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.