Being a choir leader is an incredibly fulfilling and satisfying job, but it’s also a challenge. You need a wide range of skills, from basic admin to diplomacy, and you take on a huge amount of responsibility for the enjoyment and well-being of the group you lead. This can be seriously daunting for the novice choir leader and it’s vital to get support and encouragement where you can. In this article, I’m going to focus on using contacts and networking to get a choir off the ground, but most of the points I raise are equally valid if you’re starting out as a choir leader with an existing choir, or even if you started out long ago.
Contact all your musical friends
Whether your musical career to date has been amateur or professional, instrumental or vocal, you’ve probably made many, many contacts who can be helpful to you in your role as a choir leader (and who you, in turn, can help – let’s not be selfish here!). You might not even think of them as ‘contacts’, but it’s amazing how one connection leads to another. You might have a singer friend who turns out to play in a band that would be perfect to accompany your new community choir for their first gig. You might have a friend who’s married to a composer who’s just dying to try out some new repertoire on a chamber choir.
Your network doesn’t need to begin and end with musical people. If you work, or have worked, for a large company, perhaps there might a sponsorship opportunity there. A friend in web design might be prepared to help you set up your website at ‘mates rates’ plus a bit of publicity. Think broadly about who you know, and who they know (remember six degrees of separation?). A great way to explore this idea is to sit down with a large piece of paper and draw a spider diagram of your friends, relatives and colleagues, together with the skills and connections that could have a positive impact on your choir project now or in the future.
If you’re immediately worried that this is a rather mercenary way to look at the world, don’t. You’re not looking to exploit or use anyone. You’re looking for ways that you can create mutual benefits.
Visit other choirs
If you’re lucky enough to have sung in choirs yourself, perhaps of different sizes and standards, you’ll already know how much you can learn from working with other choir leaders. If you’re a singer, seize every chance to get out there and sing for other conductors and choirs leaders, whether it’s in performance or workshop situations. You’ll learn a ton about how to lead choirs (and you may learn a bit about how not to do it too!). If you have contacts who are leading choirs outside your local area, why not ask if you can sit in on a rehearsal? If you’re new to choir-leading, you’ll get invaluable tips about relating to a group, giving clear direction, pacing a rehearsal and communicating music to singers.
Find a mentor or confidant
Choir leaders usually work alone. They might liaise with a committee and be part of a larger organisation, but the act of getting up in front of a choir and waving your arms around is one that you do alone. For that reason, you’ll need at least one person to whom you can look for guidance and support, or who is willing to be a sounding-board for your ideas. Ideally, it should be someone who understands your role as a choir leader, perhaps another conductor, singer or musician. The important point is that this person cannot be someone from within the choir. You need to be able to speak candidly about the challenges you face without fear of causing offence or starting rumours. Sometimes, you might just need a good moan!
Find a forum
Another great way to get support, encouragement and information is to join a forum, eg a Facebook or LinkedIn group, specifically for choir leaders like our popular Total Choir Resources Mastermind Facebook group. And, of course, you can always talk to us here directly at Total Choir Resources. We’ll always help out if we can.
Act with integrity
It hardly needs saying, but when you’re networking and dealing with contacts, it’s imperative to act with integrity, always. Whether you’re leading a choir as your job, as a teacher, as part of a church or for any other reason, it’s always about people. How you treat those people defines you as a choir leader and as a person.
Next time in our “How to be a choir leader” series, we’ll be looking at the subject of budgeting, essential if you want to keep your financial nose above water. We’ll be sharing some great tips and tools to keep your choir’s financial ship afloat.