Choir leaders – here’s what you DON’T need to do

Life is so busy and the internet is so cluttered. It can sometimes feel that we’re being overwhelmed with messages about what we should think, do, wear, have and say. And that can extend to our roles as choir leaders as well. Of course we want our singers to have a great time in our choirs and for our rehearsals and performances to be inspiring, but sometimes it can feel that there are too many competing opinions and preferences. We just don’t know which way to jump.

Here at Total Choir Resources, we always try to be a trusted friend to our community of choir leaders. One of the things that we can do to help you is to be honest about what we’ve tried that hasn’t worked or that turned out not to be so important. So here is my list of the stuff that you might think is important or essential, but that turns out to be eminently ignorable!

You don’t need to be an ‘expert’

If you’ve been part of Total Choir Resources for a while, you’ll probably have noticed that we never describe ourselves as ‘experts’. We’re just working choir leaders who have learned a lot along the way and want to share our knowledge and experience with others. For a lot of new and inexperienced choir leaders, we’re a trusted voice because we’re simply further along a journey that they’re embarking on.

I’ll be honest with you – when we started Total Choir Resources, I was half-expecting to be shot down in flames by every ‘expert’ out there (imposter syndrome – we’ve talked about this before) because I hadn’t been to music college and I didn’t have a degree or a diploma in conducting. You know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. People who like our stuff stick around – those who don’t go elsewhere.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from a fifteen year career in the legal profession and a three year career as a choir leader is that it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’. That doesn’t mean that learning and training aren’t valuable, but it’s worth remembering that someone will always be better qualified and more experienced than you, and you can’t live under a rock because of it.

You don’t need to please everyone

It’s impossible to please everyone in your choir. Once you accept that, things get a lot easier. I’ll give you a real-life example. A while ago, a choir member spoke to me after rehearsal and said that although he was very much enjoying the repertoire we were working on, he didn’t find it particularly challenging and was hoping that we’d be working on something a little more technically demanding later in the year. The same day, during a break in rehearsal, another choir member had said to me that she was finding the amount of learning necessary to be prepared for rehearsals quite difficult and was hoping that we’d be easing back later in the year.

However I plan the latter part of my choir’s year, it’s pretty clear that one of those people is likely to be disappointed. They may even question whether they want to continue with the choir. A couple of years ago, that would have filled me with horror. Now, I accept that not everyone in my wonderful choir will be happy with everything. Someone might detest a particular piece. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sing it. I listen to my choir members and I value their opinions, but when I make decisions, I do it for the whole choir.

You don’t need to be perfect

As an Olympic-standard worrier and perfectionist-in-recovery, I can tell you, hand on heart, that worrying about doing things just right gets you nowhere. You bounce off the walls for a while, drink too much coffee, procrastinate like crazy and end up in exactly the same place, only with less time on your hands.

So whether you’re choosing repertoire, planning rehearsals, organising performances, dealing with queries or complaints, or doing anything else for your choir, try to let go a bit. You can’t control everything. Pick something you can control and focus on doing a good enough job with that. Good enough, not perfect.

Comments on Choir leaders – here’s what you DON’T need to do

  1. Avatar CROSS says:

    I taught a general music class for 13 years and now choir for 3 years and I’ve caught myself trying to please all the choir members (12 year olds) AND their parents. As I start another school year, I remind myself how tired I was all last year. You wear yourself out VERY fast if you are always worrying about everyone. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Thanks for the comment. It must be doubling challenging to deal with kids choirs. I’m quite glad mine are all grown-ups!

  2. Avatar Beatrice says:

    So true! I’ve been through this so many times and I learned to understand that everyone is different and everyone is on a different musical or singing journey and everyone will want different experiences which is OK. As you rightly said, people who like it will stick around and the others go elsewhere – which is fine, like this everyone will be happy:-)

    All the best for the summer!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      That’s a great outlook Beatrice. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Avatar Juanita says:

    Thanks Victoria. Being only very new to this I am on a huge learning curve and a couple of things came up yesterday at our practice that I wasn’t expecting and it did upset me a bit. So it was great to read this article and the contributing comment above from Megan to help ground me about this issue – you certainly can’t please everyone all of the time so I realise I do have to consider myself and the best interest of the choir as a whole. I do find myself saying to my choir often that I am still learning to be a choir leader and I think they r ok with that so far! Thanks again for your invaluable support! Cheers Juanita

  4. Avatar Megan says:

    Great article! As someone who also has no actual qualifications in conducting, but has been doing it for four years I can totally relate to this..and now I have not one but two new (to me) choirs I am having to keep a real lid on the worrying! I also listen to my choirs…and I told that to one of the new ones today…but that doesn’t mean I’ll be changing everything for the few…years ago while teaching linedancing I realised that if you change things because of the vocal minority…you gradually lose the silent majority…they won’t tell you…they’ll just go. Try and pick stuff that the majority like…and if the majority hate it once youve worked on it…drop it ( not til you’ve had a good go of it though…sometimes the song they hate most becomes one of the favourites!)If a vocsl minority hate it…quietly let them know that you’ll be doing it as most like it…they can choose to put up with it as its just one song, or if its really unacceptable maybe look round for another choir?
    I have even given people the choice not to sing when their pet hate comes on…but if it becomes a repertoire standard if they want to be involved in performance they need to sing it and sing with enthusiasm! :-)

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Lots of great points there. Thanks Megan.

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