Monday, November 22, 2021

Is it ever OK to criticise your choir leader in public?

Or … “Who’s in charge of your choir?” (answer: it’s not you!)

photo by jon jordan

I often hear from choir leaders about singers who point out to them that they’re not doing their job right. Is this ever justified?

Following on from last week’s post by David Burbidge on choir leadership styles, I thought I’d look a little more at who has the power in choir rehearsals.

Many times I’ve come across choir leaders complaining that individual singers are trying to take over when they’re leading rehearsals.

It can take the form of criticising the way they’re teaching, pointing out that they’re doing something wrong, complaining about the way the rehearsal is being run, expressing dissatisfaction with song choice, etc.

the unwritten choir contract

There is an unwritten contract between singers and choir leaders.

In exchange for singers giving up some of their power and autonomy, they expect their choir leader to be in charge of rehearsals and performances. There is a certain amount of trust involved in this transaction. And it works both ways.

Choir leaders expect singers to allow them to get on with their job. Singers except choir leaders to lead them effectively to get the best out of the choir.

Sometimes this contract is broken.

A choir leader may not be up to the job, or might be too disciplinarian, or not trust their singers. This happens rarely though as such choir leaders would soon lose all their singers.

questioning your choir leader in public

More common is when a singer doesn’t adhere to the unwritten agreement. They begin to question what the choir leader is doing and point out their perceived ‘failings.’

I believe that criticising your choir leader in public is never OK.

If you, as a singer, have problems with the way your choir is being led, then you can have a private word with your choir leader, or leave and join another choir, or even start your own choir.

There is nothing to be gained by speaking out in front of the rest of the choir. It simply undermines your choir leader and doesn’t help the choir to work better as a whole.

If you have a genuine question or are confused about the way a song is being approached, of course you can ask your choir leader for clarification. This may well help other singers too (see Ask questions – your choir leader (probably) won’t bite!).

Sometimes a choir leader may ask singers’ opinions or ask if any choir member has specialist knowledge of, for example, a particular language or song genre. As David pointed out last week, empowering singers in this way is good for the choir as a whole.

inappropriate behaviour

Sometimes a choir leader’s behaviour may be inappropriate. There is no place for racist comments, sexist ‘jokes’, and other discriminatory behaviour. Or a choir leader may be inadvertently insensitive because they don’t know the background of every choir member.

In any of these cases, you should have a quiet word in private. If your choir leader continues with their inappropriate behaviour, you can draw it to the attention of your committee (if you have one), or consult other choir members. As a last resort, you may choose to challenge your choir leader publicly.

However, if such a choir leader won’t change their behaviour after being told, you may be better off voting with your feet and finding another choir.

choir leaders take note

As a choir leader, there may be something useful to learn if individual singers start to confront you in public.

Sometimes people just need to be heard. They like complaining in public, but their specific complaint is not necessarily that important to them. You can have a private chat to find out what is really bothering them.

If this begins to happen often, it may be that your leadership style can do with a slight tweak. There is a balance between having authority when you’re out front, and being everybody’s friend. It’s seldom that both things can happen at the same time.

It may be that you have some people that shouldn’t be in your choir! If they don’t end up leaving of their own accord, you might have to consider getting rid of them yourself. It’s a horrible thing to have to do, but sometimes it’s necessary for the greater good of the choir.

Public criticism can be a sign of a choir leader not taking control sufficiently. You need to be seen to be in charge and knowing what you’re doing. If singers don’t feel that they’re being confidently led, they can end up questioning you.

further reading

You might also find these other posts of interest:

How to tell if your choir leader is rubbish

Whose choir is it any way?

Avoid toxic choir leaders – the end does NOT justify the means

Should you pander to your choir or just run things your way?




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Chris Rowbury




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