Sunday, August 09, 2009

Help! What am I going to do with no singing over the summer break?

For those of us who work to school terms, it is now the summer holidays. Unlike us poor folk here in the UK, the summer break is months long in the US ! Whilst we only have six weeks or so, the summer there lasts from early June until late August – almost three months.

When I started my first choir WorldSong back in 1997, when the summer break came along people began to panic. What would they do on Wednesday evenings for the next couple of months? Where would they get their singing fix? How could they last without seeing their singing friends each week?

As a beginning choir leader I was worried if we had a long break, people might not come back. Perhaps they would get out of the habit of coming each week, or find something better to do on a Wednesday evening.

That first year we broke up in early July and started back in late September – a break of 11 weeks (I needed a break at the time!). It was with considerable trepidation that I waited that first autumn Wednesday to see how many – if any – people would come back to choir after such a long break. Fortunately for me, quite a few singers came back, but it was a nerve-wracking time.

Next time summer came around, so many people were complaining about not being able to sing over the summer, that I decided to run a short ‘summer school’ consisting of four Wednesday evenings in the middle of the summer break. I managed to attract a considerable amount of interest, not only regular choir members, but others who weren’t able to make a regular commitment during term time. We had lots of fun, and some of the participants joined the choir in the following autumn.

One year, when I was running three separate community choirs, I ended up leading three summer schools in three different towns. It was becoming too much! I found that I didn’t get a chance to refresh myself and have a decent break, neither did I have enough time to source new songs for the coming term.

So I stopped running the summer schools. And people came back after the break after all. Sure, they might have missed singing for a while, but they had been on holiday and worked in the garden and had lots of other things on their minds. When the autumn term started everyone came back renewed, refreshed and eager to start singing again.

I learnt several lessons from this:

  • a choir offers something valuable to many people – not just singing, but a sense of community and a regular hobby
  • if you are offering something that people like and want, then they won’t desert you just because you have a long break
  • don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ – trust that people want what you have to offer
  • we all need a break to refresh and renew ourselves, not least the choir director who needs to replenish their energy before a new term
  • there are plenty of other singing opportunities over the summer, and it’s good for people to try out a variety of styles and workshop leaders
  • don’t believe everything people say: I have had people saying that they couldn’t possibly survive a whole summer without singing, but they do.

I have known choir leaders who have taken whole terms (or even a whole year) off from their choir, leaving it in the hands of a caretaker, or reducing the sessions to once every few months. In each case, the choir has survived and thrived.

I had known of individuals who have said things like: “This choir is my life, I don’t know what I’d do without it” and “I have to join your choir! Please, please, please let me join in the autumn”. And in each of theses cases the people have disappeared and never come to choir. Try to figure that out!


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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