Monday, April 13, 2020

10 things choir leaders can do when stuck at home

What is a choir leader without a choir?

There are times when you won’t be able to be with your choir in person. Here are some things to help keep your choral and music interests alive.

In a recent post (10 things singers can do at home when there’s no choir to go to) I listed several reasons why singers might not be able to get to choir.

It’s similar for choir leaders. Here are some reasons why you might be stuck at home with no singers to work with in person:

  • it’s the long summer (or winter) break and your choir is having a rest
  • you’ve got a nasty cold and don’t want to infect your singers
  • you’re “between choirs” waiting for a new job to start
  • you break your leg or arm or …
  • you have to stay at home to care for someone
  • you’ve been fired and are looking for a new choir to lead
  • there’s a pandemic and you’re in lockdown

And I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons you can think of.

In these circumstances, how can you keep your love of music and choral singing alive?

Here are 10 suggestions.

1. look after yourself

It’s harder for choir leaders than singers when there is no choir. Despite our best efforts, we still tend to define ourselves by what we do. What is a choir leader without a choir? It can easily affect our sense of self and belief in our own abilities. The most important thing is to take care of ourselves before we think about our choir and singers.

Choir leaders work hard. If this is an enforced break, you might suddenly realise how tired you are. Don’t feel that you have to be productive all the time. It’s important to take a break now and again.

You might find these posts useful:

Taking care of ourselves as choir and workshop leaders

It’s break time for many choir leaders, but how do you actually switch off?

Choir leaders: how to give yourself a break and not feel guilty

2. tidy up

I don’t know about you, but as the choir season progresses my “music room” becomes more and more of a mess! I’m always promising myself to tidy up, but when the holidays come it somehow slips to the bottom of my to-do list. Well, now’s the chance to put things in order.

It might be a chore, but there are two really good reasons to do it: 1. it’s incredibly satisfying when you see a tidy room at the end, and 2. if you put a good system in order it will be much easier to find things in future thus making you more effective at your job. See Putting your house in order or how to clear up after a busy choir season.

It’s not just lyric sheets and scores that need tidying up. Go through all those messy files and folders on your computer and create a sensible filing system.

Another form of “tidying up” is to tidy up your mind. At the end of a long stretch of choir leading, you will have loads of new ideas, unfinished thoughts and realisations washing around your head (and maybe scraps of paper and strange notes dotted around). Time for a bit of self-reflection. Put all those thoughts into some kind of order whether on paper or in your head.

You might find these posts useful:

Taking stock – self-reflection for choir leaders and singers

Getting the best out of your choir 6: self-reflection

What is your measure of success? – choir leading and self-reflection

3. create learning resources for your choir members

This is something many choir leaders do as part of their regular work, but it’s very easy to get behind. Now is a great time to revisit any choir resources you currently offer and to tidy them up and make sure they’re up to date. You can then perhaps begin to create some new learning resources: warm up videos, a new members’ resource area on your choir website, record separate parts for new songs, and so on.

4. find new repertoire and discover new musical genres

As a choir leader you’ll always have your eyes open for new repertoire. Most of us are planning at least one season ahead (like those choirs who start rehearsing Christmas music in July!). But there never seems to be enough time to really go looking for new and exciting music.

It’s not that easy to stumble across music that you might not be familiar with. Most online algorithms keep us in the same bubbles that we’re used to. But it is possible to keep following suggested videos on YouTube for example, and end up somewhere really strange and unexpected. Don’t forget to bookmark your interesting discoveries.

For those of you who rely on existing choral arrangements, why not seek out some new music publishers instead of going to your familiar sources? There are plenty of smaller, niche publishing companies out there specialising in specific genres. When searching for new genres of music, you may come across a choir you like the sound of. Contact them and see where they get their arrangements from.

If you can’t find anything out there to pique your interest, you can always …

5. arrange or write songs

If you’ve not tried this before, now is the time! As a choir leader, whether you have had formal musical training or not, you have a deep, intuitive understanding of how harmony works and which arrangements suit your choir.

6. connect with other choir leaders

The internet is a wonderful tool for connecting people in far-flung places who have similar interests. There are plenty of Facebook groups for people who lead choirs, from formal, academic ones, through school-based ones, to community and informal choirs.

You can also track down interesting composers, choir leaders, arrangers, songwriters, choral organisations, etc., find the Contact pages on their websites and drop them a line.

7. do some singing yourself

You may not think of yourself as a ‘singer’, but it’s always a good idea to sing as, not only does it keep you sane and healthy, but it gives you an insight into what your choir members experience. Sing around the house, sing songs you know and love, but also try singing through some of the arrangements you do with your choir. And if you try some arranging of your own, definitely sing those out loud to check their ‘singability’.

8. learn or practice a musical instrument

Many choir leaders play piano or other instruments. But some do not. If you already play, here is an opportunity to do some more practice. If you don’t play, now’s the time to start learning as you’ve always promised yourself.

9. update your website, Facebook page, CV, LinkedIn page, etc.

As a busy choir leader it’s easy for things like this to get overlooked. As a professional, make sure your CV (online or otherwise) is up to date. Check the “About Me” section of your own website. Keep your LinkedIn, Facebook page and other profiles up to date. Make sure your own website and choir’s website are up to date, look modern and are easy to understand and navigate.

10. listen to choral recordings

When you’re working hard it’s possible to lose sight of the love and passion that drew you to choral singing in the first place. Make time to listen to some of your favourite choral performances. Compare different versions of the same songs. Listen back to recordings by your own choir. Discover choral music that you’ve never heard before. Also, see Back to basics: how to reawaken your passion as a choir leader.

And a bonus idea of last resort:

11. set up an online singing group

Nothing can ever replace the feeling of singing in a group with others in the same physical place at the same time, especially in harmony. However, it is possible to stay engaged with your choir members and to lead them in online sing-alongs. At the very least you get to see each other and have a brief chat online. See How to sing together in times of isolation.

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Chris Rowbury




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