NOTES FOR THE GUIDANCE OF UK SINGING DAY ORGANISERS
by John Rutter – as at March 23rd 2018
I have been leading Come-and-Sing days for well over twenty years, at the request of many different organisations – the RSCM, ABCD, Making Music, choral societies, churches, charities – and many of the same questions and issues arise every time, so I have prepared these notes, which are not intended to be hard-and-fast, to help the organisers. If you have long experience of running similar events, forgive me if much of what follows is well known to you already, but if you have not run a Come-and-Sing day with me before, please do read it carefully.
- What sort of event is it?
A typical ‘day’ (usual number between about 200 and 400 singers) may consist of a roughly 50-50 mixture of (1) good choral pieces by a variety of composers old and new, and (2) various of my own pieces, perhaps with a longer work (e.g. my Requiem) plus a number of shorter ones. We sing the music just for fun, no advance preparation is expected and no formal performance given at the end of the day, but I try to slip in some vocal and musical hints and tips for the singers. I can sometimes accommodate a special request from the organisers to include a particular work, but in general they are happy to leave the choice of music to me. The rhythm of the day will tend to be that I spend a bit of time polishing some pieces but pass lightly over others.
- Who is it aimed at?
All are welcome! When I lead a ‘day’, it is on the understanding that it is for the whole community, not just the group inviting me. Most of those who come have some choral experience, and can read music though perhaps not fluently. Some are current members of a choir or choral society, some have dropped out of regular singing, others tell me they are too shy to audition, a few have never sung in a choir before but want to give it a try. It might be wise for organisers to suggest in their advance publicity that the event will be geared to those who have at least some choral experience and music-reading ability.
Although the ‘days’ I lead are adult events, adults are welcome to bring their own children (suggested minimum age maybe 8 or 9), and from time to time the conductors of children’s choirs bring them along, perhaps for just part of the day. This is all at the discretion of the event organisers. Bear in mind that if children in an organised group are present they have to have separate toilet provision.
Balance of voice parts is not too important – generally the tenors and basses are outnumbered by sopranos and altos, and that doesn’t worry me, though if the event is almost booked out, organisers sometimes give preference to tenors and basses for the last few places.
- Title and advertising
Your description of the event could be ‘Come and Sing with John Rutter’, ‘John Rutter Singing Day’, ‘Choral Workshop with John Rutter’ – there are many possible variants. I slightly prefer to avoid the term ‘workshop’, maybe ‘Come and Sing’ is more welcoming, but the choice is yours.
Your advertising is a matter for you – whether it is via social media, emailings, local radio and newspapers, word of mouth etc – but I recommend starting it well in advance, maybe six months ahead of the event. I list all my forthcoming singing days on my website, which seems to be helpful, but that obviously doesn’t replace your own local advertising. Please let my PA Emma Harrison (email@example.com – replace ‘company’ with ‘collegium’) know full details of the event (venue, date, time, price, how to book tickets) so she can list it in the most helpful way.
- Date and time frame
I can rarely commit to a Come-and-Sing day more than nine months to a year ahead of the date. In view of my ‘other’ lives as composer and conductor, my policy has to be that, for any given year, I see what my cornerstone commitments will be, especially abroad, and once I can see what dates are left over, I am happy to give them away for Come-and-Sings, trying to spread them around geographically in fairness to all.
The most practical day of the week has to be Saturday, the best months probably in the spring and autumn, though other months work too. My preferred time frame for a ‘day’ (which may need to be adjusted in particular circumstances) is as follows:
Doors open: 10 am
Morning session: 11 am – 12.45 (with no break)
Lunch break: 12.45 – 2 pm
First afternoon session: 2.00 – approx. 3.25 pm
Tea break: 3.25 – approx. 3.45 pm
Final session: approx. 3.50 – 4.45 pm
The thinking behind these timings (based on long experience) is:
Doors open 10 am: People seem to arrive very early for singing days (unlike concerts or church services) and it’s a bit inhospitable to keep them waiting in a shivering queue outside. If you let them in, you can give them tea and coffee then, rather than split up the morning session with a time-consuming break.
