I love leading my choir, but I’ve never liked having all my eggs in one basket. A while ago I led a workshop for a group of university students on basic presentation skills. I always enjoy such sessions as I feel that they’re so squarely aligned with my skills and strengths. My choral conducting training helps me to understand and explain how our voices work and how we can project a confident sound without strain. My legal career, which I gave up a few years ago, taught me advocacy, negotiation and how to formulate an argument.
This got me thinking about the skills that choir leaders develop and the other areas of life and work that to which those skills can be applied. Perhaps you’re missing out on some hidden opportunities.
Conductors are, of course, in a leadership role. Whatever our style of conducting and managing a choir, we are in a position of authority and we are directing the proceedings. When you’ve been doing that for a while, you start to take for granted the ability to get up in front of a group of people and take the lead, but it’s not a common skill. Most people are terrified of being thrust into the limelight. The ability, and willingness, to take charge confidently is one that lends itself to many walks of life. Community groups, local political organisations and charities are often crying out for people who are willing to step up.
Your choir members look to you for support and encouragement as they develop their singing and performance skills. You are probably bombarded with questions at rehearsals and you do your best to answer them helpfully. You reassure your choir when things don’t go exactly as they hoped or expected. You encourage them to embrace new challenges and reach new goals. Mentoring skills can be hugely valuable to people who lack the confidence to embark on a significant project without support. Perhaps a local business network or college would be keen to put your mentoring skills to good use, perhaps with budding musicians or with anyone planning a career change.
When we teach new music to our choirs, we take them from zero knowledge to competence in a structured way. We plan the best approach to introduce the piece; we lead our singers through the learning process and respond to problems along the way. Of course, many choir leaders teach outside the choral setting, whether in workshops or in private lessons, but how about teaching something completely different? Adult literacy? IT for older people who feel left behind by the digital age? Anything that you’re good at that other people would like to be good at!
Planning & Organising
We all know how much planning and organisation goes into running a choir. From the first ideas about a new season’s programme to the layout of a concert programme, every little detail has to be planned and executed. Not every choir leader does every job within the choir, but all choir leaders are involved in complex organisational roles. Project management is something that we don’t always realise we’re doing – most of the time we just think about the fact that we need to get things done. But when you consider how many individuals decisions go into staging even the most modest choral performance, you realise that choir leaders are often expert managers. Those skills can be used in any arena, but if you can find some spare time, local charities will certainly put you to good use.
There are dozens of other skills that choir leaders possess and use every day, but those four areas are the ones that spring to my mind as being the kind of “high-level” skills that can be transferred to many other projects and tasks.