Monday, July 31, 2023

How to ask a singer to leave your choir

Very occasionally there comes a time when you will have to ask a singer to leave your choir.

photo by id-iom

What’s the best (and kindest) way to do this?

I’ve been leading community choirs for over 25 years and have only had to ask one singer to leave.

the odd one out

All my choirs have been open-access (no auditions, no experience needed, everyone welcome). This is fine as long as the majority of singers are at the same stage of development. But from time to time you will get an outlier: somebody who is much less or much more experienced than the rest of the singers.

In my case, the singer concerned was part of a small bass section and found pitching very hard. Yet he was very confident and sang out loud and proud! I tried to accommodate him as much as possible, but there came a point where he was putting the other bass singers off all the time. I had to think of the greater good for the choir, rather than one individual.

I took him to one side and explained that he was somewhat less experienced than the other singers. I suggested he spent more time on unison singing – at his church perhaps – before he moved on to harmony singing.

He took it very well and continued to support the choir by coming to concerts.

Another way of being an odd one out is that a singers manner might not fit in with the rest of the choir. A singer might have very different political views, or the chemistry between them and other singers just doesn’t work, or their ideas of politeness and protocol are very different from the choir’s ethos, or they’re just not a team player.

In this case you might be able to suggest an alternative choir for them to join. Again, try to be as clear, but as kind, as possible when asking them to leave. It’s very unlikely that they will change their personality, so as soon as you become aware of the differences, it’s better to act early.

It may be that a person’s behaviour is temporary and due to something else that is happening in their lives. This will probably be apparent if there have been no problems up to this point. Usually a quiet chat will suffice.

the disrupter

I’ve been very lucky and have never had any disrupters in my choirs or singing workshops.

But I do hear some pretty awful horror stories of singers who come to rehearsals drunk or who have personal hygiene issues or who spend their time telling the other singers what to do  or who even criticise, contradict and belittle their choir leader. Some can get very angry and even violent.

How do you ask someone like this to leave?

Disrupters often have little self-awareness (or they probably wouldn’t be a disrupter!). Sometimes it’s enough to point something out to them and they will change their behaviour. But that’s not always the case.

After having a quiet word and trying to resolve the issue, there may come a time when the only solution is for them to leave the choir. Again, you need to consider the greater good of all the singers, rather than one individual.

There is no easy way to ask a disrupter to leave. Very often they will argue with you, or even refuse to go. Rather than doing it alone, make sure you have some backup when you confront the disrupter. If you have a formal choir, you might even get the committee to ask the person to leave.

Many times disrupters just want to cause problems because they need the attention. You will need to set very strict boundaries and be 100% clear that you’re asking them to leave and not return. Try to ignore their pleas and don’t pay them attention if they try to return to choir or pester you in any way (by writing for example).

Of course, an extreme disrupter can be problematic and need some kind of police intervention. But hopefully things wont’ get that bad.

Chris Rowbury


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