The delicate subject of selecting singers

I wasn't a sporty kid. PE lessons filled me with dread, not least because of the tortuous process of being picked for teams. I wasn't usually the absolute last pick, but I was close. I still remember how it felt, all these years later.

For the first time in my choir's short life, I've had to select singers for a performance. We've been asked to provide a backing choir for quite a prestigious gig, but they can only take twenty singers. Our usual performing strength is about thirty. With some people unavailable for extra rehearsals or the performance itself, about twenty-six were keen to take part.

I've invited soloists from among the choir's ranks in the past. We've also put together smaller ensembles to balance a concert programme, but those groups were always self-selecting. In this case, I was faced with the task of excluding only a small number of singers, with the majority being included. I suppose that in a more professional setting, such selection isn't a problem. You pick who you want, and those who don't make the cut either try again next time, or call it a day and do something else. But for my amateur choir, it really didn't feel like a pleasant thing to do.

I wrestled with this conundrum for a while. Obviously, I know my choir and the voices in it, and consequently I know that there are some voices that I would prefer in the mix and some that I wouldn't be heartbroken to leave out. However, I also had to bear in mind that we are a team. We're used to working as a team and not used to any hierarchy in the choir. If I blundered this process, I could create a lot of bad feeling. I would, effectively, be labelling a few singers as the least competent in the choir. I was absolutely not prepared to do that.  Selecting a small number from a large group would be one thing. Selecting a majority and excluding a few would be demoralising.

On the other hand, I couldn't risk choosing the singers entirely by pot luck. There are a couple of really confident and experienced singers in each part who always perform well and (no small thing, this) look engaged and lively on the platform. I didn't want to risk my very best singers being excluded by chance.

Of course, I could have selected who I wanted, then told the choir it was all pot luck. It would have been a white lie to protect people's feelings, but I suspect that my choir, being a bright bunch, would have seen right through that. And, of course, I really don't want to fib to my choir, even for the kindest reasons. I always want to act with integrity, even (perhaps especially) in challenging circumstances.

In the end, I decided to go for a selection process somewhere in the middle. I selected a few strong, confident singers who I knew had to be in the mix. Then I picked the rest of the names out of a hat. I was able to tell the choir truthfully that the people who were not selected were excluded completely by chance. I didn't tell them who made the first cut and who was in the hat. I'm sure the people who didn't get selected were disappointed, but I hope that they don't feel that their exclusion is any reflection on their abilities.

It's been a real challenge to navigate this process, and I won't be accepting engagements that require selection very often, because it would fundamentally change the dynamic of the choir, but I think I got it about right, and I'm glad I took the time to think it through before acting.
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3 comments

Victoria Hopkins Staff

Thanks Sara.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Kate. I think this is a really good example of a choir ethos in practice. You've given your choir very clear information about what's expected of them and what they can expect from the choir. It won't be for everyone, but who enjoy the culture you've created will thrive on it.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Yvonne. Thanks for your kind words, and good luck with the choir.
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