It’s so easy to play it safe. When I became a choir leader, I was completely at sea for a while. I felt that I knew nothing about conducting, choosing repertoire, rehearsing and performing. But I muddled through and gradually accumulated the skills I needed to do a good job (or an adequate one – I’m not sure I’ll ever feel that I do a good job!).
That position of relative safety is a dangerous one. It would be so easy to stop innovating, stop pushing myself to try new things and stick to what I know. Experimenting with new ideas brings with it the possibility of failure and the discomfort of uncertainty. How can we overcome our fears to keep developing as choir leaders, and to keep our choirs fresh and vibrant? Here are some tips for getting out of your comfort zone.
Be aware that you have a comfort zone
Take a quick ‘inventory’ of yourself as a choir leader. Can you identify things that you used to find scary, but that you now tackle with ease? Perhaps it’s speaking with authority to your choir, accepting applause, selecting music. How did it feel when you weren’t comfortable with those things? What would have happened if you’d never taken the risk of doing them, regardless of your fear? Can you also identify things that you shy away from because they seem scary now?
Think about the worst cast scenario
We can let ourselves be held back by unnamed fears that seem catastrophic, but wouldn’t be in reality. For example, there might be a piece of music that I’d love to perform with my choir, but I’m worried that it’s a bit tricky and demanding, so I shy away and choose something ‘safer’. What do I really fear in that scenario? In my mind, the risk of failure in enormous, but in reality the very worst outcome would be that the piece wasn’t ready to perform and we had to cancel a concert. That would be bad – no one wants to let down an audience or their choir – but it wouldn’t be catastrophic. It would certainly be a risk worth taking because the potential benefit of learning and performing a new and exciting piece of music is huge.
It can really help to name your fear and see it for what it really is, and not what your imagination has turned it into.
Control the things you can, let go of the things you can’t
In sport, it’s a common approach to focus on the controllable elements of the game, not the outcome. So if you’re bowling a cricket ball, you think about your run-up, how you hold and release the ball, not what the batsman’s going to do with it at the other end of the wicket. We can apply the same principles to leading our choirs. We can control our knowledge of the music, our rehearsal planning, our posture and demeanour when we stand up to lead our choirs. We can’t, ultimately, control how our choir members feel or how much an audience enjoys a performance. If we fixate on those outcomes, we’ll be less likely to achieve our goals.
What would you do if you were invincible and could guarantee success? Could you do those things anyway?