I wasn’t a sporty kid. PE lessons filled me with dread, not least because of the tortuous process of being picked for teams. I wasn’t usually the absolute last pick, but I was close. I still remember how it felt, all these years later.
For the first time in my choir’s short life, I’ve had to select singers for a performance. We’ve been asked to provide a backing choir for quite a prestigious gig, but they can only take twenty singers. Our usual performing strength is about thirty. With some people unavailable for extra rehearsals or the performance itself, about twenty-six were keen to take part.
I’ve invited soloists from among the choir’s ranks in the past. We’ve also put together smaller ensembles to balance a concert programme, but those groups were always self-selecting. In this case, I was faced with the task of excluding only a small number of singers, with the majority being included. I suppose that in a more professional setting, such selection isn’t a problem. You pick who you want, and those who don’t make the cut either try again next time, or call it a day and do something else. But for my amateur choir, it really didn’t feel like a pleasant thing to do.
I wrestled with this conundrum for a while. Obviously, I know my choir and the voices in it, and consequently I know that there are some voices that I would prefer in the mix and some that I wouldn’t be heartbroken to leave out. However, I also had to bear in mind that we are a team. We’re used to working as a team and not used to any hierarchy in the choir. If I blundered this process, I could create a lot of bad feeling. I would, effectively, be labelling a few singers as the least competent in the choir. I was absolutely not prepared to do that. Selecting a small number from a large group would be one thing. Selecting a majority and excluding a few would be demoralising.
On the other hand, I couldn’t risk choosing the singers entirely by pot luck. There are a couple of really confident and experienced singers in each part who always perform well and (no small thing, this) look engaged and lively on the platform. I didn’t want to risk my very best singers being excluded by chance.
Of course, I could have selected who I wanted, then told the choir it was all pot luck. It would have been a white lie to protect people’s feelings, but I suspect that my choir, being a bright bunch, would have seen right through that. And, of course, I really don’t want to fib to my choir, even for the kindest reasons. I always want to act with integrity, even (perhaps especially) in challenging circumstances.
In the end, I decided to go for a selection process somewhere in the middle. I selected a few strong, confident singers who I knew had to be in the mix. Then I picked the rest of the names out of a hat. I was able to tell the choir truthfully that the people who were not selected were excluded completely by chance. I didn’t tell them who made the first cut and who was in the hat. I’m sure the people who didn’t get selected were disappointed, but I hope that they don’t feel that their exclusion is any reflection on their abilities.
It’s been a real challenge to navigate this process, and I won’t be accepting engagements that require selection very often, because it would fundamentally change the dynamic of the choir, but I think I got it about right, and I’m glad I took the time to think it through before acting.