Sunday, December 11, 2011

Keeping a choir happy – you can’t please everyone

There have been grumblings in my choir of late. Some people are not happy.


But is it possible to keep everyone in a choir happy?

I think I’m an approachable guy, but for some reason people don’t come to me directly with their problems, misgivings, and confusions. I have to wait for second-hand grumbles.

the complainers

Some people like complaining. Or maybe they just like attracting attention to themselves or letting you know they have an opinion.

They are the ones who come up to you and say: “Some people aren’t happy with the way you ...”. What they really mean is “I am not happy, but I need to have some back-up”.

You have to remember that this is gossip, second-hand information. You will never know how much truth there is in the rumours. You can only take at face value what the individual in front of you is saying about their own experience.

And remember they are NOT necessarily typical of other choir members. They are NEVER a representative of the choir as a whole.

I’ll be writing a post soon about how we (singers and choir leaders) can often focus on the ONE person who is not enjoying things and end up ignoring the overall picture.

people like to grumble

Maybe it’s just the Brits, but many of us like to grumble. Somehow we only see the downside.

On a sunny day people will say “it won’t last”. After a great concert they will say “well, we got away with that one, but I reckon the next one won’t be so good”.

Negative ninnies. They often don’t really mean it, but just like grumbling.

I had a bunch of older ladies in one choir who would roll their eyes, huff and puff and reluctantly join in the warm up (which they hated) each session. Ten years later, they were still in the choir and still having the same reaction! But they grudgingly did the warm up each time and their voices improved accordingly.

we all like different things

Everyone in the choir has their own taste, likes and dislikes, opinions, etc. In the past I’ve sent round questionnaires every couple of years and been reminded each time that there are as many different opinions as there are choir members.

The choir leader is the only person holding it all together. When you join the choir you sign up for their taste and vision. You can’t run a choir democratically or you’d never get anywhere! (see also What the job of choir leader involves)

you can’t be all things to all people

Your choir, my choir, that choir over there, is what it is. It works the way it does, it sings the repertoire it does, it dresses the way it does, it moves (or not) the way it does, because that’s what it is.

As long as it is clear what kind of choir it is when people join, then you can’t complain if it’s not the choir you want it to be.

There are plenty of choirs out there. If you don’t like choreography or Corsican songs or formal costume or using sheet music or pop songs, then leave and join a choir that does things more the way you want them.

A choir can’t be all things to all people. Each choir has its own flavour and identity (thank god) which is created by the musical director and its singers. (see also Trying to please all the people all the time)

I’ll be writing a post soon considering whether an open-access choir can ever be truly inclusive.

what is a genuine concern?

Any good choir leader takes on board the response of the singers. It is possible to get a feeling for how people are responding without having to take a straw poll or run a questionnaire.

A good choir leader modifies their approach from moment to moment during a rehearsal and also from session to session, from year to year.

It is usually quite clear when something is not right for the choir as a whole. Maybe a difficult song is being taught too fast, or some choreography is really too tricky at this stage, or a song is just not gelling because the majority of people don’t like or understand it.

But when an individual comes up with a complaint or criticism it has to be weighed up against the vision of the choir and the singers as a whole.

it’s a fine balance

So next time someone comes up and says they don’t like something, or that the other people in their part are singing different things to them, or a note gets passed to you reporting general hearsay from anonymous choir members, pause for a moment and try to get a perspective.

Is this just one person’s individual view or is there room for change?

how do you manage?

As a choir member, if you don’t like the way things are going, what do you do? Do you find it difficult to approach your choir leader? Are there particular choir members who are outspoken and are always making comments? Do some people drag you into their complaints without first asking you?

As a choir leader, how do you deal with individual complaints and criticisms? Do you think you are approachable? How do you get a sense of the overall response of the choir? Have you found yourself changing the way you do things because of negative feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment (as a Christmas gift to me!).


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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