Lizzy Renihan writes…
Hands up all choir leaders who’s said “smile everyone!” in rehearsal when the choir are mid song.
Hands up if you’ve started to tell your choir to be ‘expressive’…. at the final rehearsal.
Hands up if, during a performance, you manically start smiling and flapping around before your choir like a demented bird in a mating dance?
My hand is firmly up in the air. I have done all of the above.
Leading choirs has been a never ending learning curve for me.
Coming from a performance background, I thought the performance aspect was the easy bit and that a choir just needed a quickie reminder to be expressive and have me smile lovingly at them in performance.
After a few rocky performances with some singers looking crumpled and expressionless, I realised that connecting with an audience is a skill not everyone has. It’s a skill that has to be practised from the start.
Interpretation, storytelling and performance- awareness are as important as the harmonies, posture, blend and dynamics. Oh there’s so much for us leaders to squeeze into our sessions!
If the interpretation is introduced early, it can also help the choir learn the song in a way that really stays with them and they remember words more easily because we’ve given them value…..and I may have also thrown in the odd ludicrous mime to help those words stay in, one of which involves me giving birth.
I ask many crazy things of my choirs in the quest for an audience connection.
It’s sometimes a big ask in rehearsal to expect performance animation to an empty room. Splitting the choir in two and asking them perform facing each other is a great way for my choir to think about how their performance looks to an audience. They can also feed off each other’s energy. Their faces always spring to life when they’re facing their mates.
I also ask the choir to mime the words of the song, making no sound. They have to convey the meaning of the song using expression alone. It’s a great challenge and It certainly can make them laugh too, my favourite sound in rehearsals!
The thrilling stage of rehearsal for me is when I ask them to put away folders. (this is possible with our contemporary repertoire) They always look at me like I’ve lost the plot but they love it really. They can look at the me more freely, they can really connect with each other and the audience. Even at a point in rehearsals when they don’t quite feel ready, it’s been a good exercise to ask them to put words away, they realise they know much more of the song than they thought.
I’ve been known to swipe folders out of hands with gay abandon. I would much prefer them to make up the words than cling to a folder than they’re not even really looking at. It can become a safety blanket and a barrier.
Singers that have been with me for a while, see the value and reward of authentically connecting with each other and with an audience .
My favourite feedback ever is, “You all look like you’re having so much fun together”.
That feels like a job well done.
“So, Lizzy, Do you still flap around in front of your choir like a demented bird in a mating dance?”
Lowers head in shame, “Yes, yes I do”.
I am a demented bird and still on that learning curve.
Elizabeth Renihan is a former West End musical theatre actress, musician, writer and concert soloist and has been performing for over 25 years.She trained at The London Academy Of Music And Dramatic Art.
She has been a leading actress in numerous West End hits including ‘Les Miserables ‘Starlight Express’‘Children Of Eden’ ‘Joseph’. For The Royal Shakespeare Company The Beggar’s Opera, Antony And Cleopatra and A Jovial Crew, Grizabella in Cats, several leading roles for the National Theatre including Paquettein Candide, Oh What A Lovely War -Lizzie The Loon, Summerfolk, Money and the UK tour as‘Anna’in The King And I.
Lizzy has toured Europe with the BBC and the RTE Concert Orchestras as The Royal Festival Hall, Les Mis Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, the 02and The Majestic Theatre on Broadway.
She has performed as a soloist live on ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’. She has appeared live on Children In Need and the Paul O’Grady Show. BBC1 sitcom Kiss Me Kate, Channel 4 ‘Serious And Organized’ and ‘Smugglers’, and the films of Emma for BBC and Matchmaker films.
Lizzy’s Natural Voices Choirs‘ are funky mixed, community choirs, taking the stuffiness out of choirs! All original vocal arrangements by founder Lizzy Renihan, singing uplifting pop, soul, jazz and anthems.Choirs in Woking, Ashtead, New Barnet, Woodford, Walthamstow, Ibiza andThe Isle Of Mull! Their credits include:The Jenny Barnett Show on BBC Radio and BBC3’s ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’.Lucy Worsley’s BBCChristmasCarol Odyssey,Hugh Jackman Concert 02 Arena, Take ThatTour-Milton Keynes and BBC PROMS 2019. Lizzy isco-founder and director of East London Soul Choir.