20 things you need to know for your choir performance
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Photo by Mary Wardell
Several years ago I had what felt like a particularly full December. I was working full-time in a non-music industry job. After what felt like a whirlwind holiday season, I looked back at my calendar and counted the number of musical activities.
During that December I had 32 musical engagements! As an amateur musician! Many were performances, a few rehearsals thrown in. I had one recital for my students, which sort of counts as a paid event.
That was actually a pivotal year for me, one that helped me realize I needed to find a way for music to take a more... shall we say, professional role in my life.
I admit I burned out pretty hard that year. For several years I basically boycotted Christmas music and did whatever I could to reduce my holiday musical commitments unless I was getting paid.
Happily I have recovered a little bit (it took a long time!) and don't have the same ire towards the Christmas season as I have the last few years. Major burnout happened, and was overcome. Huzzah.
If you have a performance this season, I have a boatload of tricks up my sleeve to make them as enjoyable as possible! Here are 20 things you should be doing to make the most of your holiday performances!
Memorize your entrances. Even if you aren't required to memorize your music for your performances, memorize the few bars before you come in for each piece! This allows you to watch the conductor. They like that. Also you look professional.
Book a massage after your dress rehearsal. I'm not kidding. "Folder Shoulder" is very real... and sucks! If you have a "tech week" or some week with a more aggressive rehearsal schedule where you will be standing and holding your music, and if you can afford it... this is the best thing I started doing for myself! As a singer your back and shoulder can get excruciatingly stiff during tech week. A massage after the dress rehearsal the day before your concert (or before an evening concert) makes a world of difference!
Do yoga or some kind of stretching before your performance. In the same vein, and especially if you aren't able to get a massage, take a few moments before you get dressed for your concert to do some good stretching. There are lots of great people on YouTube who can guide you through even 10 minutes of stretching. Again, your back will thank you!
Don't wear fragrances. Appealing as it is to add a puff of perfume or cologne when you're getting spiffy for your concert, don't! Many people have issues with fragrance, and it can cause some extreme distress. It's not worth it - be respectful of those around you! (Do shower and wear deodorant, though!)
Wear comfortable shoes. Also, wear your performance shoes at least once or twice during tech week. It's the worst when you don what you think are comfortable shoes for the performance, only to find out your feet have swollen from being on your feet all week, then all you can think about during the performance is how your pinky toe is going numb... trust me, it sucks. Test your shoes.
Get a proper folder. It is 100% worth investing in a choir folder. These folders have special straps that hold them open to a precise angle, and one for your hand. It is so much more comfortable than trying to use a black binder! I got mine from mymusicfolders.com (this is not sponsored, they just make great gear), but there are other places you can get them also.
Hold your folder up high. When you are rehearsing closer to your concert, and especially during the concert, hold your folder up very high! It should feel like your voice is being funneled in a straight line through your folder to the conductor. This way it is a short little glance down to refresh yourself on the music, while also looking at the conductor. It's not comfortable, but it makes a big difference!
Stay hydrated. It takes 2-3 hours for the water you drink to make its way to your muscles. So during concert week make sure you are drinking lots of fluids throughout the week! Also bring a full water bottle to each rehearsal to sip on when needed. Often the tech week rehearsals are longer than usual, so make sure to drink water as needed.
Don't talk during rehearsal. Choir can be a wonderful social experience! However, the closer you get to the concert the more important it becomes to pay close attention to what is going on. Even if you think you're whispering quietly, it can still be distracting to others. You might also miss what is going on. Focus is critical!
Pay attention to the dress code. Please don't be that person who wears colored socks or a knee high dress if it's not what is in the dress code. The choir dress codes are there for a reason, and regardless of what you feel about it, concert week is not the time to make your opinions known. If it says wrist-length black, do wrist-length black. If it says hose, there are great cheap knee highs that don't require you to wear full hose. If it says black tie, wear black tie. I've seen people cry because their section leader made them leave to go get proper attire, or use someone else's ill-fitting extra jacket because they went with spaghetti straps when the code says long sleeves. Again, have all the discussions you want in the early part of the season... just not during concert week.
Bring cough drops. Your voice will thank you.
Don't lock your knees! When you're standing for several hours, possibly under stage lights and often packed in with many other bodies, it can get hot. Combine that with adrenaline and choir members have absolutely been known to pass out onstage. I've come close myself, and rescued several neighbors. Bending your knees frequently, shifting feet, and making sure not to lock your knees can help. And if you do feel like you are going to pass out, have a plan! Sit down before you think you need to and put your head between your knees if possible. It's better, and way safer, than falling!
Eat a protein bar 30 minutes before going on stage. Don't eat a big meal before performing, but do eat a protein-filled snack. It will give you enough energy to last the concert, and also often helps with the above fainting scenario. Often choir members forget to eat, or can't due to nerves. Please make sure to feed yourself before a concert, even if it's just a protein bar!
If possible, park far away! Let patrons have the best parking. If you know parking is tight try to find some folks to carpool with.
When you are not singing, watch the conductor! I mean, watch the conductor when you are singing also... but the point here is don't follow along in your music when you aren't singing. Turn to your next entrance and be ready to go! The reasoning here is that if you're watching the music your head is down in your score rather than up and engaged with the conductor. It looks shoddy and (counterintuitively!) sets you up to be late for your next entrance!
Ditch the metal water bottle! These are the bane of my existence in choir! I get it, they keep things hot or cold. But they are so, so loud when knocked over, and trust me, someone will knock them over! Bring a plastic water bottle, ideally one with a straw so you can sip discreetly. For performance, water bottles may not be allowed on stage. Hydrate beforehand! And even if water bottles are allowed on stage consider skipping out. Hydration is most effective 2 hours before the concert anyway, and trust me you can last 30 to 40 minutes until intermission. If you do have a metal water bottle, put it as far back as possible under your chair to avoid kicking it. If you don't have chairs, absolutely leave it behind!
Put a tissue in your folder. Hopefully you won't need to use it, but if you need it... you'll definitely want it.
Go to the after party. A lot of times the choir will arrange a place for people to go out afterwards. Even if you are not normally a social person, this can be a truly magical way to connect with someone new who shares your interest! People are almost always very nice and it is interesting to hear different thoughts about the performance. Your group may not always arrange something like this, but if they do and you are on the fence, I encourage you to go!
Take a selfie with the program. I only started doing this recently, and I wish I had started 20 years ago! I have many photos of myself at various concerts, but they tend to all blur together because the outfit is always the same! Taking a selfie with a copy of the program may seem simple now, but will be a beautiful memory years from now. I also personally am sentimental and I keep a copy of each program. You may not want to do this and I understand, but at least take a photo!
Enjoy the performance...or at least look like you are! Regardless of how nervous you feel, remember you are performing! Guests want to see you having a great time. A performer who looks miserable can ruin the experience for someone almost as much as if the music fell apart. Watch the conductor, smile when you're not singing, and when people give you kudos afterwards simply say "thank you!" even if you felt like it didn't go well. The audience came for a good time, and if they had one who are you to negate it?
I could go on and on, but these top 20 are a good place to start!
What did I miss that you do during or immediately before a performance? Leave a comment!