Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to cope when singers miss choir sessions

What’s great about a group of singers who meet regularly is that you can grow and develop together, improving skills and techniques week on week.

Photo by Listen Missy!

But what happens if not everyone comes to every session?

community choirs and commitment

My community choirs have always met weekly. We usually work in blocks of around 10 weeks or so, sometimes with a one-week break half way through. People pay in advance and commit to the entire 10 weeks.

There is usually a list of eager singers waiting to fill any choir vacancies that arise. That means that some existing choir members sign up for the whole term even though they know they will be missing three or four (or more) sessions. In effect, they are buying their place in the choir.

In the past I’ve even had people joining who can only attend every two weeks due to work commitments!

However, I naively assume that part of the commitment of joining a choir is to turn up each week.

from the singers’ point of view

I can understand it from the singers’ point of view:
  • I’d rather have some singing than none at all
  • there are more important things in life: family, health, job, etc.
  • it’s just a bit of fun and not that important in the great scheme of things
  • nobody will miss me, there are plenty of other singers
But there are also a few downsides for singers too:
  • if you miss more than one session, it can be extremely hard to catch up
  • if you don’t sing every week you can get a little rusty and find your voice gets tired more easily
  • missing just one session of learning a new song can mean that you never, ever really get that particular song under your belt
  • you might end up feeling socially marginalised if you miss too many sessions (including the pub afterwards!), especially at the beginning of a term or season 

choir leaders’ frustrations

It’s quite clear what the frustrations are for a choir leader:
  • it’s hard to move forward in learning a song if a large proportion of singers weren’t there the week before. You end up getting stuck re-teaching the same bit of song week after week.
  • it can end up that most of the missing singers in one session are from the same part, which is then always under-confident  and never quite catches up
  • it’s hard to refer back to particular vocal exercises or other development work if not everyone was there when you did it the first time
  • it’s more difficult to tackle complex songs, and you sometimes end up always going for short, easy repertoire that you can teach in a single session 

big group or little group?

The effects of absent singers are far more noticeable in a small group. If there are just 12 singers and three are missing, it can really upset things. You might think this is just a problem with community choirs, but even professional groups have absentee problems.

In a very large choir, the momentum of the group is such that the choir leader can carry on as if everyone were there without really noticing the difference. But it can effect individual singers even more. They can end up losing confidence if they miss a couple of sessions and then fall by the wayside without the leader noticing.

things to take away

Here are some pointers to take away from this post:

for singers

  • make the effort to attend every choir session if you can – you have a responsibility to the others in your part and to the choir as a whole. If everyone thought they wouldn’t be missed, there would be no choir! (see Everybody has a place in the choir and How to be a good choir member)
  • if you know you’ll miss a lot of sessions (say, more than 40%), then maybe it’s better to miss the whole term. You can make a fresh start next term.
  • find a ‘buddy’ who will record the session for you and make it your responsibility to be up to speed by the next session
  • tell your choir leader if you’re going to be away for a few sessions, they can maybe make alternative plans 

for choir leaders

  • it’s not a perfect world, not everyone will be at choir every week so build that into your plan
  • it’s not personal: people have good reasons for not turning up
  • singers like going over songs (even if they attend every week) – revise often, with different slants, approaches, points of focus, style, etc.
  • use incentives: don’t allow people to drop in for just one session; only take new singers on at the start of the term or year; ask people to pay up front for a block of sessions 

the real world

The reality is: choir attendance is always more important for choir leaders than individual singers. It’s often the way we earn our living. We put a lot of time and effort into preparation and turn up every session without fail, so it’s easy for us to expect the same from our singers.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of choir attendance – whether you’re a singer or choir leader. Do you have strategies to overcome the difficulties of singers missing sessions? Do leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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