It’s a statement of the obvious to say that our experience of leading a choir is not the same as our singers’ experience of being in it. But it’s vitally important to empathise with our singers – to put ourselves in their shoes – if we want to create a choir that inspires and nurtures them.
Of course, our singers are individuals and they won’t all have the same experience of being in a choir. I think we can, however, make some general observations that can help us to keep our singers’ experience in mind when we make decisions for our choirs.
1. It’s a hobby, not a job
Professional choirs are rare. The vast majority of choral singers in the world are doing it for fun. If it isn’t fun, they probably won’t continue to do it. That doesn’t mean that every second has to be filled with ‘whoop whoop’ levels of euphoria, but the overall experience of being in the choir must be enjoyable. When you keep that in mind, a few things become rather obvious.
Firstly, don’t programme so many performances that the choir feels that it’s on a conveyor belt. Your singers want to feel well-prepared and give a good performance. Make sure they have the opportunity to do that. Conversely, don’t programme so few performances that everyone gets bored and wonders what they’re there for.
Secondly, plan rehearsals that give your choir the opportunity to have a good sing, particularly at the end. Don’t weigh them down with too much new learning in one hit. Praise them when praise is due and criticise constructively.
2. To them, it’s personal, not general
It can be extremely annoying for a choir leader when there’s a lot of chatter in the rehearsal room (I’ve talked about how to handle this before). Don’t forget, though, that each singer who’s part of that hubbub is only having one conversation. They often don’t understand that their little whispers are disturbing anyone because they’re only contributing a small amount of noise to the overall din. You need to deal with the noise, of course, but remember that there’s no malicious intent involved – they’re just doing what people do.
The same applies when people ask you for advice, help or information, whether in rehearsal or outside. The singer’s perception is that they have a single, small problem that needs a solution and you’re likely to have that solution. Your perspective is that you’re being bombarded with constant requests. How you deal with them is a matter for you, but keep in mind that there’s no conspiracy to rob you of your free time.
3. You can never be ‘one of them’
However democratic your choir, your position in it will always be different to that of your singers. Making music is a shared experience and that’s wonderful, but someone has to be in charge. I’m certainly not advocating tyrrany, and the whole point of this article is to help you to overcome any ‘us and them’ thinking that you might slip into, but it’s important to accept that your role, and your feelings about your choir, are inherently different from those of your singers.
When people are unhappy about something, you may well be the last to know unless you find ways to allow them to communicate honestly. I’ve written before about communicating effectively with your choir.
If you always keep in mind your singers’ experience, which may be very different to yours, you’ll be well on the way to creating a fantastic atmosphere and culture in your choir.