How to keep going when you really need a break from your choir

Being a choir leader is fun, rewarding, challenging and fulfilling, but it’s also a job. And like any person with a job, I sometimes really need a break.

We’ve had a very busy year with our choirs so far, and we’ve also had some unforeseen challenges. There have been some really nasty bugs going around this winter, and they’ve hit Christine and me at different times (not to mention many of our choir members). We’ve had an exciting performance opportunity, but it has meant extra rehearsals at weekends.

So all in all, much as I love my choir, I’m getting pretty desperate for a break now, but I don’t have any holiday planned until late June. How can I continue to give my best as a choir leader when I feel like this? Here’s my take on the problem.

Preparation

One of the things that I notice when I’m getting a bit run-down and jaded is that I start to make mistakes, not usually great big ones, but little oversights and slip-ups. To avoid that, I rely on my preparation process for rehearsals and performances. If I stick to the system, I know I have things covered and I can take the best advantage I can of whatever time off I can muster. If you’re worrying all the time that things are getting missed or not getting done in time, you can’t enjoy your leisure time and re-charge your batteries when the opportunity arises.

If I have a reliable rehearsal plan in front of me, then even if I’m feeling a bit tired and scatty, I’ve got the information I need to run an effective rehearsal.

Empathy

Empathy is central to how we run our choirs and how we operate as choir leaders. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of our choir members and focus on what they want from the experience of being in our choirs.

When I’m approaching rehearsals feeling tired, and maybe a little hard-done-by, I try to remind myself of what my singers are experiencing. If I allow those feelings to affect the way I run my rehearsal, perhaps by being a bit short with the choir or by not really listening to what’s going on, I’m doing them a huge disservice. It’s not their fault that I’m tired and desperate for a holiday. They deserve my full attention and my best efforts.

And, let’s face it, choir rehearsals are usually only a couple of hours long. Even if I’m very out of sorts, I can slap on a smile and give it my best for that long!

Rewards

Most of us who run choirs do so on our own. No one’s going to congratulate us for doing a good job or make us employee of the month. Of course, it’s rewarding to see the choir enjoying themselves and to give a good, well-received performance, but consider giving yourself little rewards here and there just for showing up and doing okay, especially when you’re not in the mood. For me, those rewards also remind me to take some time for myself every now and then. I might decide that once I’ve got my rehearsal plan done for this week, I’ll give myself an hour in the garden with a good book, guilt free! Little, enjoyable things that remind you to pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that you’re doing a good job.

 

Comments on How to keep going when you really need a break from your choir

  1. Avatar Evelyn says:

    Choral work is team work, no matter where you sing – be it in a church or elsewhere. The choir leader and choir members need to support each other. This article reminds me of the importance of mutual understanding – how can we help our choir leaders do what they do, and ultimately all of us, as musicians, maintain a sense of joy throughout the tough times, the tired days, the cold weather, and all that life brings. A lot of us do it not for payment, but for the love of it, for the joy of singing and bringing some happiness into our world. It can also boil down to the little practical things – choir members committing to rehearsals, showing up on time, having your music prepared, being mentally and physically ready to sing and contribute. Choirs are small communities within themselves, so we need to lean on each other.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Evelyn,

      Thanks for your input on this topic, I like what you say about choirs being their own community. In fact everytime that I’ve felt tired or un-inspired, it’s always my lovely singers that snap me out of it when I see their faces and realise how much singing together in a choir means to them.

  2. Avatar Mary says:

    This is a challenge faced by every professional musician, not just choir leaders. Sometimes you just have to smile and perform no matter how you feel.

    But all choir leaders should also have a deputy: someone who is training to be a choir leader and who can take the occasional rehearsal.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Mary,

      I think having a deputy or stand in leader is a great idea although I know this is easier for some than others depending on the situation and size and location of the choir. Alternatively forming relationships with other local leaders can be a way of getting holiday cover and vice versa if they are willing to share this with you.

  3. Avatar Tracy Steward says:

    This is so good to read as sometimes the guilt of not ‘feeling’ it really bothers me. I started my community choir 4 years ago, not anticipating what it would mean to my members ( and not expecting an average of 60 singers!) and feel a huge sense of responsibility. I live with ME and fibromyalgia and sometimes I just don’t know where I can summon up the energy to be there for them – but I put on my smiling face each week, battle through when I have all the usual aliments going round and I’m there for them. I find that being honest really helps us all- if I’m feeling really shocking I’ll say – not for sympathy vote but to explain why, as you say, I’m a bit grumpy or get things wrong. Mine are a forgiving lot and there’s always a lot of love in the room! It’s not my job, I don’t get paid but the rewards make it all worthwhile.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Tracy,

      Thanks for your message, don’t worry you need never feel guilty! As we all know leading a choir is a fantastic job but as with every job there are times when you just don’t feel in the zone. As you mention this can be caused by a number of factors including how you feel physically, how much time you have to prepare etc… It sounds like you have a fantastic bunch of people around you, I love the communities we create with our choirs. Do you have anyone you can call on when you are feeling exhausted? Having someone step in for you occasionally is never a bad thing. It’s fun for your choir to experience a different teacher now and then and then you get a break. They sound like a loyal and understanding bunch and I’m sure they’ll be delighted when you come back a bit more refreshed.

  4. Avatar Helen Wade says:

    Thank you so much for this piece. I feel like that right now after a very busy year with only one week off at Christmas and Easter. I’ve got three performances coming up and rehearse twice weekly, with my choir (different concert repertoire each rehearsal.) I love what I do – it’s a hobby not my job – and as it’s a church and community choir I don’t charge, it’s all free and voluntary. I put in a lot of hours weekly into preparation and am finding it increasingly exhausting. I started the choir from scratch 4.5 years ago. Thank you for your very timely and inspired articles and advice. They are really appreciated. Keep up the good work.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Helen,

      Thanks for your message, sounds like you are very busy indeed with your choirs! Maybe you could get in touch with other local choir leaders, perhaps you can help each other out covering some holiday time? I know from experience a week off here and there can really help to re-charge your batteries. Also giving your singers time off now and then can help to re-energise the choir and remind them how much they love it. Good luck with all your choir ventures, we’re delighted you find Total Choir resources so helpful.

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