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Choral seating standards

We all know that choral singers need space to sing in – to hold their folder conveniently, and to be able to breathe properly without elbows digging into ribs. Sometimes that’s simply not possible to provide, and we all have to do the best we can - in the UK that often means cramped medieval churches or Victorian village halls.
But what if it’s a new concert hall stage being designed from scratch or being re-furbished?

Has anyone any experience of the sort of minimum widths that should be specified to designers and architects for choral seating? These could either be official recommendations (from standards bodies or from grant-giving arts organisations) – or research-based “best practice”.

Any pointers welcomed.
on June 28, 2015 1:38pm
Well, Peter - for reference, our music folder "The Black Folder" opens to about 18.5" wide in concert configuration and yes, the base strap is supposed to be attached to hold all folders at a uniform angle looking very good in performance.  I often see larger symphonic choirs choosing the standard version of that folder in which the base strap is permanently fixed on both sides, so singers can't open the folder fully flat to budge into their neighbour's space and crowd them at somewhere between 21-22" when opened flat.  We also have a slightly smaller folder that opens to about 17" wide in concert configuration yet still holds standard score sizes inlucing A4 and US Letter, and that helps when you can't avoid being bunched up like sardines. We've sent out over 400,000 choral music folders across the globe now so they're getting known and appreciated and maybe even becoming a bit of a standard.
That said, with my arms at my sides I'm about 24" wide and not unusually large for a 6'2" person, and that's more any of those dimensions. You don't want to force people to stand at an angle just to fit in a space, or be squishing shoulders continuously when seated. I'd hope for 25-30"? That's my opinion. 
What's just as important is the row-to-row depth, as you are holding up a folder to have a good sightline to your conductor, and no-one likes to have to stagger folders next to someone's head so they could bump them. That requires significantly more depth than risers or construction for a choir that only performs from memory. Don't skip that important dimension!
on June 29, 2015 6:33am
Dear Peter,
My standard of space between singers is one arm's length from singer A, touching the shoulder of singer B. I create U shaped formations using this guide. The number of singers in a choir will vary the number of rows - I have a choir of about 60-65 singers - depending upon the shape/size/width/depth of the stage we will sing in 3 or 4, even 5 rows. I suggest taking chairs and risers for the moment out of the equation - I am assuming for concerts that your choir stands. If risers are used they normally create a C formation space.
I perfer a U space so that all singers can hear well. Risers of course are helpful for sight lines; often risers are sturdy enough to be able to detach the connection points, allowing "pies" to develop between riser sections, allowing the singers to stand in more of a U shape rather than a C shape. One important elements is that my choirs sing in mixed positions: S T A B for example. In typical choirs one runs out of tenors first and then basses - so the back row(s) become trios and/or duets.
I hope this is helpful.
Jim Marvin
on June 29, 2015 9:37am
Mr. Bates, I have sold risers for 35 years.  Typically, risers for standing singers are 18" deep, risers for seated singers are 36" deep, (and risers for seated instrumentalists are 48" deep.)  There are variables to consider.  For instance, if standing singers memorize the music, they can often stand quite close together - 18"w for each can work.  More space is needed for standing singers using choral folders.  Seated singers can be spaced as close as 20", but the size of the chairs is important too.
Also, in our modern world, people are bigger and desire more comfort and personal space, so larger chairs and less crowding is often desirable.  I suspect the architect will have some good ideas on this subject. 
Please visit and take a look at the risers, stages, chairs, and folders we offer.  Perhaps doing so will give you an idea of the sizes of the equipment normally found onstage.
John Avila,
Valiant Music Supply, Inc.
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