Start at 11 am: This avoids a very early departure from home for those travelling a distance (including perhaps me), and it avoids the need for a mid-session break.
Lunch break 12.45 – 2.00: This slightly longer-than-usual break makes it less of a rush for those having lunch out in nearby eating-places, and it allows a decent interval for people to get their concentration back for the afternoon.
Afternoon sessions 2.00 – 3.25 and 3.50 – 4.45: The day is divided up into three sessions, each shorter than the one before. I find this fits well with the attention and vocal span of most groups.
- Choice of venue
For some ‘days’, the organisers are committed to a particular venue – for example, a church where the proceeds of the day are for that church’s restoration fund, or a venue which is available cost-free. However, for organisers who are not necessarily tied to a venue . . . I would suggest that a school hall or similar may be more satisfactory than a church. Schools generally have a car park, enough loos for a large number of people, a kitchen and canteen for people to sit and eat, and a hall with a good piano where the chairs can be moved at will. Churches can be cold in winter and lacking in facilities – and if they have fixed pews, singers at the back of a long nave or behind a pillar can feel left out – though I do understand that a lovely church with good acoustics can lift everyone’s spirits.
- Catering on a Come-and-Sing day
Organisers have different policies, often depending on the facilities available at the venue and how many helpers they can call on. At some ‘days’, lunch is laid on at extra cost for those wanting it. At many others, food is not provided – singers are advised in advance to bring their own or eat out. However, I do recommend that tea, coffee and simple cold drinks are provided, both before the start of the day (it’s often very welcome after a journey) and during the breaks.
- Ticket price
For a morning-and-afternoon event, the price band favoured by organisers seems at the moment to be in the range £15 -– £25, perhaps with concessions for under-18s, but this is a matter for you. Bear in mind that the cost of couriering the music from the Oxford University Press warehouse and back again may account for something like £1 – £2 per person, which you need to build into your calculation when you decide on the ticket price.
Admission has to be by tickets purchased in advance; allowing walk-ins on the day makes it impossible to order the right quantities of music, and may well lead to disappointment if people have to be turned away.
- Supply of music
The bulk of the music for singing days I lead is supplied by my publisher Oxford University Press from a special choral workshops library kept at their warehouse in Kettering. There is no hire charge as such but the workshop organisers pay a proportion of the courier cost, plus OUP’s handling cost. Copies sold or not returned have to be paid for. OUP will supply information on the likely amount of these costs on request. You need to order music reasonably well in advance, perhaps three months ahead. At that distance in time you probably won’t have an accurate count of numbers attending, but if you give your best estimate, you can revise it up to about ten days before the event. To order the music, once I have made my choices for the day, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org (this is the preferred option) or in case of difficulty telephone 01536 452630.
You will be sent a choral workshop order form for you to fill in and return.
Please note: in addition to music supplied by OUP, on the day itself I often bring with me one or two extra items from my own personal library. I pass these out as and when we sing them.
- Storage, distribution, and return of music
The music from OUP generally arrives a few days before the event (you can specify your preferred delivery day) in cardboard boxes which can be lifted by one person, but the total consignment will be bulky and you need to choose the most convenient delivery address. This will probably be the venue itself but the caretaker will need to be warned it is coming – it has to be signed for, and stored in a place which will be accessible on the day.
OUP has to charge workshop organisers for missing copies, so it is not a bad idea to count on arrival the number of copies sent, in case it doesn’t match the number ordered (which will be on the delivery note).
There are two efficient ways of distributing the music on the day:
(1) Put it all out on the seats in advance (not so practical if the venue has tip-up seats but probably the best way otherwise. Assuming 300 seats and maybe three helpers, it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes.)
(2) Make it up into packages before the day and hand one to each singer on arrival.
Long experience has shown that if you leave what will perhaps be seven or eight different items in separate piles for singers to pick up as they check in, it invariably leads to a frustrating queue, especially if a whole coachload of singers arrives at once – and not everyone does manage to pick up one of everything.
Another tip: have more than one check-in point to avoid queues – maybe one queue for surnames A-M, the other for N-Z – or more than two if it is a large event.
