Monday, November 14, 2016

Does your choir need ground rules?

Occasionally somebody in your choir may behave in a way that is not acceptable. It could be inappropriate language, disrupting a rehearsal or simply singing louder than everybody else.

Choir rules board
Example of choir rules used by Brigid Sinclair from New Zealand

If you don’t have any ground rules in place, it makes it harder to deal with such behaviour.

bad behaviour

I’ve been very lucky in my career as a choir leader in that I’ve never really had to deal with any ‘difficult’ choir members. Sure there are singers who find it hard to pitch and love to sing out loud, but we always manage to accommodate them somehow.

However, I do hear stories from other choir leaders about the singer who:
  • always turns up drunk
  • criticises the way the choir leader is doing things
  • sings loud and ‘wrong’, but tells everyone else what to do
  • makes a snide comment after pretty much everything the choir leader says
  • makes it clear they don’t like the choice of songs
  • swears and makes inappropriate racist and/ or sexist comments
  • undermines the other singers by telling them off all the time
  • smells bad or has really bad breath
  • makes unwanted physical contact with other choir members
  • … and the list goes on.
You never really know when one of these kind of singers is going to join your choir (or when they will start to manifest their bad behaviour). You also won’t know in advance what kind of behaviour  you’ll have to deal with.

ground rules

One way to help is to come up with a list of potential scenarios in advance and think of a way of dealing with it.

You can then:
  1. keep this as a private list which you can refer to when a situation arises; or
  2. make a light-hearted version of these “choir rules” and display it at each choir rehearsal; or
  3. make it a formal set of Terms and Conditions which singers sign up to when they join.
My own preference is for number one. Maybe you’ll be lucky and never have to deal with any bad behaviour, in which case, why draw attention to things that might never happen?

However, if you find yourself having to deal with a succession of incidents, then you might want to choose option two: it’s not that threatening, and whilst making it clear what behaviour you won’t tolerate, it keeps things light-hearted.

The last resort (in my opinion) is option three. Having such a formal set of Terms and Conditions makes for a choir which is a lot more formal.

You will, of course, make up your own set of rules, but here are a couple of examples to help get you started.

example #1

The first set is from Betsy Sansby who leads the One World Community Choir in Minnesota.

  • Arrive early to help with room setup and socialize.
  • Bring your music folders every week.
  • Enter quietly, if you must arrive late.
  • Save all announcements for the break so we can maximize singing time.
  • Help with clean up and chairs after choir.
  • Welcome new people.
  • Be especially kind to those whose voices are weak or pitch is challenged.
  • Help new people learn parts by sitting beside them and offering to help them at the break.
  • Go out of your way to include new people, even though you'd rather visit with all your friends.
  • Ask me to re-teach parts you didn't learn because you missed a session. Wait until the break and ask someone in your section for help.
  • Visit between songs, or while I'm teaching.
  • Sing out loud if you aren't confident about your part: listen, or sing quietly, so you can learn it from someone who knows it better than you.
  • Ask for new copies of song lyrics/music every week because you keep leaving yours in the car.
  • Sing any louder than it takes to blend with your section.

example #2

These are from Brigid Sinclair in New Zealand which she displays on a board at each choir session (see image at top of post).
  • If you don’t know a part, stop singing and listen to those around you. Sing softly until you’re sure.
  • Blend! Ideally each section should sound like one voice. If your voice stands out – even if it’s a great voice – you need to turn it down.
  • If your neighbour is singing too loudly, either move so you can hear yourself better, or politely ask them to sing more quietly. If you’ve asked in a caring and respectful way, they may still be offended. At least you tried.
  • If your pitch needs work, stand next to someone whose pitch is good.
  • IF someone near you is singing out of pitch, and you feel able to  respectfully encourage them to lift or lower their notes by leaning into them to help them hear, then do so. if they don not respond positively to this, move to a space where you are not distracted by it.
  • Don’t eat garlic or raw onions before choir or wear strong colognes.
  • Be mindful that alcohol or drugs may blur one’s ability to perceive appropriate boundaries regarding behaviour towards each other. Behaviour needs to be gracious, respectful and caring.
  • Respect each other’s personal space. If you want to hug or touch someone make sure they are comfortable with it first. Ask permission if appropriate.
  • If someone infringes your personal space by standing too close, or makes you feel uncomfortable by unwanted hugs or touching, tell the person to stop. If setting clear boundaries doesn’t work, distance yourself physically.
  • We sing a broad range of songs. Some you will like, others not so much. If we focus on the joy we get from the actual process of singing together, we can enjoy any song.
  • Everyone can sing. We all have a voice. We not always blend as closely as we might like, but we can work at listening better and freeing those voices.
  • Let there be no criticism and lots and lots of encouragement. We all have things to learn.
  • This is a singing space. Come ready to sing. We are building community as we sing. Treat our group with care and consideration and it will continue to be truly healing and fabulous.

your choir

Are there types of behaviour that are clearly not acceptable in your choir? Do you make this generally known? If so, how? Does you choir have a set of ground rules? Do you any stories of bad behaviour and how you’ve dealt with it. We’d love to hear from you!

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Chris Rowbury



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