Five years ago, I set up The Great Day Choir – a daytime pop choir for women of all ages. At the time, I was feeling constrained in my job prospects as a part time secondary school classroom music teacher. So I thought that I could use my passion and skills for leading singing to start up a daytime choir for women and turn it into a second income.
When I look back on that time, I see that there were views I held and actions I took, that were so misguided. But to be fair I knew no different. Here are 8 mistakes I made, that I hope you won’t (after reading this blog!)
Thinking I’m not qualified enough to run an adult choir
It seems to me that everyone at almost every level holds this view. I thought that because my main area of teaching was teenagers, I didn’t have the skills to lead adults. How wrong was I!
If you are just starting out, then chances are that if you can teach a song to a group of people in unison, you can do the same with some harmony thrown in.
And perhaps, in the beginning, the skills needed are more focused on people management and basic leading delivery. Do you need to know conducting patterns to achieve this? Probably not – at this stage. But you do need to know how to bring the group in and give them their main cues.
So lead at a level that suits your confidence and ability. But then (and this is my caveat) …learn, learn, learn from that point onwards. Seek to get better at what you do to help your choir sound better.
Feeling worried that nobody would turn up to my choir
It took me ages to commit to setting the start date for my first choir. This was mainly due to a self limiting belief that nobody would turn up. Because why would a group of people who don’t know me come to my new choir anyway?
Firstly, it’s likely that a small group of people who do know you will help you launch. Then word of mouth and your publicity can really kick in. Afterwards, people stay because of you, and probably even more so because of the atmosphere you create. I always thought that if at least one person turns up we could try out some harmony.
So set the date and stick to it.
Thinking you need a lot of people to launch a choir
This just isn’t true. If you are willing to commit to growing your choir sustainably over time then you can begin with smaller numbers and grow steadily each term. If you can retain your members then your choir will grow.
So the questions then becomes, how do you set up the conditions so that people stay for as long as possible?
There is one way to lead a choir
For a while you can think that the way to lead a choir was the way you’ve experienced someone else lead you. It was only when I joined a couple of different choirs myself that I saw the variety in approaches. For example, I learnt that you can achieve great musical results and have fun – it doesn;t have to be super serious all the time.
Similarly, you can lead in so many different ways – at the piano, with backing tracks, a cappella, with a second person helping and more. When you watch other choir leaders at work, you learn more tools to choose from. Then you can decide what feels right for you and what works best to help the choir in front of you sound good.
Feeling overwhelmed trying to please everyone
I certainly did this and I just created more work for myself. I fell into this trap by offering three different payment options. I did it by offering various ways people could learn the songs. I also ran more sessions than I really needed to during the year.
Whilst all of these actions on their own are fine, each one together culminates in more work and you end up with less time and feeling overwhelmed. I was so stretched, I began to resent my choir.
Figure out what works best for you. Change or depsose of elements that don’t work. The people you attract will be the people who suit what you have set up.
Doing everything myself
So introverts tend to rely on their own resources. For me, this would play out at all levels from putting out the chairs to handing out flyers; from self learning to producing concerts just for my choir. If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it’s that collaborating and learning together with other choir leaders is so much more fun! Plus involving my choir in sessions is much more connecting for them too. Getting help is a good thing!
Not investing in my professional learning
This is a biggie for me now! I thought that I knew enough to get by and that I couldn’t really afford to invest in my own training. I now look back and think of the time wasted doing my own thing, getting stuck in a rut and making all the same mistakes – because I didn’t know any better.
My advice – find a choir leader community and a training scheme that suits your budget and time available and….I’m going to say it again….learn more about the craft of choir leading. It will make your life as a choir leader simpler and more rewardable. Furthermore, you choir will sound better, quicker, which raises their pride and confidence in their sound.
Thinking the choir success was solely down to me
Whilst you may make many of the big decisions and plan the sessions, your choir’s success is down to your whole choir. A choir is a community activity. It is everyone’s responsibility to make it a safe, happy and successful place to come.
If you are thinking of setting up a choir in the next few months or at the beginning of the new term, my number one piece of advice is believe in your passion and your ability to make it happen. Form a realistic plan to break down the steps. Find help and support. And look out for training opportunities so that you can develop your skills and grow your own confidence as you begin.