OUP appreciates prompt return of the music (it’s often needed for another workshop). I recommend sorting and boxing it up for return immediately after the end of the event. You are responsible for organising the return of all OUP music; instructions are given with the consignment.
- A word about trust
I have never yet heard of a case of singers deliberately stealing their music. If a copy appears to be missing at the end of the day, by far the commonest reason is that it has been misplaced, coming to light later. Some organisers, taking a dim view of human nature, charge a returnable deposit for the loan of the music, but my experience suggests this isn’t necessary – though it’s up to you!
- Sale of music
Oxford University Press very much appreciates it if singing day organisers are willing to run a sales stall at the event, so that anyone who may wish to purchase (at a discounted price) any of the music they have sung, is able to do so. This helps to defray the continuing expense of running their choral workshop library. Experience has shown that the stall needs to be staffed during the breaks, as well as at the end of the day when people may be anxious to get home.
A neat way of showing that a copy has been purchased is to fix a small round coloured ‘dot’ sticker to the front cover when it is sold. To avoid anyone transferring a sticker from a low-value item to a higher-value item, you can colour-code the stickers (but see section 10 above). As people leave, they show their stickered copies at the door.
Some organisers like to support a local music shop by inviting them to mount a display of their wares in the lobby and to handle music sales during the day. The majority look after sales themselves with volunteer helpers.
- Sale of CDs
My PA Emma is happy to make up a boxful of assorted relevant Cambridge Singers CDs, should you wish to sell them alongside the sheet music. The proceeds of any CD sales (on which you will earn a retailer’s margin) help to cover my travel and hotel expenses.
The most important musician at a come-and-sing day is not the conductor but the accompanist, and I ask that organisers engage a truly first-class, professional one, who prepares the music thoroughly in advance (OUP will send single copies ahead of time to the accompanist on request) – and who is expert at the particular art of accompanying a large amateur chorus. If the accompanist struggles or is ill-prepared, the confidence of the whole group drains away and the event sinks unless I work very hard to keep it afloat. I’m happy to say that for my most recent ‘days’ during the past few months, I have had several excellent cathedral organists in a row and they have been fully of the standard it takes for these occasions to be successful and inspiring.
Most of the accompanying at these events is on piano (please ensure you have a good one, in tune, at the venue) – but if we are in a church that happens to have a fine organ, and if your accompanist plays organ as well as piano, it is likely we would use it at some point during the day.
- Layout of the singers
The two guiding principles are: (1) tenors and basses invariably being outnumbered by sopranos and altos, I like to seat them at the front with tenors to my left and basses to my right. Sopranos sit to the edge of and behind the tenors, altos to the edge of and behind the basses. (2) If we are in a rectangular hall with moveable chairs, I like the seating to be turned sideways so that the piano and podium are halfway along one of the long walls, the choir being seated in a wide curve facing me. The diagram below shows what I mean:
It is good if I can have a raised podium to stand on so everyone can see me when they are singing standing up. A microphone is a good idea in all except small unreverberant venues – lapel mic preferred so I can move around, otherwise stand mic OK.
In venues with fixed seating (e.g. churches with pews, or concert halls and theatres) the plan above obviously doesn’t apply and we need to consult in advance in such cases. If I don’t know the venue, I’m happy to arrive say 90 minutes before the start to devise a seating plan in conjunction with your stewards.
- Arrangements for me
In locations less than about a 2-hour drive from my home, I come and go on the day. For locations further away, I make and pay for my own hotel arrangements. If parking at the venue is limited, I appreciate a reserved space if that is possible.
For lunch on the day, a sandwich or simple ploughman’s lunch in situ is my preference. Please don’t take me out for lunch – there’s never enough time, and it prevents me from chatting to singers who may wish to do that.
At the end of the day I need to collect up any extra items of music I have brought with me, plus unsold CDs, so I can take them home with me.
16: Sound recording or filming during the singing day: Please let all concerned know that for copyright and other reasons it cannot be permitted. (Still photos are OK.)
IN CONCLUSION . . .
I hope the foregoing covers the main points, but I always welcome the chance to talk through any planning issues on the phone, so feel free to call me – if you leave a message on the website I can let you have my number.
With my best wishes,