Monday, July 12, 2021

How to be a really successful singer or choir leader – deliver more than expected

If you want to be a real success, it’s not enough to just do the job at hand. You need to deliver more than is expected.

What does that mean for singers and choir leaders?

Most choir directors and singers do their job really well. But the memorable, stand-out ones do something extra.

I’m sure it’s been said many times before, but in business this quote is attributed to Google founder Larry Page:

“Always deliver more than expected.”

The idea is that it’s always better to over-deliver than under-deliver or do exactly what is expected of you. You need to “delight the customer” and not just provide the basic service.

When people get more than expected, they appreciate you more and trust you more. When you do less than expected, you can disappoint others and lead them to not trust you and lose interest in whatever it is that brought them to you in the first place. And if you do only what is expected, nothing more, then you won’t grow or be noticed.

To be a very successful singer or choir leader, don’t be average or do things “just right” Go above and beyond the call of duty and you’ll be respected and loved more for that.

Do what you say you’ll do, then deliver more.

What might that mean for choir or singing workshop leaders and singers?

choir and singing workshop leaders

Your basic job is to work with a group of singers and to help them to sing as a group the best they can. You’ll need a modicum of musical knowledge and the ability to inspire and instruct a group of singers.

You can do this in a methodical, boring way by drilling music repeatedly and keeping singers in line with strict discipline. It may not be much fun, but it will get results.

You can turn up to each rehearsal, do your job then go home: no need to learn singers’ names, no getting to know them as individuals.

You can choose the music you like and impose it on your singers, making it work somehow regardless of the vocal abilities or ranges of your choir members.

You get the idea.

Surprisingly some choir leaders work like this and their choirs continue to flourish. Usually either because they’re the only choir in town (singers have no choice if they want to sing) or they get good results (the ends justify the means).

But if you want to be a truly successful singing leader who gets plenty of repeat business and has singers flocking to their workshops or rehearsals, you need to do more.

Some of those “extras” (above and beyond the basic job) might be:

  • be fun and keep a light hand on the rudder, give your singers a good time – hard work without it being serious or tedious
  • have endless patience so you don’t get cross or shout at singers – singers flourish in safe, encouraging environments
  • get to know your singers: their names, their backgrounds, their personalities
  • help create social events which help to bond choir members, keep morale up, and make the whole enterprise more humane
  • provide resources which help you singers to rehearse and practice at home: lyric packs, recorded parts, etc. – if you lead one-off workshops, provide recordings of the sessions and full information about all the songs taught
  • welcome new members as individuals, make sure they have a “buddy” and are integrated well into the group
  • stay in touch, not just at rehearsals, but during summer breaks, weekends off, etc. – show the singers that you care about them and don’t take them for granted
  • and so on … you get the idea. Now it’s over to you to see what you can do for your singers that goes above and beyond (see also What the job of choir leader involves, The six qualities needed to be a good choral director and How to tell if your choir leader is rubbish).

For choir and singing workshop leaders, your “customers” are your singers. You need to delight and enthuse them so they keep coming back, and hopefully bring others.

singers and choir members

Some singers turn up to weekly rehearsals or one-off workshops believing that they’re going to be entertained and told what to do. That is true to some extent (see Singing in a choir – balancing individual freedom with the demands of the team), but you need to take on some responsibility yourself.

As a singer you might join in the warm up half-heartedly, not bother looking at the music you’re working on between rehearsals, chat with your neighbour and not pay attention to your choir leader, always work within your comfort zone, put just enough effort into the singing but no more. But if you do this, you won’t be getting as much out of singing as you possibly can.

It’s not about pleasing your choir leader (although in business terms, they are the “customer” you’re trying to delight) – they are not your parent or school teacher. But if you go above and beyond, it will make their work easier, and improve both you as a singer and the choir as a whole.

Being a choir member entails certain responsibilities (see How to be a good choir member). Beyond that, you can get more involved in the running of your choir in many different ways (see Ask not what your choir can do for you – ask what you can you do for your choir).

What else can you do to go beyond the basic job of being a singer? Here are what some of those “extras” might be:

  • learn your part ASAP – put the time in to get off book as soon as possible. Whether it’s just lyrics or the whole sheet music, the sooner you don’t have to have a piece of paper in your hands, the better you can sing and pay attention to your choir leader and the other singers.
  • put yourself forward – when volunteers are needed for solos or small group work, step up. Be sensitive and allow others a chance too, but show that you’re willing and able.
  • step outside your comfort zone – in order to stretch and grow as a singer you need to try a range of genres, song styles and vocal ranges. Don’t stay in your safety bubble, but try new things as much as possible – you may be surprised!
  • don’t be “that singer” – don’t tell those around you what to do; listen carefully – to other singers and your choir leader; make sure your voice is blended with those around you; don’t let your ego take charge; don’t keep asking questions (but do ask when necessary).
  • always have a smile – not only is it good for vocal quality and projection, but you’ll be recognised as a positive person who contributes much to your choir and helps to lift the general mood.
  • help others – if you see someone who’s struggling, help them out but do it subtly. If they’re a new choir member, make sure you chat to them in the break and help them find out what your choir’s routines are. If you see them struggling with their part, don’t tell them what to do, but maybe stand closer to them to give them a subtle guide voice.

There are bound to be loads of other ideas to help you deliver more than expected. I’d love to hear from you if you have more suggestions.


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Chris Rowbury




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Chris Rowbury


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