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Choral Potpourri: Choral Ethics; Bein’ Highfalutin

September 29, 2016 -

“It is impossible, in our condition of Society, not to be sometimes a Snob.” William Makepeace Thackeray Recently, I’ve become aware I am being referred to as Highfalutin, an Elitist, and a Snob. All those things are, apparently, bad things. In my own work, I suppose I am a bit

Hi fellow directors. I just got in from choir rehearsal and I need to vent and ask for some guidance. Next year I will have been in church music for 30 years, so I think I am pretty experienced. I am at a smaller Methodist church, so the choir is not big. I have choir members skipping rehearsals, saying "I have to work Sunday, so I will not be at rehearsal", I have family plans, etc....you get the point. We have started working on our Christmas music which will be done on Dec. 4th. Can someone gives me advice or direction on how to nicely but firmly tell the choir members that they need to be here. It is like they do not realize that we work on music for a month out. Some churches I have served, I had an attendance policy, but do not think it will work in this situation because I do not have that many voices. I have thought about sending out a letter letting them know what is expected as a choir member without turning anyone off or piss anyone off. Thanks for listening to my frustration and me ranting. Any advice would be so accepted. David Dillard ... See MoreSee Less

20 hours ago

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Caitlín Ní CheallaighAfter every rehearsal go out for pie, coffee, & David/choir time. Everyone will look forward to that... 😉

19 hours ago   ·  5
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Renée Wilson-WickerThere are many ways to go after this. I think aiming toward the pastoral side of how the music ministers to congregation, how we as singers owe our best efforts to God and each other, etc. and that can only happen when we commit our talents and time in rehearsal. Our rehearsals give us the opportunity to glorify God. These are off the cuff thoughts, but it may help provide a direction or inspire an even better idea.

19 hours ago   ·  5
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Tom KlonglerNothing wrong with good 'ol Christian guilt :) Jesus WANTS YOU to come to rehearsal and sing his praise :-D

18 hours ago   ·  2
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Austen WilsonIf they have to work or have a family emergency, there's not much to do. Work on getting communication from them ahead of time. I've had bell choir rehearsals where I've found out that day that a number of ringers couldn't make it. Would I prefer more consistent attendance? Yes! Am I even more thankful they're participating? You better believe it!

18 hours ago   ·  4
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Vanessa Davis NormanIt is frustrating and, unfortunately, how people live their lives now. I am missing several people on a regular basis. I was hired July 1 at a good-sized church. People are not committed like they were years ago. I have no clue how to curb excuses.

17 hours ago
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Marcia HempelI would try to be patient. Maybe schedule some extra rehearsals or make a practice CD for the person who can't come very much. Even do easier music if you have to. But you need to be able to express how you feel too. But whoever you have, you want to keep.

17 hours ago   ·  1
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Maestra DeMúsica DivnickHave a heart to heart with them! Most of your members are there because they have a desire to be there (unlike some of the kids in school who are assigned to choir), so you can say to them "listen, I picked this music based on who I have in the choir, but if the choir's membership is different every weekend, then the music won't work." You can ask them to prayerfully consider their commitment to the group, reminding them (of course), that every voice is important and you hope that they all truly can commit, and that the ministry of choir is vital, because w/o music, the church service is quite bland and boring (or however you want to sell it). Or, you can go the positive praise / community building route and each week, say "Oh Nancy, I'm so glad you're here again! We really depend on you in choir. ...Hey, has anyone heard from Bill?" It depends on your personality, of course, as to which one will come off the most sincere and authentic. Good luck - it's definitely a frustrating situation to put so much effort into a group and get a tepid response.

17 hours ago   ·  2
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Kenneth PotterHire professional section leaders. They can carry it off if no one else is there. If your church is the slightest bit uppity mobile they will be late, absent, off on a caribbean cruise, leave you in the lurch. A quartet of dependables will always save your bacon.

17 hours ago   ·  3

1 Reply

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Betsy Baeskens GiriI am not in the church music world, but am curious if interested singers, before joining, are given a written list of norms and/or expectations, and an agreement to sign? Maybe that sort of thing isn't done in church choirs, but I, for one, always do better when I know exactly what is expected of me. To my mind, it is just common courtesy, respect, and decency to honor commitments....maybe they really don't know how much it matters that everyone is there at the same time. Sorry for your frustration.

