Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dealing with choir members who are always late

It’s the final rehearsal before your big concert. The warm up is over and everyone is ready to go. But a handful of singers (the usual suspects) are not there. Late again!

running late
photo by lunarnature

What can you do about those singers who are always late to choir?

I used to get really frustrated as a choir leader when people were late. Over the years I’ve realised that some people are always on time (or even early) and some people are always late. You can’t turn one into the other! You also have to realise that for some people, singing in a choir isn’t the most important thing in the world and other parts of their life might occasionally take priority.

So it might be worth reading one of my earlier posts: Don’t stress about things you can’t control.

But if that doesn’t help, here are some ideas to help deal with persistent latecomers.

  • try to understand – don’t jump to conclusions and don’t take it personally. People have a life too and it sometimes intervenes despite their best efforts: a broken-down car, a sick child, a report due at work the next day, late public transport.
  • you can’t force it – it’s not possible to force people to be on time and it serves no purpose getting cross. Every now and then in one of my choirs, I used to read the riot act and remind people when choir started and please be on time and if they weren’t there I would continue any way. The next week, even more people were late – go figure!
  • ignore them – everyone is replaceable so work round it. I often say: “the most important people are here, so let’s get on with it”. If a person is late too often, they might find that their solo has been given to someone else!
  • deal with what you have – often in rehearsal for a concert people would leave a gap in the line-up: “That’s where Sally stands, she’ll be here tonight”. But you can’t know that. Assume the latecomer will just not turn up and carry on without them. If they do turn up in time, then it’s a bonus. If they don’t then you’ve already dealt with the problem.
  • cope in same way as when people are ill – be kind. Assume there is a very good reason that the person is late. Work around them on the assumption that they will turn up at some point.
  • explain the importance – if your choir has a relaxed and fun ethos, and if your concerts are always of a high quality, then people might have forgotten that attendance and time-keeping are important. It’s a good idea to remind the choir now and again why being on time and attending every rehearsal are important.
  • remind them that they will be missed – in big choirs especially, people think that if they don’t turn up nobody will notice. But if everyone thought that, you would have no choir! See my post: You are the most important singer in your choir
  • live with it – it’s part of life. Some choir members will always be late. Don’t stress about things you can’t control.
  • be strict – how hard you want to be on choir members depends on what flavour choir you want to have. I always believe in running choirs using love and not fear, but you may not agree. One option is to give three warnings and then they’re out of the choir, or not in the next concert. Rather draconian, but it does work. You might end up with no choir members though!
  • allow latecomers in at set time only – rather like in theatre performances when they say “latecomers will only be admitted at a convenient time”. You might let them join the rehearsal after the break, or when you move onto a new song.
  • don’t let them in! – if someone is late then they have forfeited their right to be at the rehearsal. Close the doors five minutes after your session starts.
  • even professional singers are late – there is a myth that in amateur and community choirs things are different. But even in professional choirs singers are late or don’t turn up. Of course, they can be fired, but it still happens.
  • it takes time to build a creative atmosphere – but only seconds to destroy it. I used to work in theatre when I heard that. One option is not to start rehearsal until everyone is there. You wait in silence until the final latecomer arrives. Guilt is a strong motivator so they might be on time next session!
  • it’s the choir leader’s job – don’t take the law into your own hands if someone in your section is often late. You can use some of the ideas above to help (e.g. ignore them or deal with what you have). It might be that you’ve relied on a particular singer too much and they’ve done you a favour by not being there so you can get to grips with the song yourself for a change!

And if you are a choir member who is often late:

  • take responsibility – if you know you’re going to be late (or have to miss a rehearsal), then let someone know. You might also like to read How to be a good choir member.

I’m sure there are plenty of other great ideas out there and I’d love to hear them. Do drop by and leave a comment so we can all share. Thanks.

Chris Rowbury’s website:

Chris Rowbury


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