It always amazes people when I tell them that I get pretty bad stage fright. I’ve gotten much better as the years have gone by, but I’m still within its mighty grips hours before I have to perform.
It surprises people for two reasons. One: I’m a pretty confident person. Even if you didn’t know I was musically inclined, a lot of people have described me as solid in my personality. Two: I do have a musical/artistic history. I’ve been performing since I was three. There is no reason I shouldn’t be able to get up on that stage and treat it like my personal playground.
To that: No. Hell no. Stages are scary and I haven’t met a artist or performer who loves them. Maybe they love how they feel performing or how a space can come alive between an audience and the performer, but no one loves a stage. They can break people. They’ve broken me.
Unfortunately, if you are a part of a performing group there is, and always will be, a stage. It may not be a literal stage every time, but a spot on the sidewalk is as much a stage as Carnegie Hall.
And yet, those six minutes on stage can sustain your passion for years. There’s an enigmatic pull to that performing space that just makes you feel you can bare your soul. Six minutes to put yourself out there for all the world to see. What people rarely see beyond the stage is the amount of work and time and sanity it took just to have those six minutes. I can’t blame people who don’t understand what it took just to get to the stage. It’s hard to visualize, or relate to, unless you’ve done it yourself.
Each performance is different too. The atmosphere of the performing space, the audience, or the general feeling within a performing group can shift and change in a second. The key to a good performance is the preparation which also requires a great deal of perseverance and will. After spending over a year rehearsing every Monday and even some weekends in rehearsal or performing in shows, events, and fundraisers the moments leading to those six minutes can be daunting.
Rehearsals: It goes beyond Monday nights. Mondays are the core of rehearsal time. It’s always set that every Monday is Choral-Aires day. Three hours devoted to learning, loving and driving ourselves crazy singing barbershop. Every rehearsal is important not only for the sake of learning and practicing the music, but the rapid changes made from week to week. One Monday it could be a change in a single note. Another Monday, the entire Tag (the ending phrase in a barbershop song) could be rewritten.
If that wasn’t enough, our chorus also invites Guest Directors from other choruses to weekend coaching sessions (think seminars for singers). These coaching sessions, though dispersed throughout the year, can last entire weekends (Friday to Sunday) and can breathe new life into a song a chorus has been preparing for competition. Songs we may have been performing for over a year are suddenly broken down and reformed to enhance the sound and performance of the chorus. There have been weekend coaching sessions I’ve missed and have come back to completely new song. It can be challenging, but enlightening because you can hear how the chorus has changed with it for the better. Watching a song grow along with a chorus – it’s what makes barbershop and music in general so diverting.
Members of the chorus go out of their way to record rehearsals providing all members with audio or video recording to practice to throughout the rest of the week, every week. My co-workers always knew when we got a new song or changed something because I’d sing it over and over throughout the day and into the week.
It’s not just the music that has to be cultivated, but choreography and general persona for a song as well. There have been countless early rehearsals and time spent learning different moves to further emulate a character from the song that we’re singing. Not everyone is naturally coordinated or theatrical and this can create quite the challenge. If that wasn’t enough, learning choreography on risers with limited space while expressing to the audience the ease and persona of the song, (eat your heart out Broadway) is a whole other animal. Having rehearsed all my life in choirs where movement of any kind if discouraged, finding natural movement and facial expressions take time and practice. Combining both song and physical movement can make or break a song. It either works or it doesn’t.
Performance Attire: I’m not a believer in uniforms, but there is something to be said about performance attire in a group. There isn’t a rule to be followed in terms of competition, but there is something to be said about unity. There have been plenty of my past performances in different groups where there were few, if any guidelines of dress to follow. I remember one performance where the majority of the performers were in business casual, but some showed in jeans and a t-shirt and this was for a private concert!