16 hours ago

2 Replies

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Jed LevineMeet with the whole group to establish a covenant that all can/will agree to. Emphasize that their responsibility is not only to you but to each other and to the congregation they serve.

16 hours ago   ·  1
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Richard HugginsMake a DVD. Start w a close up of you (and accomp) rehearsing something. As the cam pulls back we see that no one is there! Cross fade to you at your desk laughingly saying something "ok , that was kinda extreme, but...." and then go on to talk about the imp of strong reh attendance, working on several services each week, etc Also strengthen the fellowship aspect with occasional choir parties, carve out some after-rehearsal fellowship ("Cakes My Momma Taught Me") etc. so that they just wouldn't want to miss. A card to absentees (NOT emails) is work but delivers the message that they were noted and missed and has a personal touch.

15 hours ago   ·  1
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Amber Day SumnerDavid, I also direct a small choir in a small Methodist church and I feel your pain! My rehearsal attendance ranges from 6-14 depending on who's sick, out of town, working late, etc. To a certain extent it's unavoidable when you're dealing with a volunteer group, as you know. I start each season with a printed list of my goals and expectations, on bright neon paper that they keep in their folders, and I periodically spend some time talking about our important role in worship and how difficult it is to grow as an ensemble without consistent attendance. I also make constant reminders about letting me know about planned absences so I can choose appropriate music. One thing I've had to break myself of is repeating too much of what was covered at a previous rehearsal for those who missed it. I make study tracks available online, so if you weren't here when we worked out the notes on the second verse it's your job to catch up outside of rehearsal. A consistent routine of working on many pieces beyond the next anthem, fun warm-ups, and time for fellowship also helps to encourage regular attendance. Two years ago I tried to do Rutter's "What Sweeter Music," and last year it was Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium." Both were certainly within our capability... if I had perfect attendance from everyone for eight or ten weeks leading up to Christmas. I learned, after scrapping my grand plans for something less ambitious, that it's far better to do a simpler piece well than to stress myself out and get frustrated because I want more out of my singers than they're willing to give. Instead I try now to stick to pieces they can learn in 3-4 rehearsals for the most part. Appeal to their role as worship leaders and their desire to sound better, and remind them of the importance of each of their individual contributions, but don't rely on perfect attendance that you know you won't get. It's a very tough balancing act and my prayers are with you!

13 hours ago   ·  1

1 Reply

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Graham LackRehearse in people's homes on a round robin basis?

12 hours ago   ·  1
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S Timothy GlasscockWe have a quartet of section leaders, (not that THEY don't sometimes have to miss😳) but it does help getting things together.

10 hours ago   ·  1
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Roger McGeeWe do monthly Saturday Rehearsals leading up to Christmas in addition to Wednesday weekly rehearsals. We give all singers a demo cd of the music and have voice part cds for them as well. We contact them weekly if they are absent and give every opportunity for them to catch up on the big events. For Sundays we have multiple services that are identical and have rehearsal ahead of each one. People are busy and if your church is family oriented and ours is, there are plenty of things that come between a rehearsal and family. We try to make it possible for singers to be prepared beyond the one rehearsal a week plan.

8 hours ago   ·  1
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Tyler TurnerHave a conversation with the choir and listen to them. Listen to how they feel about rehearsals and attendance without inputting your two cents. Let them talk to you and each other. Skipping rehearsals is a buy-in problem, and this always helps me get my singers more deeply on board. Without you saying anything, I suspect the group will come to a consensus that rehearsal is important. That peer pressure will help those who skip. They may also say things you don't expect that will help you better plan for the future. (Maybe they want practice tracks, etc...) Another idea that has worked for me is to create a "planned absences" Google document. Everyone types in when they plan to be gone, and it is visible to all choir members. That way, people see the effect of absences and you can better plan for rehearsal.

