How to deal with singers who don't show up to choir - Total Choir Resources

How to deal with singers who don’t show up to choir

Poor attendance from choir members can be extremely frustrating for a leader. You take the time to plan rehearsals and develop repertoire over time, then someone rocks up who’s missed all your carefully-honed tuition. But before you launch into a tirade about attendance and commitment, take a deep breath and consider a few things.

Is your perception correct?

Don’t confront anyone about poor attendance unless you’re sure that their attendance is, in fact, poor. If you take a register at rehearsals, check back over a few months to see if your perception is correct. The bigger the choir, the less likely it is that you will accurately remember whether someone’s been at rehearsals or not.

Also be careful that your assessment of someone’s attendance isn’t being coloured by your opinions about their capability. We all know singers who can breeze in at the last minute and perform brilliantly. Are you more forgiving of those people than the ones you know need more rehearsal? Check that you’re acting fairly.

Don’t go off at the deep end

Try to avoid rash or impulsive reactions to choir members’ behaviour. You might be having a bad day, and the sight of some empty chairs in the rehearsal room could be the last straw, but don’t fire off an email to the ‘guilty’ parties the minute you get home.

Choir members fail to show up for lots of reasons, of which ‘annoying the choir leader’ is almost certainly not one. It’s nice to be given notice of people’s holidays, and informed when they’re ill, but you can’t always expect it. People might be facing a genuine crisis at work or at home. Tread carefully – they may have serious problems.

Beware of making rules

It’s easy to think that if people aren’t showing up with the regularity that you would like, the best response is to lay down some rules. However, in my experience, that’s a minefield! The more rigid a structure you create, the more likely it is to come back and slap you in the face. Let’s say you make a rule that choir members must attend 75% of rehearsals for a particular performance. Firstly, can you clearly identify which rehearsals relate to that gig? If you’re working on more than one thing at once, it might be tricky. Does five minutes work on the repertoire at the end of another rehearsal count?

Missing early rehearsals is almost certainly less damaging to someone’s overall performance than missing sessions near to the event. Will you make different rules about different rehearsals? And what if that means that some of your best singers have to rule themselves out of a performance? Are you ready to have them ‘benched’ because they couldn’t reach the target attendance? All in all, I just don’t like attendance rules; it’s far too easy to shoot yourself in the foot.

If you have to say something …

… do it kindly, and preferably on the phone or in person, rather than by email. Ask the singer if they’re having any problems with getting to choir, because you’ve noticed that their attendance hasn’t been great. Listen to their reply. Is it something you can help with? Do they need to take a sabbatical while they deal with a family crisis?

Of course, it’s important that people value their place in the choir, particularly if you have a waiting list. Let all your singers know that everyone’s voice is important. Keep the lines of communication open and make your expectations clear. Ultimately, you might have to have a difficult conversation if someone really can’t give the choir the commitment it needs, but if you keep your cool, and handing things with kindness, you’ll still have a friend and supporter at the end of the process.

Victoria Hopkins

Victoria is a founder and director of Total Choir Resources. She leads Total Voice Chamber Choir in the UK.

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Kate Swadling - a few months ago Reply

This is a tricky situation if you have an important gig coming up. So when that happens I do make a rule that people have to attend for at least two out of the last four sessions. It’s not just about knowing the part it’s about blending and supporting the whole choir so that is something I’ll let them know.

    Christine Mulgrew
    Christine Mulgrew - a few months ago Reply

    Hi Kate, a great idea and so key in bringing the choir together ready for performance.

kate - a couple of years ago Reply

HI Victoria,

I used to get frustrated at poor attendance as it slowed progress of the chorus down. So, instead of feeling frustrated our teams decided to put a few things in place to help. 1) we decided that we would have such fun packed and challenging rehearsals that members didn’t want to miss a single night!! 2) We started videoing chorus rehearsals so that those who couldn’t attend for some reason could watch the video during the week so they wouldn’t be behind the following week and 3) we put assessments in place and to be able to sing out at a performance, members have to have got to a certain standard in those songs, thus putting the responsibility on them to keep up. I am a much happier chorus director now!!!!

    Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

    Thanks for sharing that Kate. You have a really interesting perspective. I like the idea of videoing rehearsals, although I do wonder if such a facility might make people more likely to think ‘it doesn’t matter if I skip rehearsal; I can always watch the video’!

      Kate - a couple of years ago Reply

      Thanks for your reply Victoria. A lot of the joy that comes from being part of a choir is the weekly gathering for friendship and to be part of the big sound. I feel this is a strong pull and find that most people that can come on the rehearsal night will make the effort for this reason, as it’s not quite the same watching the video from home! The video allows those who are away or ill to still stay connected. We haven’t found this tool to be at all detrimental in this respect. We are a highly competitive acapella chorus and are this years national champs. We are representing New Zealand in the international competitions next year in Las Vegas ( exciting!!). We will be attracting new members who have to travel long distances to sing with us and this tool will be extra useful for those members who may not be able to make weekly rehearsals. I’d highly recommend giving ” videoing rehearsals” a go!!!!

        Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

        Best of luck in your competition Kate.

Cynthia Kanywuiro - a couple of years ago Reply

A very helpful article Victoria, thank you!

I actually find it somewhat applicable to my situation though still struggling as to how to best handle it. I’m leading a Youth Choir and our very first rehearsal for an upcoming Mass is in two days’ time. The challenge is that many of the young people don’t feel as propelled to attend it; only 10 out of 30 persons have excitedly confirmed that they will come.

What to do to encourage the remaining 20 to give it a shot?

    Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

    Hi Cynthia. Do you have any idea why such a big proportion of the choir doesn’t want to perform at this event?

Martin Kaefer - a couple of years ago Reply

Thanks for this real life columne. “Don’t go off at the deep end” is really important to internalize, and I hope to remember it when the time has come…

    Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

    You’re welcome Martin.

Stella Moore - a couple of years ago Reply

I think it is easy to forget that being a MEMBER of a choir, even one who really enjoys it, does not necessarily involve the same level of commitment as the total involvement required of a choir leader. With 40 people’s complicated lives, families, illnesses etc., it is not surprising that attendance fluctuates. Yes, it is frustrating, as you rightly say, but I completely agree with you about ‘rules’….I have always resisted this and continually look for ways to help people catch up without making them feel bad about their absence, while maintaining a good pace for those who have been able to attend regularly. This is not always easy, but we are a community choir and I want people to feel that they CAN come back and join us without feeling uncomfotable. So I try to see it as MY problem and not theirs. I know that most people do appreciate the need to commit and they give as much time as they can…..And I think it helps if I can be accepting of their need to juggle their time and try not to feel critical!

    Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

    Very well said, Stella.

Lyn Young - a couple of years ago Reply

There were two words in your piece which I didn’t understand… “Waiting list”!! Wow I had never considered this might be going on.

My choir is a lovely lunchtime community choir, with a very floating attendance base. I have to be very chilled about who I get when and tailor choral repertoire and expectations accordingly. They all seem to have a good time, and we get to perform, so I feel I’m winning. ?

    Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

    Hi Lyn. I’m sure you’re doing a brilliant job and your singers really appreciate it. On the waiting list issue, I have one for my chamber choir because I don’t want to let the numbers of sops and altos get too big compared to the numbers of tenors and basses. Christine has a waiting list for her contemporary choir because of the physical constraints of the rehearsal space. Any more bodies and people will have to sit on each other’s laps!

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