As the days grow shorter and the hot weather gives way to cooler breezes (I know – some of you are on the other side of the world and the weather’s hotting up, but bear with me), many choir leaders will be embarking on a new autumn season. Even if your choir doesn’t have a break over the summer, September has a wonderful feeling of new opportunity. It must be a throwback to school days – pristine new exercise books, sharpened pencils. I love this time of year. New year is, traditionally, when we’re supposed to start over and make resolutions, but it tends to be experienced through a fug of Christmas excess and familial disharmony (or is that just me?) and it’s never really made me want to get out there and change the world. Autumn, on the other hand, does it for me every time: the turning leaves, the crisp, clear mornings. How can we harness that “back to school” motivation and make the coming season the best ever? Here are my thoughts – I’d love to hear yours.
I was always the kid with the beautifully colour-coded timetable, the co-ordinated stationery and the grand plan for the coming year. It never panned out, of course. I’m always been an arch-procrastinator (as I may have mentioned a before) and my meticulous plan would be obselete almost immediately. I have, however, improved over the years; with maturity comes self-knowledge. I know now that if I knuckle down and do some rehearsal planning and score preparation in advance, I’m a much happier and less stressed choir leader, and my rehearsals are more rewarding for my choir.
This is also a great time of year for a musical odyssey to extend your knowledge of what’s available for your choir to sing. Hang out on YouTube or a dedicated choir forum for a while and see what other choirs are up to. How about tackling something from an unfamiliar period or genre or in a different language? It doesn’t have to be for performance; you could introduce something to your choir just for the sheer joy of the experience. If your choir usually learns from scores, maybe you could teach something entirely by ear, or vice versa.
While you’re enjoying your planning sessions, why not line up a few warm-ups and fun exercises to energise your choir and build their vocal skills? And don’t forget to grab your free rehearsal planner by signing up at the top right of this page.
What’s your choir going to do this year? Do you have plans for new opportunities? I can be guilty of being a bit reactive when it comes to opportunities for my chamber choir. With 24 singers, we can pretty flexible about venues and events. We often get invited to sing and it’s easy for me to simply wait for those invitations to pop up, but that doesn’t necessarily make for balanced and fulfilling programme for my choir. I think it’s important for me to ensure that we have new opportunities every year that stretch us and give us the chance to try new repertoire. That may mean organising a concert myself or approaching charities or venues about possible joint projects.
Perhaps your choir’s activities are closely linked to a particular venue or organisation, such as a church or school, and you have a fixed timetable of performances. How are you going to ensure that this year isn’t simply a repeat of last year? However enjoyable an event, if you do it year in, year out it will eventually pall. What’s going to be different? What’s going to make your choir members go “ooh” when you announce it?
In addition to your season of performances, are you going to offer any workshops or other development opportunities? In any choir, there will be singers who are quite content with rehearsals and occasional performances, and those who are champing at the bit for more of a challenge. Could you audition choir members for a solo or smaller ensemble? Perhaps your singers would value a workshop to improve their sight-reading or learning by ear. And from your perspective as a choir leader, these kinds of activities can help you to build your workload so that you can actually earn a living!
No, no, don’t stop reading! I’m sure that for many of you, the whole topic of admin is enough to have you clicking away to check Facebook or a video of a cat doing something hilarious, but stick with me for a minute. A bit of planning now can streamline your workload and help reduce the amount of admin you’re doing. I’m thinking mostly here of choir leaders who are also choir managers (if you’re solely a conductor and your choir is managed entirely by others, lucky you, Maestro!).
Review the systems you’re using to manage your choir and communicate with your singers. Do you find yourself casting about for contact information? Do you have access to the information you need when you need it? Do you have a system for capturing tasks that need doing and remembering to do them? If you collaborate with others, how do you manage that? There are so many amazing, free online tools available to streamline your systems and boost your productivity. A bit of work on your systems now could save you a whole lot of time and aggravation throughout the year.
By now, you’ve probably realised that I’m a bit of a geek about choir management and I enjoy nothing better than creating plans and systems, hence my love for this “back to school” time of year. I recognise that not everyone would agree with me, but I think the central point is that some concentrated planning now can set you up for a really fantastic year with your choir.
Right – I’m off to cover my exercise books with brown paper and sort my felt tip pens into colour order. See you next time.