7 hours ago   ·  1

3 Replies

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Joan FearnleyI feel your pain. It's really tough to work with a small group. When the group is small we feel quite powerless to put our foot down and demand attendance. We feel that if we did that there wouldn't be a choir left. But in my years of conducting and my years as a chorister I have observed that when the conductor is "powerless" in facing the whims of the membership the problem gets oddly worse. Leaders need to have some degree of power, without it there is no leadership currency. You may not be able to have an attendance policy the same way auditionned choirs might have but you can still reclaim some of the power that is required for good leadership. I have found that member accountability is the key ingredient in a church setting. The accountability is sometimes hard to quantify but it becomes clear with the individual who treats the choir like a revolving door. The accountable member will always feel some guilt when being absent and with your years of experience you will sense it. It's the kind of guilt they feel because they understand how that affects your ability to make good music. Note that I always give new members are chance to get used to the culture of the choir. Some have never sung in a choir before and don't understand the kind of accountability expected. Bottom line, I want choristers to inform me ahead of time. If they repeatedly don't do this I will inform them that choir might not be for them and that there may be other ways to serve the church. Better to go back to the basics of a small but strong group.

7 hours ago   ·  2
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Richard HugginsI learned---almost the hard way---that you never want to talk excessively about attendance in front of the ones who ARE THERE!! To them be positive and appreciative.

6 hours ago   ·  4

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Dena Carper Adams1. You've been doing this for thirty years. Have you considered your own rehearsal style? Do you need personal renewal yourself? Do you need to update rehearsal techniques? 2. People ( especially volunteers) need to feel valued. What does your congregation do to validate their contributions? Choir appreciation reception or luncheon? Public acknowledgement? 3. Members need to feel a personal connection. What can you do IN rehearsal to build that if not already strong? 4. You might need to ramp up the fun factor: new warm ups, a cool video, a guest, new rehearsal strategy. We are ALL in this same boat. I just had this same conversation last night with the music leadership at the church where I work. People's lives are overwhelmed, over scheduled, and commitment to ANY organization is less than in years past.

5 hours ago   ·  1

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Craig HarmannSome things I've learned along the way. Make it fun and enjoyable. Allow them to laugh and fellowship. Pray together. Ask them for input. Pray for them. Love them. Build relationships with them outside of rehearsal. Be transparent with them. Thank them profusely for being there. I have done these things with small choirs and now my larger choir and I see the benefits and blessings of each and every one of them in every circumstance.

5 hours ago   ·  3
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Don Roythe joy of our profession...there isn't much you can do ...suck it up and plan accordingly....extra rehearsals for those who miss...my problem is that half my choir goes away during Christmas....I try and keep it simple with emphasis on carols...

5 hours ago
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Joan FearnleyI tend to disagree with those who say to plan extra rehearsals for those who miss. Too many options can often make things worse. It becomes a kind of cafeteria rehearsal schedule. Conductors will exhaust themselves trying to adapt to everyone's personal needs. Build loyalty and accountability, it's the only way. People will only be absent when they really have to be and most of the time they can notify you ahead. I think the issue that is really getting under your skin is the lack of respect shown by certain members by their lack of communication and commitment. Trying to cater to those people's needs will erode the respect that should be shown to the conductor and fellow choristers. These attitudes are contagious and will become a choir culture that is a challenge to fix. Sometimes the only way to fix that culture is to start from the ground up. You might have to tolerate a small choir for a while. I just want to be clear though. I have no issues with justified absences where members have done their utmost to contact you. I admire the commitment my members have to their families and some of the life challenges they've endured. Some have worked so hard all their lives and deserve to take vacations.

5 hours ago   ·  6

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Larry StuartI retired a few years ago after serving as a minister of music for 43 years. Though not 100% successful in getting everyone to rehearsal, we came pretty close. People are always going to have conflicts with personal schedules, kid's school activities, illness, work, etc. These things worked for me: START and END on time (I hate going to rehearsals expecting to begin on time, only to sit and wait. Same thing at end of rehearsal. Don't take advantage. COMPLIMENT the choir for working hard, for doing a good job, for being present! This builds relationships! GET INVOLVED in their lives! Know what they do for a living, how many kids they have, etc. If something is happening in their family (happy or sad) show interest!Send them notes when absent, on special occasions. ALWAYS CHALLENGE THEM in rehearsal. Remember they come because they enjoy being there. It is our job to encourage them! Finally, never let an absence go unnoticed. Let them know you missed them and that the choir is not complete without them.

4 hours ago   ·  6
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David Dillardgreat points Larry. Thank you.

2 hours ago
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Cynthia AuBuchon BraswellDo a Doodle to see if there is a time/date that may work better for some? www.doodle.com

7 minutes ago
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