Magic Choral Trick #234 The Front Row
Whether we like it or not, much of the audience’s visual focus will be on the front row – even when your chorus uses risers.
Here are some things to consider when deciding who will stand there.
Must be able to blend very well with the singers beside and behind them. So either these are experienced choral singers, or singers with gentle, less focused voices. With this latter type of singer, we need to keep in mind that as their vocal production improves, and they are singing further forward, they may need to be shifted until they hone their blending skills. A very focused voice in the front row of an amateur group will almost always pop out of the texture.
In every choir we have people who’s natural inclination is to lead – and though it’s not an optimal situation, sometimes because of lack of rehearsal time, people do need to be led. Natural born leaders should not be in the front row where they will undoubtedly hear things that they’ll want to fix by singing louder, or slightly ahead of the beat. When this happens, synchronization goes out the window.
Since these are the most watched singers in the group it is essential that they are willing to agree on the same intensity and types of facial expressions. We’ve all experienced performances in which, as audience members, our attention was riveted on the person doing absolutely nothing with their face. Or conversely, in a row of deadpan delivery – watching the only active face.
If the intention is comedic, fine – but in my experience, many front row people have no idea how carefully they’re being scrutinized.
Any obviously different presentation style will take the audience’s attention away from the intended performance experience. The communication of the musical expression will be lost because people’s minds will be wondering about all the stories that could explain why one person’s face is doing something so radically different from everyone else’s.
In a Barbershop chorus, it’s essential that the front row people be able to move well – even if the choreography doesn’t entail actual dancing. There needs to be physical grace and confidence in every move.
When the chorus uses risers, height is not quite such a big deal, as long as the group is very careful about spacing, and creating windows. However, sometimes, no matter how graceful, confident, sensitive to synchronization, expressive or fabulous at blending the person is, their height makes it necessary to place them further back in the chorus.
It was suggested to me recently that my women’s chorus start having auditions for the front row. This seemed like a reasonable idea until I began to think about all of the chorus members who are not really eligible because of the above factors.