Monday, December 15, 2014

Why a choir can never be truly democratic

Ever asked your choir members how they think things are going? Is there a large committee helping to run your choir? If so, you’ve realised that a choir is not a democracy!

show of hands

A choir is more like a benign dictatorship. Here’s why democratic choirs don’t work.

getting feedback from choir members

Many choirs send out an annual questionnaire to their members to get feedback on how things are going. Is the repertoire to their taste? Are there too many or too few performances? Can the weekly sessions be improved in any way?

If you’ve ever conducted one of these surveys you’ll realise that there are as many different opinions as there are singers in the choir! In fact, the only thing holding this disparate group of people together is you, the choir leader.

Even if there is some kind of consensus in the responses, it can become divisive. The choir ends up being in two different camps, for example, those who want more pop songs and those who want less.

If you try to seek the choir’s input on every matter – song choice, frequency of performances, length of warm ups – then it becomes rather like trying to run a country by having endless referendums. It’s best to elect someone to represent you and then trust them to make the right decisions.

Which is where choir committees come in. Trouble is, sometimes they don’t end up representing the views of the choir members, but are often made up of people who have strong views and who like being on committees.

Far better (in my opinion) to choose the right choir leader and let them get on with it.

the benign dictator

People join a particular choir for two main reasons:
  1. the rehearsals are at a convenient time and day for them, and
  2. they like the way the choir is lead and the choice of songs
Basically (if they’re free on that day), a singer will join a choir because they buy into the choir leader’s vision. They like their approach to singing, ways of working and choice of songs. If they stop agreeing with that vision, then they can leave and join another choir which suits them better.

It’s like a benign dictatorship.

But if the choir leader is always seeking feedback and always trying to please everybody, then you end up with a strange beast that has no clear direction, keeps changing what it does, and never pleases anyone.

By all means do an annual survey. It might turn up a few interesting ideas or concerns that you weren’t aware of. But don’t take too much notice of complaints about length of warm up, song choices, style of performance, etc. – that’s the choir leader’s job.

further reading

You might also find these older posts interesting.

Using feedback forms for choirs and singing workshops

If some singers want more and some want less, you must be doing something right!

You can’t franchise charisma – why your choir leader is special

Too many cooks – benign dictators rule!

Exactly who’s in charge of my choir?! – how to deal with change

Trying to please all the people all the time

What the job of choir leader involves

Whose choir is it any way?

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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