Leading a pop music choir

 2 August 2013

Choir leader, Lottie Greenhow, shares how modern Rock Choir has changed the traditional idea of a choir. She shares 5 ways to enhance your own singing

Bags of enthusiasm is needed for the job of a Choir Leader . Image:  Rhythms of the World Festival, Laura Spires.
Bags of enthusiasm is needed for the job of a Choir Leader . Image: Rhythms of the World Festival, Laura Spires.

Rock Choir is the UK's largest amateur, non-audition choir that sings pop, gospel and motown songs. Across the UK, they have 16,000 members, which are managed by 65 Choir Leaders.

Leading a choir

Lottie is Choir Leader for Bedford and Milton Keynes, where she teaches 300 members. Along with conducting, she also teaches and acts as a vocal coach in her role:

“You have to be very positive and think of ways to keep people engaged. The leaders meet three times a term for training and we swap ideas. I picked up that pupils learn better in threes – It works! Try singing in three different ways emphasisng the notes, the words and then finally the way you use your voice.

"If you can speak, you can sing. The differences in confidence come down to your youth and your training."

There are also special techniques to help her teach her students to learn:

“For my lessons, I'll arrive and lead a physical and vocal warm-up to remove any tensions then we learn songs by ear. Each section of the choir gets their part played to them, and then they repeat it back."

Performing at venues

There are opportunities for people to perform at venues like the O2, where 12,000 singers filled the whole stage floor and some of the stands.

"We've also been supporting acts, at venues like the Liverpool Echo and Wembley Stadium, and festivals like the Bedford River festival.

“The choirs do feel-good songs by artists that people already know, like Adele and Bon Jovi. The choirs are arranged in harmony arrangements – bassist, alto and soprano at a minimum – so it’s not karaoke.

“The choir members also learn choreography. This can vary from simple moves, like a side-step and a clap, to more complicated routines. For example, for the song ‘All around the World’, our moves were inspired by air hostess' safety signs before take-off.”

Getting into music

Music was a part of Lottie's upbringing and has helped influence her in her career:

“I grew up listening to symphonies and BBC Radio 3. I learnt violin and piano early on and decided to carry on in education, so I went to Cambridge University to study music.

“Pop choirs and classical choirs can co-exist, as different types of people love classical music and pop music."

“At the same time, singing was a big part of my life. I joined the chapel choir at Cambridge University, and I also became director of the non-audition choir, 'Christ’s Voices'."

This passion for singing and playing musical instruments is reflected in her career positions after university:

“I entered the job market by first working in an artist agency company for two years, before moving to Education and Marketing consultant for a professional choir.

"I knew I wanted to work centre-stage than back-stage, so I looked for singing jobs on the website Music-Jobs and applied to Rock Choir."

Differing from the traditional choirs

According to Lottie, contemporary pop choirs address a gap in the market.

"There are so many classical choirs but not many contemporary pop choirs. Non-audition choirs make it easy for everyone to join. Although it's amateur, the pupils create songs that sound polished and professional.

“I don’t think contemporary pop choirs will take over traditional classical choirs. People have said that classical music will die out, but it hasn’t. Opera houses, professional orchestra choirs and choral societies are still going strong.

Instead of competition, Lottie believes that, "contemporary pop choirs and classical choirs can co-exist, as different types of people love classical music and pop music."

5 ways to enhance your singing

1. Improve your confidence by dealing with your anxieties

"Question where your anxieties come from. It could be that your nerves are from a lack of confidence, yet there are underlying issues.

Lottie suggests asking yourself questions like, "Is singing what you want to do?', 'Are you thinking negatively?' and 'Why?'

She has found that most problems root from a poor learning experience and negative emotions:

"The truth is if you can speak, you can sing. The differences in confidence come down to your youth and your training."

2. Practice is useful if you feel improvement at the end

"It's not useful practicing the same exercise in the same way, unless that exercise has helped you improve after an hour.

"You'll know you've improved when singing becomes easier and you sound better. This is practising in the right way."

3. Singing lessons will help you develop

"Singing lesson are encouraged for amateurs and professionals", says Lottie, "unless you're happy with the way you sound.

"For me, the sign of a good teacher is when you feel confident and you get results."

4) Singing louder is not better

"Some beautiful songs are sung very softly, like 'Walking in the Air' in The Snowman. The boy's voice is controlled, but soft without power.

"Different singers suit different songs so work within your own range now, and extend it as you get better."

5) Keep yourself in top condition

The voice is your vital tool and it's your responsibility to keep this tool in good working order.

"Often, vocal problems come from your circumstances. If you're a heavy smoker, you're more likely to get a raspy husky voice.

"Sometimes, it can be a medical problem, such as a damaged larynx. This needs professional support to help you."

 

What do you think of pop music choirs?


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