Sunday, April 14, 2013

What exactly is the point of your choir?

I often get people writing to me for advice about choirs.

Some of them don’t agree with the direction their choir leader is taking them, some find the repertoire too hard, some have trouble with singers next to them singing out of tune, some worry about getting their part right for the next concert.

photo by Jeff Lutz

But before I can answer I need to know what kind of choir they belong to. What is the point of their choir?

what kind of choir are you in?

  • Some choirs sing purely for fun, whilst others are heading for major national competitions.
  • Some choirs sing pop songs whilst others tackle weird Eastern European folk songs.
  • Some choirs expect their members to be able to sight-read whilst others are all about learning by ear.
  • Some choirs all wear identical t-shirts and have tight choreography for all their songs whilst others are more laid back and ramshackle.
  • Some choirs perform regularly for the public whilst others sing just for the pleasure it brings them.
There is (of course) room for all kinds of choir.

The important thing though is to know what kind of choir you’re in – what is the point of your choir?

the choir’s vision

As long as the musical director has a clear idea of what the purpose of the choir is, then there is no problem.

When you join a choir you basically sign up to the choir leader’s vision (assuming they have one!). If you don’t share their vision, then you’re in the wrong choir. Leave and find one that suits you better.

But sometimes the musical director doesn’t have a clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve. Maybe they’ve taken over from someone else. Maybe the goal posts have moved over time. Maybe they’re getting contradictory pressures from their board/ arts centre/ school/ governing body.

Whatever the reason it makes for an unhappy choir.

you need to know what the point of your choir is

  • If it’s to perform to a high standard, then choir members need to be at every rehearsal and do their homework.
  • If it’s to have fun every week, then the repertoire should bring quick results, not be too tricky and not depend on everyone being there every week.
  • If it’s a rock or pop choir, then everyone needs to have a good sense of rhythm and a love of contemporary pop music.
  • If it’s a gospel choir, then the focus is maybe more on the worship and emotion of the songs rather than the musical quality.
Of course, none of these are mutually exclusive.

If you don’t know (and don’t make clear) what your choir is for, then choir members will be getting mixed messages and not know what is expected of them. It will be hard for the choir to pull together as a team towards a common goal (what IS our goal exactly?).

make the vision clear

It’s the choir leader’s (and perhaps committee’s) job to make sure their vision for the choir is very clear. Singers need to know what they’re signing up for when they join so there is no misunderstanding of what is expected of them.

The vision may change over time, but make sure any changes are communicated to the choir as a whole.

If you’re a choir member and aren’t sure of the point of your choir, ask your choir leader.

If you’re a choir leader, then make sure you actually have a vision. If you don’t, now’s the time to get one. Fantasise about your dream choir, your dream repertoire, your dream community of singers, then articulate that to your singers. Then make it come true!

what’s the point of your choir?

Do you know what your choir is for? Is it to create community or make beautiful music or excel in competitions or sing without sheet music or entertain your friends and family?

Do leave a comment and share your choral visions. I’d love to hear from you.

Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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