Sunday, January 11, 2009

Among friends: the importance of support networks

We are lucky that singing is a very social activity. Whether we are a choir leader or singer, we are amongst friends each week. But being the one out front can also be a lonely place.

Many creative people lead a fairly solitary existence — painters, writers, composers, for instance — and have to make an effort to meet with like-minded people. Choir leaders, however, have this built into their work. Each week we are in the company of a group of people with a shared purpose and love of music. We have fun together, we create together, we make mistakes together, we may even go for a drink together. Yet there is always a subtle difference between the person standing out the front waving their arms, and the singers who stand in close proximity to each other. And at the end of the rehearsal or concert, we leave alone. The buzz of the singing fades, the tiredness creeps upon us (after using all that energy), the sense of community dissipates.

It’s at times like these (or when arranging songs and researching songs at home, or struggling with how to teach a particular song, or when we’re dealing with awkward customers …) when we need a friend or colleague who we can talk to. Someone who really understands what we’re on about!

Last weekend was the Natural Voice Practitioners Network’s annual gathering near Sheffield. Around 70 voice practitioners come together each year to share skills, laughter, songs, ideas, war stories, and general gossip. Some of us are lucky to have other choir leaders living nearby and we can get together occasionally in order to have a good moan or to swap techniques. But others maybe only get the chance to meet friends and colleagues face to face once a year. It is an amazingly valuable time where we can let down our guard, own up to our insecurities, get help with problems, and generally talk shop.

For this reason alone, it is worth joining some kind of peer organisation or even to create an informal peer group. When our job involves giving out to others and supporting people most of the time, it is even more important to ensure we get nourishment and support for ourselves (I will cover this in more detail in next week’s post about looking after ourselves as choir leaders).

But it’s not just choir leaders who need support and who can feel isolated. Even in a big, happy group, there can be individual singers who feel alienated or overwhelmed. This is especially true for new choir members who are walking into what might be perceived as a big clique. daharja has written on her blog The Chorister recently about welcoming new choir members and how Happy choristers sing better.

So go out and find some new mates to talk shop and drink coffee with. Happy choir leaders lead choirs better!


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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