Sometimes it’s not easy leading a choir. It can feel like the moment you’ve finished one rehearsal, the next one rolls around. The meticulous preparation you’d planned hasn’t happened. Again.
In this post, I’ll set out a few habits you can cultivate to avoid that sinking feeling, get on top of the work involved in leading your choir and get more enjoyment out of your role.
Learn to say no
Whether your choir is amateur, charitable or professional, offers of engagements are very hard to turn down, but you’re not doing yourself or your singers any favours if you end up with a glut of events in your calendar.
This is particularly the case if a series of events requires very different repertoire. It is a difficult balance to strike. You want to challenge your choir and give them new and interesting music to learn.
You don’t want such a burden of new learning that your singers start to feel that being part of the choir is a chore.
So even if a proposal seems too good to pass up, think carefully about the demands that it will place on you and your singers. Will it bring out the best in you, or will you be guaranteeing a mediocre performance?
Work little and often
Most choir leaders I know have ‘day jobs’ as well. Some are musicians, some are music teachers, others have jobs in non-musical fields. If that applies to you, it’s unlikely that you have long, uninterrupted chunks of time to work on the management of your choir.
If, like me, you are a bit of a perfectionist, this can lead to major procrastination.
I have always been plagued by the mindset that unless I can finish a task to perfection, I may as well postpone starting it.
This has led me, over the years, to not practise the piano, not study for exams (my colour-coded revision timetables were gorgeous, though), not prepare for important meetings and (still) not clean my house.
What I’ve realised, though, is that the available time for accomplishing a task from start to finish to perfection never comes. So you may as well make a start.
As an arch-procrastinator, I have to make bargains with myself. I put a timer on my phone and focus on one task, be it score preparation or performance planning, for ten or twenty minutes.
It’s amazing how much I can get done in that short burst of work.
You are, no doubt, an ace at what you do. Your singers worship the very ground you walk upon. Audiences rise to their feet as one, lauding you to the rooftops.
We all like to think we are indispensable, but the sad fact is, we’re not. Much of what we do could be done by others.
A colleague in the legal profession (my former calling) once told me that as a senior person in my organisation, ‘you should only do what only you can do’. It’s sound advice.
If you think through all the things you do for your choir, how many of those tasks can only be done by you?
Let’s assume that, like me, you both manage and conduct your choir. There are things that only I can do, for example prepare a piece to conduct, but there are lots of other tasks which, if I choose to, I can delegate: taking the register, distributing scores, fundraising, organising social events etc.
Handing off some activities might also help promote a sense of cohesion and ownership within the choir.
In our internet-based world, we are, more and more, able to automate repeated tasks.
Communication with your choir members, in particular, is an area where there are numerous free tools available to save you time and help you avoid mistakes and oversights.
You could set up a Facebook group to communicate with your singers and to keep track of availability for performances and events, or share an online calendar so that your choir has an always-updated rehearsal and performance schedule.
You could send a weekly email newsletter to keep everyone up to date, or have a members-only area on your website where your choir can access rehearsal tracks.
This way your choir will know where to go to get the information they need without contacting you directly saving you and them time and making you look super-organised and professional.