Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ask not what your choir can do for you – ask what you can you do for your choir

Kirsten recently left a comment on my post How to be a good choir member.

sweeping up
photo by Brandon Cripps

She suggested that a good choir member should “go beyond the music”, i.e. get involved with the practicalities of running the choir. Great idea, but it does have its downsides too.

Many choirs have a small, but dedicated group of people who keep the whole thing going. Jobs such as hiring the rehearsal venue, photocopying music, setting out chairs, getting concert bookings all seem to happen as if by magic. But it takes a lot of work behind the scenes.

Sometimes the group of helpers becomes formalised into a committee in accordance with the choir’s constitution (this is often needed if your choir seeks outside funding – see Does your choir need a constitution?). In this case there will be formal roles such as treasurer, secretary, fund-raiser, chairperson, social secretary, etc.

So far, all well and good. Such groups of helpers can be of great assistance to any choir leader. But ...

I’ve run choirs which have had formal committees, and have had wonderful support from them. However, it can become problematic if the ‘wrong’ people get elected or if it’s not clear what the committee’s responsibilities are. How far do they encroach on artistic decisions such as repertoire or concert choice? See Whose choir is it any way?

People who stand for election are often people who like being on committees (rather than people who like getting things done!). It is also possible for just one person to become a real obstacle to the general running and development of a choir.

Whenever help is sought (formal or otherwise), it tends to be the ‘usual suspects’ who step forward (not necessarily a good thing). These can be people who like to assert their way of doing things, or people who like to take control. Often other choir members breathe a sigh of relief that someone is taking responsibility! So they tend to end up being a semi-permanent group.

Even if they’re fantastic, it’s nice to change helpers from time to time in order to get different perspectives and to feel that the choir is represented right across the board.

Many people join choirs as an antidote to the responsibilities they have in their daily lives and just want to be told what to sing. Hence really great organisers and helpers often won’t step forward because they get enough of that in their day jobs.

It’s great to muster an ad hoc group of people together to help out with social events, etc. It helps to give a sense of ownership of the choir. You just need to make sure that it’s not the same people every time, and that the views expressed are a fair reflection of the choir as a whole.

As with everything, there are pros and cons in getting choir members to help run a choir.
Me, I’m a control freak. I usually end up doing it all myself (see I’m a control freak and that’s exactly how I like it!). If you want a job done properly ...

What’s your experience? Does your choir have a committee or group of helpers? Do you volunteer for these roles? Have you had any bad experiences of people taking over or creating bad feelings? I’d love to hear from you. Don’t be shy, leave a comment! I guarantee to respond to everyone who writes.

Chris Rowbury’s website: chrisrowbury.com