Monday, October 31, 2022

Working with an established group (who are set in their ways)

No matter how flexible and self-aware we think we are, inevitably we all end up becoming a bit set in our ways.

photo by Social Gabe

This can particularly apply to any choir or singing group who’ve been together for a long time. What happens when a new leader comes along and tries to change this?

In my career I have run many singing workshops for established choirs and have stood in occasionally for other choir leaders.

In each case I’ve encountered groups of singers who have developed their own culture and way of doing things. Some of them are very happy to let these old ways go and to try something new. But others have become set in their ways and find it difficult to embrace new ideas.

Habits formed over the years can encompass things like “I always sing alto”, “We always have a break at 3pm”, “I always sit here”, “Our choir leader uses the piano when teaching”, “The tenors always stand at that end of the room”, ”We always work in a circle”, “We always sit down to sing”, “We never sing songs in foreign languages”, and so on.

Habits bring us comfort in their familiarity. “It’s the way we’ve always done things.” But habits can also mean that you’re not being in the moment and you’re not being open to new experiences. If you never step outside the familiar, you will never learn anything new, or develop your existing skills.

There’s nothing wrong with staying within the comfort zone of the familiar. Even though it can limit your development as a singer, it can give you the confidence and comfort you need to sing.

But what happens when you come up against somebody who does things differently? Like in a singing workshop or when somebody stands in for your choir leader?

I’m a great believer in getting people to shake off old habits and to try new and unexpected things without any expectation. When I find myself leading a group of singers who are set in their ways, I do everything I can to shake things up. If they are sitting down, I ask them to stand (and vice versa). I move singers around. I ask singers to put their lyrics and sheet music down. I might turn the lights out. I might divide the choir into small SATB groups, I can get the basses to sing the soprano line.

Anything to bring new life into a situation and get singers to be in the moment and open to new experiences.

I might encounter a certain amount of resistance at first and see some scowling faces, but usually, I have the singers on my side by the end. Especially when we end up creating a great sound.

At the very least, when the singers go back to their familiar choir and choir leader, they can breathe a sigh of relief! But maybe – just maybe – something tiny has shifted inside them and awakened their passion for singing and learning new things.

Chris Rowbury


Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox!

Click to subscribe by email.


found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may like to ...

... to say thank you.





Monthly Music Round-up: