If I could start over

“If you could begin again with your choir,
what are five things that you would do?”

Date: Sun, 22 Jun 1997
Subject: Beginning Anew: Compilation

Dear Choralisters:

Earlier this month, I posed to the list the question,

“If you could begin again with your choir, what are five things that you would do?”

Below is a compilation of the responses that I received.

1. Make it quite clear to all singers that punctuality is essential. Once people think that 6pm in fact means 6:10pm, 6:10pm becomes 6:15pm, and you’re already on the slippery slope. It’s not just a case of wasted time, it sets the wrong atmosphere.
2. Ditto reliability. There are bound to be occasions when singers can’t come to a rehearsal for whatever reason, but they should see it as a commitment, and realise that poor excuses will not be tolerated. Again, a firm stance is essential here.

3. On a musical note, I think that getting used to attending to detail cures a multitude of ills. If singers are used to the idea that final consonants should come together, they will, after a while, be in the habit of watching the conductor for such things, or will sort them out within their sections and not need to be reminded to do so. When things like this become second nature, rehearsal time can be used for the lees mundane thing in music.

4. Ditto singing on the beat. This improves singers’ confidence and sense of responsibility, and prevents people from relying on a core of leaders (so often a problem in larger choirs). It also improves the way people breathe in, since they always know exactly when they are to start. As in 1, once people get used to singing just behind the beat, and the conductor accepts this, then you’re already on the slippery slope. Before long, you won’t be able to do anything up-tempo, without it sounding shambolic.

5. Encourage singers to think for themselves, rather than be the conductor’s robots. If you explain to singers *why* you want something phrased in a certain way, they will over time be able to spot similar situations and respond similarly to them without being explicitly told, thus freeing rehearsal time.

1. insist on a preparatory class of music theory and sightreading.
2. have started multi-cultural music long ago – my students love it.
3. have taken a course on mob psychology (not kidding)
4. have taken an accounting course

5. have spent several hours in front of a video recorder, correcting my conducting technique
1) Audition each singer, even though we do not require precise readers. I think this gives a feel of seriousness to even a small community choir such as ours.

2) I would (am going to) set up an entry interview, so to make clear the guidelines about attendance, etc.
My daughter sang for commencement at a Christian HS where the speaker closed with 4 keys for success. As I listened to them, I thought back over the year with my school choir and what had held us back from reaching our potential. I thought these keys held the secret, so I’m using them with the community choir camp I’m directing this week.

1. Follow directions exactly, even if you think you have a better idea.
2. Have a good attitude.
3. Work hard.

4. Go the second mile.
Stick to your beliefs about choirs and their function to the service and the church.

This year there were many deaths that touched the lives of my singers. One wonderful man, who is hard of hearing, is there week

in and week out, lost his wife this year. At our end-of-the-year party of the choir he told my wife how much the choir had kept him busy, and that he felt needed by all those around him, that it helped him through those early days of loss. This is so common. We as church musicians must not lose sight of our ministerial responsibilities when dealing with our choir members.
I have my choir members keep a journal of everything relative to the choir along with their personal experiences with music. Many of my students set musical goals at the beginning of the year, or beginning of semester.

They can include singing in a small group, singing a solo, extending their vocal range and becoming better readers. I make sure that they state their goals in measurable terms. This really helps them see how much they have grwon musically.

I have a small synagogue choir that I have built from 8 to 20 members, over the last 2 years. If I had it to do over, I would spend more time on vocal quality/blend issues, and implement a steady sight-reading program, and concentrate less on frequent performances. I’m afraid that’s not exactly imaginative, but these are the things I miss the most in my group. Then again, it’s never too late to work on these things.
I’ve been thinking about how to begin anew with a couple of choirs that I direct.

One idea is to have occasional spot checks with all singers individually. I think this not only keeps them on their toes, but allows you to get to know them better and help them overcome any weaknesses. I would plan to do this every 6 weeks or so, during lunch – – a required “quiz” type activity of the choir.

I might also try having section leaders even in the younger choirs – – singers who are strong and can “take care” of their section, calling sectional rehearsals when they think they are needed. These sectional rehearsals will be with me, but the secttion leader will decide when they are necessary.

In the Fall, I will “begin anew” as I have been on a one year leave of absence after 16 years of teaching…so, I WILL use mirrors (hand held) in the Concert CHoir (high school) class to insist on proper facial mechanism and I WILL hold all students accountable for their voice parts by having them Cassette tape their parts for me to hear (a cappella) at the end of the each marking period. The rest of the “stuff” I had done in the past will simply continue…


I would make sure the rehearsals are fun. People are much more open to learning when they are being uplifted than when they are being “attacked”.

I would remember that the choir is a reflection of me, my conducting skills and my attitude, and if they are singing or doing things in a way that I don’t like, I would look at myself to see what I’m doing, instead of berating them for what they are doing.

I would remember that music is communication, and if it isn’t communicating good things to the choir and to the audience, it isn’t successful.

I would figure out how to keep all correction positive; no negatives!

I would know my music better before I try to teach it to my choir.

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