The majority of people who sing in choirs do so for the fun and fulfilment of making music in a group. It’s a break from the rules and routines of day to day life. How can we strike a balance between requiring an appropriate standard of behaviour from our choirs and making sure that everyone’s still having an enjoyable time?
What type of choir do you run?
The type of choir you run will dictate to a great extent what is required of its members. For example, if you run a large, ‘pay-as-you-go’ community choir, you may not be too strict on their attendance. On the other hand, if you run a smaller chamber-style choir where you only have a few voices on each part, you have to be more active in getting people to commit to rehearsals and performances.
In the run-up to a performance, it can be crucial that members attend regularly so that they learn their parts, and the conductor’s interpretation of the music, thoroughly. Many choirs will have at least one compulsory rehearsal, particularly if they’re working with an orchestra. With my community choir I haven’t ever insisted on a level of attendance as it’s designed to be flexible for those with busy lives. However, I sometimes wonder if I am being fair to those who attend week after week preparing for a performance when I allow those coming along at the last minute to take part in that performance. It’s sometimes a tricky balance and I have found individuals really vary. Some will let you know whenever they can’t attend whilst others will just disappear then reappear some weeks later. Again perhaps this goes back to the type of choir you run and its size.
A potential problem of having compulsory attendance levels is how to police it. If you always work on a single performance before starting the next, it might not be too tricky. But what if you’re juggling more than one project? What counts as a rehearsal for a particular performance?
Behaviour in rehearsals
I hope you’ll agree that completely unruly behaviour in choirs is unusual as a level of common courtesy and manners already exists in individuals. However, it’s important to keep your choir in check as people can become excited about a song or seeing their friends which can lead to noise levels increasing. If you have problems with individuals who constantly interupt, this can be very annoying for other members. Rather than create tension in the room, it might be worth having a chat with them in the break or at the end and ask them if everything is okay and if there’s something you can help them with. If the problem persists, you may need to tell them the expectations you have of choir members and how they should conduct themselves to work alongside the others to be part of the choir. Always be respectful – you’re guiding, not telling off.
In our experience, most ‘bad’ behaviour isn’t deliberate. We had a problem a while ago with people saving seats in the rehearsal room for friends. Newer members felt excluded and weren’t sure where to sit. The people saving the seats weren’t deliberately trying to be hurtful or exclusive – they just wanted to sit with their friends. Usually, a lighthearted reminder to the whole choir will do the trick.
A written code?
Some choirs have written codes of conduct which all choir members are expected to adhere to. A written code has the advantage of being clear and, hopefully, unambiguous. A possible disadvantage is that people could feel patronised and resentful of the level of prescription. Whether you decide to have written rules or an unwritten understanding, a good rule of thumb is to only make rules when they are absolutely necessary.
Get the finances right
One area of running you choir where you may need to be more specific about rules is finance. If there is a weekly or termly rate, you need to state this, ideally in written form by way of letter or email. Members need to be clear about when they pay and how much. If they pay a quarterly or termly fee which is non-refundable, you need to make sure you have stated that. We often run workshops or activities for choir members for which they pay fees. These days, we always state our cancellation policy explicitly and take payment in advance. That way, we are able to make sure that our costs are covered and that all our events are financially viable.