Sunday, September 30, 2012

How will your choir cope if you don’t turn up?

Everyone likes to think that they’re indispensable.


The truth is though, when you’re not there your choir will manage fine without you.

Last week I was fighting a cold and then developed a painful tooth infection. After yet another sleepless night the last thing I wanted to do was to drive for four hours and run a weekend singing workshop.

Should I cancel and let people down? Or soldier on because they couldn’t cope without me?

they can’t do it without me!

At some time or other all of us will be ill or too tired or unmotivated or have more important things to do. But we also have over-inflated views of our importance.
“If I miss choir how will the altos manage since I’m the only one who really knows what’s going on and they all depend on me?”
“But I’m the section leader! If I don’t turn up they won’t be able to cope on their own.”
“Who will collect the money on the door at the workshop? I always do that job.”
“I’ve got the key to the rehearsal space. If I’m not there, the choir can’t meet.”
“I’m the musical director, without me there can be no concert.”
“The MD is depending on me to play the piano, I can’t possibly let her down.”
“It’s my workshop, my arrangements, and I’m the one who planned it. Nobody else could take over at such late notice.”
The first thing to remember is: it’s never that important.

It’s only a choir/ rehearsal/ concert/ workshop – not a cure for cancer or a world war.
People will be upset and disappointed in the short term, but they’ll get over it pretty soon.

prepare for the inevitable

One day you won’t be able to turn up, whether you’re the soloist, the person who hands out the music, the woman with the key or the choir leader. Make sure you have a back up plan in advance.

The easiest solution is to have a deputy or buddy who can help out. For example:
  • a second key holder or neighbour who you can pass the key onto
  • a group of local choir leaders who can be called upon at the last minute to stand in
  • an understudy for the soloist who is available when the main soloist is ill or otherwise unavailable 

always expect the unexpected

People are more resilient and forgiving than you think. They will rally round at the last minute and work something out.

I used to lead a community choir that was a 1 1/2 hour drive away from where I lived. On a few occasions there were accidents on the motorway and was impossible to get to choir that night. On each occasion I rang up the venue and  asked them to pass the message onto the choir. If I was just going to be delayed, there was always someone prepared to step up and lead a warm up until I arrived. If I couldn’t make it at all, a few people had a list of starting notes and would take turns to suggest an old familiar song that the choir could sing.

I set up a small women’s ensemble a few years back which used to perform regularly. At one point there were about nine women in the group and we had a gig in a small out of the way village church. Five minutes before we were due to start, one of the singers still hadn’t turned up. We quickly adjusted the set, swapped a few parts and dropped a solo or two. The concert started and during the first song the missing singer turned up and slipped quietly into place. She’d got lost in her car!

I ran a four week summer school once and had made careful arrangements to book a school hall for each session. I’d publicised it quite well and a whole bunch of new singers turned up, but the school gates were securely locked and we all milled about in the street outside. I had no way of getting hold of the key holder so we walked up to the local pub and asked if we could use their function room. Unfortunately it was booked up, but we were allowed to sing in the pub garden and we had a great evening.

how do they cope without you?

I’d love to hear examples of when you weren’t able to turn up. Did everything fall apart or did people manage without you? Do you have other strategies for dealing with important absences? Do leave a comment and share your experiences.

Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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