any choir that interests you.
Prepare to Join a Choir
The first step on your journey to join a choir is identifying a group that matches three main criteria:
- The choir is a match for your musical ability
- The choir performs repertoire that interests you
- The choir rehearses and performs at times that work with your schedule
Your Musical Ability
“Know thyself,” the Ancient Greeks said.
Musicianship is built upon foundational skills which every musician (regardless of level) must work to sharpen. These skills include:
Before you join a choir, it’s important to check in with yourself about where your own musical skills are today. Do your best to approach this process without judgment! This is simply a self-check-in to establish a musical starting point. Finding a choir to join that’s the right fit for your skills will create a more enjoyable and rewarding experience. Singing with a group that’s too advanced can be stressful, and singing with a group that’s not advanced enough can be dull. You’ll want to find a sweet spot where you’re pushed to grow as a musician but can start on solid footing.
To begin your check-in, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I accurately sing back a note that’s been played for me? Can I harmonize with a note that’s been played for me? Can I harmonize with a melody, or sing a melody while others are singing harmony?
- What is my prior musical experience? Have I sung in a choir, or played in band before?
- Can I read or follow sheet music? Do I enjoy memorization? What is my capacity to work on repertoire outside of rehearsal?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, and even professional musicians would give varied responses. Once you’ve reflected on your own musical journey, it will be easier to find a group that’s a good match for you.
In this global and ancient art form, there are thousands of years of music to program, from part-songs to pop songs! It’s important to join a choir whose musical selections interest you. Attend some local concerts to get a taste of what different choirs are presenting, and check out their websites to review past programs. Social media is a great resource for finding out when these events are happening, and getting a bit of background on the groups.
If you are particularly interested in music from the last 100 years, look for groups with “a cappella” or “barbershop” in their descriptions. These groups typically perform without any instrumental accompaniment and cover popular music from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
In addition to choirs that prepare and perform repertoire for concerts, some religious institutions host choirs as part of their ministry. In general, these groups provide music for religious services and events and therefore move through a large volume of repertoire at a consistent pace. The type of music these choirs perform depends on the culture of the program, so if this type of music-making interests you, check out a few nearby programs until you find a good fit.
Most choirs host regular rehearsals to prepare for concerts and events, with many opting to gather weekly. Choristers are part of a team, and the team’s success ultimately relies on the performance of each individual chorister. For this reason, it is crucial that choristers make every effort to attend rehearsals.
Before you join a choir, find out their rehearsal schedule, as well as dates for dress rehearsals and performances. While occasional absences are OK, if you have a regular conflicting obligation, you might want to consider another group with a different meeting time.
Making Connections to Join a Choir
Once you’ve identified some groups that interest you and match your ability and schedule, it’s time to make connections. Check the group’s website or social media for contact information like a phone number, open DMs, or email. Usually, you’ll be contacting someone with a title like Music Director or Chorus Manager. Simply express your interest in joining the group, and your contact person should let you know the next steps.
Some choirs host open rehearsals, inviting guests to experience their regular environment. These often take place at the beginning of a rehearsal season and can function as a mutual try-out. You, as a singer, can get a sense of how the rehearsal runs, how the group sounds, and how you fit in, while the director can get a sense of what the group sounds like in that configuration.
Auditions to Join a Choir
Depending on the director and culture of the group, they may ask you to sing an audition before officially welcoming you as a new member. For non-professional groups, these are generally low-pressure and serve to give the director an idea of what you sound like. The audition may be accompanied or unaccompanied, or a combination of both. If the audition is accompanied, be sure that any music you bring for the pianist is neat and legible, free of staples, and in the correct order.
What to Expect
The director will likely have you demonstrate basic vocal exercises like arpeggios or scales, and sing a short selection. The selection could be a prepared art song or aria, or just a simple folk song (like Shenandoah, or Take Me Out to the Ball Game). In some situations, the director could ask you to read music or demonstrate other musical skills. Consult with your contact person at the choir to find out the format of your audition, so that you may show up mentally prepared.
In any audition scenario, the key is to remain calm. Singing solo can be nerve-wracking, but deep, grounding breaths can help you connect to your calmest and most confident self (not to mention, deep breaths will help you sing better!). Everybody in the room wants to hear you succeed! They aren’t there to discover the next Kristin Chenoweth, they are there to learn who YOU are. Think of auditions as a special opportunity to show off your best self to a small, supportive audience.
In the event that you may be rejected following an audition, do not be discouraged. There are many reasons that this could be the case, and it is not solely a reflection of your musical ability. Take this as an opportunity to gather feedback from musical professionals that can help you improve. Ask the director what areas you can work on, and see if they might welcome you back for an audition in the future. Music-making is a journey, not a destination – so try, try again!
Life as a Chorister
Once you’ve connected with a choir and become a member, you will join regular rehearsals. Be sure to arrive at every rehearsal on time and prepared. For musicians, being “on time” means that you are ready to play or sing at the start of rehearsal – not just that you are physically in the room when rehearsal begins. Singers fortunately do not need much equipment to perform, but should always carry a pencil and water.
Some groups distribute music ahead of rehearsal via mail, pickup, or email, and others pass it out at the beginning of rehearsals. In either case, you’ll want to ensure you have all of the sheet music you need for each concert cycle.
While the primary focus of a choral concert is music, there are also visual elements to performance. Many groups opt to standardize their appearance and present a unified look. Choirs often achieve this by sporting “concert black”, or solid colors. As soon as you are able, connect with your chorus manager to find out what the group wears in performance. Put together your concert look in advance, and leave yourself time to source any items you might be missing. If the group uses sheet music to perform, find out how it should be stored on stage. Typically, a black binder or chorus folder is appropriate.
When the performance day comes, it is simplest to arrive at the venue in concert attire. This allows you to fully focus on the warm-up rehearsal, and to mentally gear up for performance. As a logistical consideration, not all venues have the space for choristers to change. Your chorus manager should be able to provide some details about the venue, as well as the choir’s standard practices surrounding performance.
Bring the Hype
Many performing arts organizations in the US operate as nonprofits, and work hard to secure the funding necessary to reserve venues, pay directors and accompanists, and purchase sheet music from publishers. Ticket sales are absolutely vital to the continued success of musical organizations, and you can make a difference simply by spreading the word about performances! Post on social media, invite your friends and family, and hang a poster by the water cooler at work.
Not only do musical organizations need audiences – but audiences also need music!
A Note on Inclusivity in Choirs
As our societal understanding of gender evolves, so too does our application of that understanding to art and culture. While choirs have historically been divided up by gender and voice part, the thinking surrounding this system is part of this larger, ongoing evolution of understanding. If you sing a voice part that does not align with conventional societal expectations, there is room for you in the choir world! Check out this recent piece from our friends at ClassicFM, and these resources for non-gender-conforming voices from a speech-language pathologist. There are also groups on social media dedicated to supporting non-gender-conforming voices and singers – so get connected!
Happy music-making, new choristers!
Ready to bond with your new choir-mates? Click here for tips on how to host a small dinner party!