Friday, 14 December 2012

Traps for the unwary - making that carol concert go well

A comfortable pair of black shoes, thermal underwear and a pair of reading glasses are probably the essentials in any choral singer's wardrobe this time of year. Choral concerts, carol concerts; Christmas time is usually full of choral activity, but can also lead to many traps for the unwary both for the singer and the listener. Seasoned singers and audience members know that there are ways to make the season go well without suffering.


As many singers know, rehearsals and concerts can be long, requiring lots of standing. The choir in which I sing, London Concord Singers, usually performs unaccompanied so that we singers are on our feet for the whole evening, plus of course the warm-up before hand and rehearsal on the day (if there is one). Singing requires a person to be relaxed, so start at the bottom with comfortable feet, especially if the concert comes at the end of a busy day.

And churches are rarely as warm as you would like, especially when you have to wear regulation concert gear, which prevents you from adding that extra layer of jumper. A choir all bundled up against the cold is hardly a reassuring sight for the audience. Hence the thermal underwear, or something similar. And women are well advised to think about having a winter top, something that still looks good but which covers all the necessary areas. You can't sing at your best if the draft in the church is raising goosepimples on your skin.

And few churches provide lighting which is entirely adequate, there are usually dark patches. So reading glasses are essential, also consider investing in some of those useful lights which can clip onto your folder. Though these can make it look as if you have some sort of alarming insect creature perching on top. But if carefully managed, the result can look surprisingly festive as well!

Audience members need to be similarly well prepared. Lots of layers, so that you can be protected from draughts, sitting for two hours in a church can be cooling at the best of times, after all few churches are kept the temperature of our living rooms and most are draughtier. And just think, a warm dry atmosphere isn't the best to sing in, so by putting up with a cool church you are giving the singers the best advantage for their voices. Having extra layers can also be useful when it comes to spending 2 hours sitting on a hard chair or pew. Its probably only worth lugging cushions if you are sitting through a long piece, like Bach's Christmas Oratorio, but for the average concert some extra padding will do. And if you dare take off your coat, then sitting on it is a neat solution.

Last night was the Christmas concert of my own choir, London Concord Singers, and the committee members give great thought to many of these issues when choosing venues. There are the churches that we will probably not return to because the choir was expected to sing in stygian gloom, even with all the lights on. And there are others which are great for the summer, but you just know that they will not be that warm in the winter. We gave our Christmas concert at the Grosvenor Chapel, which is something of a regular venue for us. It provides a an attractive, warm(ish) venue, complete with a Christmas tree. The pews are hard though; I've had inexperienced concert-goer guests complaining after a concert! But there is also a room behind, where we can serve the audience a glass of wine at the interval. Concerts are social occasions too!

Of course, the Grosvenor Chapel is an historic venue, and like many churches, is not quite ideal as a concert platform. Most choirs get used to the perils and pains of fitting themselves into historic interiors. And it is worth it, to get to perform in some lovely settings, and worth putting up with things like poor sight-lines.

There is one area in which things have improved vastly over the years, and that is in the provision of toilets. Many churches have spent money upgrading access and facilities so that there are often quite good amenities. But its not always the case, and both singers and audience members are advised to do a little research.


Churches remain one of the most popular venues for concerts, and there is nothing like a Christmas concert in an historic church, all dressed up for the season. Just be prepared!

1 comment:

  1. I would also recommend a cushion for those long hours spent sitting on hard wooden pews.

    And, of course, to avoid the need for reading glasses, don't sing with sheet music or lyrics!!

    Merry Christmas.

    Chris

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