If you're directing a barbershop chorus, it's important to stay on top of the repertoire. There are plenty of considerations:
- Variety: You need to keep your members and audiences engaged with diverse songs and arrangements
- Freshness: New songs keep things fresh and provide opportunities to learn and apply new skills
- Maintenance: Limiting the maintenance burden of your repertoire will ensure no songs get left behind, and that you're not over-stretching your members
- Communication: Your members need to know what the repertoire looks like, and new members need to know which songs to learn first
Over time I've attempted to tackle all these problems, and have landed on a system which I think is working for now!
Find a storage method
It starts with creating a database of your songs, in whatever medium you like! Some ideas:
- Notion (here is our repertoire in Notion; feel free to steal it using the Duplicate button!)
- Your chorus's member website, if it supports what you need
- Post-it notes for the analog enthusiasts
- A Google Doc
Whatever you use, it needs to be flexible enough to allow you to add your own properties and data to each song. I love using Notion because it's shareable and collaborative, and allows you to structure the data in whatever way you like. You can also create multiple views to visualise your repertoire in different ways.
What to record about each song
The very least you need is the title of the song. You could also choose to store some additional data about the song, like arranger and composer. There are also some useful pieces of information which might help you keep things more organised.
You could tag or categorise each song according to what sort of song it is, or how it fits into your repertoire. Some example tags/categories include:
- Musical theatre
- Contest repertoire
Keeping track of this will help you achieve a good balance and variety in your repertoire. It's important for both your audience and your members that you have a diverse repertoire with different kinds of music.
This also makes it easier to spot where you might have gaps in your repertoire, which narrows down your options when looking for new music.
It can also show you opportunities to build a set around a theme. For example, we noticed that we have a lot of Queen songs in our repertoire, so we created a "Queen" tag to keep track of them, so that one day we might be able to do a concert set based around Queen music.
Level of maintenance
Some songs require more ongoing maintenance than others. Songs which are harder to learn or sing might require you to work on them more frequently than songs which are simpler.
We split songs into High, Medium, and Low Maintenance categories. This helps us ensure that we have the right balance of songs in our active repertoire. Most of our songs are Medium maintenance, with a couple of High maintenance songs to stretch ourselves, and some Low maintenance songs to keep in our back pocket for longer performances, or to provide a bit of respite during rehearsals.
Date of introduction
Keeping track of when a song was added to the repertoire will ensure that you're not keeping music around for too long. It's important to keep things fresh!
This system really comes into its own when you apply the Statuses to each song. This tells you what stage each song is at, allowing you to continuously review and plan your repertoire. Our main statuses are:
- In review: The music team is currently looking into this song to see whether it will work for the chorus. If we decide against a song, we simply delete it.
- Not started: The music team has agreed to add the song to the repertoire, but we haven't started working on it yet
- Learning: The learning materials have been shared with the chorus and we are working towards getting it performance-ready
- Performance-ready: The chorus is ready to perform this song
- Back-burner: The song has been removed from the main repertoire, but hasn't been fully retired yet. It may be used only occasionally, or you might be planning to return it to the full repertoire in future.
- Revisiting: The song has been performed in the past but you are currently revisiting it as it's not ready for performance at the moment
- Retired: The song has been retired from the repertoire and won't be returning
In addition to these statuses, which provide our core repertoire workflow, we have added an additional "Special Occasions" status where things like Christmas music can live. This status is for music which fits outside of our standard repertoire process.
To help visualise this, here's the process we follow as a flowchart:
It's important to ensure that you conduct regular reviews of your repertoire. Our music team meets monthly and we regularly include a repertoire review on our agenda.
Here are some suggested steps for your repertoire review:
- Ensure the status of each song is up-to-date. For example, if you've recently finished learning a song you might need to move it to Performance-Ready
- Reviewing the maintenance burden of your Performance Ready/Back Burner lists to see if you need to cut it down by retiring some music (or learning something new if there's room for more!)
- Reviewing your Back-Burner to see if there are any songs you would like to revisit
- Check in on the progress of each song in the Learning and Revisiting lists
- Discussing the songs on your "In review" list to see if you want to add them to the repertoire (if so, move them to "Not started", otherwise delete them)
- If you have an empty "Not started" list, it's probably time to start fielding some ideas for new additions to the repertoire
After each meeting, if any changes have been made we ensure the members are aware. If your system allows you could even share a read-only version of your repertoire tracker with them, so they see exactly what you see.
Make it yours
The system we use works great for us, but you might have other requirements which need to be incorporated.
A common requirement is for each member to pass an assessment on each song, so you could add that into your tracking system too if needed. Something I'm planning to add in future is a way for new members to see which songs they should learn first.
The important thing to remember is that the system should be set up to serve you, not hold you back! If you find the system is resisting your wishes, you might need to change something about how it works. I designed this system around how we were already thinking about repertoire, and it's massively helped us to keep track of things, and see where we might need to make changes. It's also constantly evolving to suit our changing requirements.