Monday, September 18, 2017

When a new musical director takes over your choir: a guide for choir members

Last week I wrote about strategies for musical directors who were taking over an established choir.

choir leader
original sculpture by susie mendelsson

This week it’s the singers’ turn. How can you easily adapt when a new choir leader takes over your choir? Here are a few hints which might help.

If a choir has been going for some years, it’s inevitable that, at some point, a new choir leader will take the helm.

Any kind of change to something that’s been long-established can be uncomfortable. Here are some pointers that might help reduce that discomfort.

  • give them a chance – before you make any judgment on your new choir leader, give them a chance to settle in and establish themselves. They will be apprehensive about taking on an established choir and it will take them a while to settle in.
  • be respectful – assume they know what they’re doing and that they have been chosen because they have the required skills to lead you. Respect them as a professional and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • actively support them – rather like someone moving up to big school, your new musical director will be thankful for all the support you can give them, especially in small, practical ways like where the toilets are, whether you’re used to having a break or not, where the choir usually sit or stand, etc.
  • let them be who they are – your new musical director will never be the same as your old, familiar, well-loved one. They will do things differently, so don’t go around all the time thinking “But we’ve always done it like that.” Allow them to be the choir leader they are and let them do their job.
  • be open – to new ideas, new ways of doing things, new techniques, new strategies, new structures, new repertoire. The more open you can be, the more you will learn and discover new things about singing and your own voice.
  • don’t complain publicly – if there’s something you personally don’t like about the way your new choir leader is doing things, don’t mention it in front of the rest of the choir. It’s only your own personal viewpoint (no matter how valid it may be), so not worth undermining your new leader for. Have a quiet chat in private. They will be grateful for the feedback if delivered in a constructive, gentle, manner.
  • you can always leave – some singers like things to be a certain way and no matter how sympathetic and generous a new musical director might be, it might just be that their way doesn’t suit you. Instead of trying to change your new choir leader, it may be that you have to leave and find a choir more suited to you. Singers join choirs because they share the choir leader’s vision and approach.
I hope you find these pointers useful.

Has your choir had a new choir leader? How did the singers manage? Can you add any more pointers to my list? I’d love to hear from you.

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Chris Rowbury



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