Continuity within a large group of performers handles two large problems: unity and potential distractions. With our confidence boosting attire sporting sequins, glitter and bright colors we not only show who we are as a chorus, but also prevent attention being diverted from what is important: THE MUSIC! At the end of the day, it’s the music we want people to hear, and so being mindful of what is worn on stage is a preparation all in its own. Picking out a costume that all members wear for the stage may seem easy, but think about it. You’ve got women of all ages, shapes and sizes and you must provide something that is both eye catching, comfortable and flatters everyone. Oy Vey.
Women within the chorus who work in the costume committee fit, adjust and manage all the costumes throughout the year. They’re preparing for performances two months in advance by having different parts of the chorus come early to rehearsal to make sure everyone is prepared. We have over 80 members – keep track of that!
Performance attire also includes makeup, my mortal enemy. Yes, I’m a performer in all senses of the word. That doesn’t mean I have to like makeup. Stage lights are harsh. When I say harsh, I don’t mean that it hurts. It just makes you look like a zombie. Stage lights are strong and can wash out all color or fine details. Using stage makeup counteracts these effects. Again, the idea of makeup used is to create a unit look. The chorus makeup committee provides options to what makeup will allow both the performer to be seen under the high-powered lights as well as share in the unity of the chorus.
If you’ve ever been involved in theater, stage makeup is exaggerated to help define facial features and they tend to look eccentric when seen up close. It can feel silly at first. I remember driving to one of my first performances. I kept getting weird looks from people stopped next to me and I couldn’t figure out why until I remembered I looked like an Oompa Loompa with garish red lips and heavily outlined, big-lashed eyes. After a while I just started smiling at them and waving. Confidence booster. It takes the work of a makeup team to not only select makeup that can be worn by all members, but also provide tutorials on how to apply it as well as assist if you need help (ME). Let me tell you – false eyelashes have a learning curve.
The overall appearance of any barbershop chorus is meticulous. That means beyond the costume and makeup getting the right jewelry, nails and hairdo ready for performance is important too. As you might have guessed, there’s a team standing by before every performance to ensure that every member performing is stage ready.
Events/Fundraisers/Committees: We’re not made of money. We’re a nonprofit. Competition, costumes and any event we want to participate in requires money, which means we have to work for it. Even the space in which we practice requires some business finagling. There are countless committees that organize events and fundraisers (you can check out our upcoming fundraisers and events at the Choral-Aire Events page https://choral-aires.com/events), that spend countless hours all year long outside of rehearsals to provide assistance to members while also entreating new members to join. The business side of a barbershop chorus is rarely seen, but it is always appreciated. I admit that I’m still learning about all the gears that turn the Choral-Aires Chorus management, but from what I have encountered so far it’s dizzying.
Through all of this year round preparation, there’s still something that drives our chorus towards competition: Community. For two weeks of the year, competition is the highlight of the barbershop life, but the rest of the year is dedicated to the community dynamic of the chorus.
The Choral-Aires Chorus is dedicated to supporting its members. There’s always a tension within the chorus during rehearsals, but it’s a positive one. The continual push to perform better and to compete is balanced by the long history of the joy of singing with the women surrounding you. Not everyone in our chorus is competitive and finds rehearsals to be a balm to the soul after a long week. I’ve noticed after my four years within the chorus how empowered I feel as a woman. As I’ve gotten to know different members through the years, I’m continually astonished by what they have accomplished throughout their life. I’m amazed at their commitment to this “hobby” by not only the time they have sacrificed to rehearsals and events, but ensuring that other members are being supported too. This colors how a chorus approaches the stage.
As we share the stage in our upcoming Regional Competition, I know that I will feel the effects of my stage anxiety. I’ll be calmly sitting waiting to step into the spotlight while internally screaming. But I know the minute that I step into that high beam and take my place on the risers, I’ll feel the familiar energy of the chorus and know that I have prepared for this moment. I’ll give it everything I got.
Do you have a way specific was that you like to prepare for a stressful situation like performing? Comment below – Tell us the Tale!