By Jaime Babbitt
Share this with your students! Being a member of a choir is always–repeat, always–an honor and a joy. Let’s face it: we shouldn’t do it otherwise. Serving our community and the world beyond by raising our voices in song — what better way to give back? What better way to ramp up our personal best as singers? What can we do to be all that we can be? (Okay, that was paraphrasing an old ad campaign for the army, but you get the idea…)
You can show up early for rehearsals and performances – notice I didn’t say “on time.” In the world of music-making, I teach all my students that being early is being on time. So, do what you must and allow for any and all traffic jams, train tie-ups or drawbridge openings.
You can make sure that you look marvelous on gig day – notice I didn’t say “look good.” That means any and all aspects of your personal grooming and apparel are beyond reproach. Hair, eyebrows, skin, makeup, jewelry (if any) are tasteful, clean and thought out ahead of time, like the day before. Yes, you should do your nails, too, even if no one will see them. You’ll see them. Earn extra awesome points and leave fragrances at home; no one wants to cough because you wanted to smell nice.
You can make time to do your homework – schedule it into your day like you schedule a lunch or a Zumba class. Get confident that you know where you’re breathing (i.e., with the rest of your section), all your word pronunciations, tempos and movements (if any). Ask about anything you don’t know even if you feel silly. Download mp3s you have access to and play them in your car, on the treadmill or at the pool.
You can pay professional-level attention at rehearsals; if you’re a professional person, you know what that means. If you’re younger or aren’t in that world, it means showing up prepared with music, recording device, pencils, water, snacks, throat drops or sprays and anything else you might need for the next several hours. Your phone must be either off (or on vibrate if it must be on) and your voice is already warmed up. You listen to everything your choir director is saying, and you don’t chat with your neighbors until break time. Boom. That’s the mic dropping.
You can be helpful to the choir above and beyond singing. Choirs need volunteers for social media, marketing, robe/costume fitting, community outreach, et cetera, and you can be that guy or girl! But remember: once you commit, you must strive to keep that commitment. My old choir, Nashville in Harmony (Nashville’s phenomenal LGBTQ and-the-friends-who-love-them choir) had all kinds of opportunities: cooking at potluck dinners for homeless folks at the church where we rehearsed, singing down each section’s parts for rehearsal mp3s. See if you can be of service.
You can make a point to know what you’re singing about. Too many choristers don’t take the time to uncover the meaning of what they’re singing, or they settle for perfunctory knowledge of the story. Ask yourself, “Am I doing full service to the music?” An honest answer might be: not exactly. Nashville in Harmony performed “Codebreaker,” a 49-minute piece detailing the life of Alan Turing, a British scientist known as the father of modern artificial intelligence. Every choir member knew his incredible and heartbreaking story. You might be interested, too: youtube.com/watch?v=y7bkTuCSBQQ
You can learn that blending is king — until you’re soloing. One of the most wonderful things about being a chorister is that you get to sharpen your blending skills. And what a skill it is. But being able to put that skill away when it comes time for you to shine in the spotlight is a different story. If you have the time to develop both your section voice and your solo voice, more power to you. It’s an amazing exercise in freedom, adapting to change and acknowledging all the facets of your gift. But don’t fret if you’re more comfortable as part of the “machine,” rent the film Twenty Feet from Stardom and see how cool that role can be!
You can make friends and not just in your own section. It’s really easy to stick to the several people around us and have our own little clique, but I urge you to branch out and get to know as many people as you can. This is especially great for all the shy choristers out there; you’ve got built-in similar interests, and won’t it feel great to conquer your fears in a safe, joyful environment? Have a coffee, set up a mini-rehearsal. I bet you’ll be glad you did.
Last but not least, you can make having fun a really big priority. Too many singers come into choir with lots of emotional musical baggage and questions abound: “Am I capable enough, religious enough, talented enough?” I hope you can answer “yes” to all your questions (and hey, fake it ‘til you make it if you’ve got a “no” or two in there) and have a great time as you become an even greater choir member!
To that end, for my singers who loved the show The Office, this one’s for you: ctyc.co.za/2018/06/02/choir-as-described-by-michael-scott/
Jaime Babbitt coached voice/performance for Disney and wrote Working with Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she’s “jingled” for Coke, Pillsbury, Chevrolet and hundreds more. She’s sung thousands of gigs and toured with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang background vocals with George Strait, Courtney Love, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, and Johnny Mathis. For info, workingwithyourvoice.com