Monday, May 01, 2017

How to lead your choir when you’re just not in the mood

We all have off days, even choir leaders.


Here are a few hints on how to cope when you’re feeling low or burnt out.

No matter how much you love your job, there will be the occasional off day. A time when you’d rather curl up in front of the TV with a drink than step out and lead your choir.

There are several reasons why you might feel like this:
  • you’re feeling under the weather health-wise (but not ill enough to cancel);
  • you’ve been doing too much and are exhausted;
  • you’re not being stimulated or challenged enough creatively;
  • you’re stuck in a rut

ways of coping

Happily there are simple solution to most of these problems. Here are some that might resonate with you:
  • take a break – sometimes you need to just step back, have a rest and then come back with renewed vigour. Take a term off. You can find a substitute whilst your away or just give everyone a break. Your singers will be very grateful when you return.
  • examine your work schedule – many choir leaders are self-employed and find it difficult to say “No” to offers of work. The trouble is that you might then end up with a mad schedule and find you’ve taken too much on. Look carefully at your schedule over the next few months and see if you’re just doing too much. Take that into account when accepting future work.
  • find something to feed you – there’s a posh name for this: Continuing Professional Development (CPD). As a choir leader you’re giving out most of the time. But we all need feeding so make sure you’re being fed regularly by attending workshops which interest and challenge you. When examining your work schedule, factor in some CPD time.
  • start a new project – when you started your choir it was probably exciting the first few terms and the first few performances. However, it can become a bit routine: teach songs, rehearse, perform. You need creative challenges. So instead of the regular old “concert in the church down the road” invent some more creative challenges for you and you choir: collaborations, commissioned compositions, performances in unusual spaces, choir exchanges, etc.
  • keep ’em on their toes – weekly rehearsals can also become a bit routine and over-familiar. It takes time and energy to think of different things each week so many of us find it easier to just do what we’ve always done. But that can soon become boring for both singers and choir leaders. Take time (remember that schedule you’re re-examining?) to come up with new and exciting ideas for warm ups; new ways of teaching, learning and performing songs; new vocal training games; new formations for your choir to stand in; etc.

what if you still feel unmotivated?

Sometimes, no matter what you try, you will find times when you just don’t want to lead your choir. But you still have to turn up.

Here are some ways of dealing with it:
  • take the first step – desire follows action. Don’t wait until you feel motivated and fired up, just turn up to choir and take it from there.
  • take it slow – don’t feel like you have to ‘deliver’ every week. Take things slow and easy. Use old, familiar warm ups. Take the opportunity to use your low energy to really focus on details and individual singers.
  • ask your singers to help – share how you feel with your singers. They’ve all had their own off days and you’ll be surprised how supportive they will be. I was very ill once on the day of a concert and several singers stepped up without being asked to lead the warm up. There will be some singers who can act as section leaders or even lead a whole song if you give out the starting notes.
  • revisit old stuff – most singers come to sing and not to learn so they will love a session where you go over old repertoire.
  • ask them what they want – if you’re feeling so low that you can’t even get it together to plan the session, just ask your singers what they want and take it from there.
You will probably find that you’ve perked up considerably by the end of the session no matter how bad you felt at the start!

Do you have off-days? How do you cope? I’d love to hear from you.

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Chris Rowbury



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