Monday, August 04, 2014

Your job as a choir leader is to disappear

In David Zweig’s recent book he talks about Invisibles: people who are unseen when their job is done perfectly (who only draw attention to themselves when things go wrong).


It got me thinking that most of a choir leader’s job is invisible to the wider public. So why not just disappear when the next concert rolls around?

“For most of us, the better we perform the more attention we receive. Yet for many ‘Invisibles’ – skilled professionals whose role is critical to whatever enterprise they’re a part of – it’s the opposite: the better they do their jobs the more they disappear. In fact, often, it’s only when something goes wrong that they are noticed at all.” (from

In his book (subtitled “The power of anonymous work in an age of relentless self-promotion”) Zweig interviews top experts in unusual fields to reveal the quiet workers behind public successes. Workers such as a concert piano tuner, a magazine fact-checker, a UN interpreter, the structural engineer responsible for some of the world’s tallest buildings, and Radiohead’s chief guitar technician.

What they all have in common (as well as being invisible when they’re doing their job correctly) is that they take enormous pride in their work and end up being fulfilled. They don’t seek public renown, pats on the back, awards or salary raises – the work is enough in itself.

A choir leader is highly visible in many ways because she usually stands in front of the choir to conduct when the choir performs and presents the songs to the audience at concerts. But what exactly is the ‘work’ involved? Isn’t it invisible (until it goes wrong!)?

The work of a choir goes on behind closed doors: auditions, rehearsals, choice of repertoire, vocal coaching, social bonding, choral training, etc. What the audience end up seeing is the result of all this work and not the work itself.

If the work has been done well, does the choral director need to be so highly visible at the performance? Could he not stand in the orchestra pit, or have her image projected onto a wall at the back of the auditorium? Or, if the choir is small enough, why have anyone to conduct at all? Maybe one of the choir members could beat time or give out starting notes.

I’ve always thought that my job as a choir leader is to make myself redundant once the work has been done. The singers should rely on themselves and each other. The work has been done so trust it and just get on with the singing.

If I’ve done my job well I don’t even have to be there when they perform. In fact, once a song is really under the choir’s belt I often walk off in the middle and listen!

Ask yourself: is it your ego that needs to stand out in front or is it enough to take pride in work well done?

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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