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St Christopher's Community Choir

Do you have what it takes to lead a community choir?

Community choirs bring people of all ages together, uniting through song and shared purpose. People have different motives for singing in a group: to try something different, to explore a new skill, to find company and a sense of belonging, to improve health and well-being, to make a contribution, to feel valued. The motivation might be musical, personal, both, or more. A good community singing group will welcome everyone and take them all forward together, matching the musical activity to the expectations of its members. The priorities are enjoyment, learning together, being inclusive, and achieving success — culminating in a performance, if desirable.

Running a community choir requires good leadership. A community choir leader should win trust, demonstrate empathy, have a clear purpose, set expected behaviours, and teach skills that everyone can develop. Expectations should be high but achievable, and leaders must inspire with passion and confidence to create a team spirit. An open mind is essential; everyone has something to offer. A leader’s approach to challenges must always be positive.

A community choir leader has to engage people quickly, and every session needs to help members feel fulfilled and successful. Physical activity is always a good icebreaker and establishes the social bonding that is essential to good group singing, so action songs and warm up games are invaluable. Once the atmosphere is comfortable and singers are focused, then it’s time to step things up and start the singing.

Community choir members bring different expectations and abilities to a session, so work has to be paced carefully to keep everyone on board, challenging them to improve without demoralizing or frustrating anyone. It’s a delicate balance, and a good leader with the right singing material will achieve this, using praise and positive responses to keep spirits high. A ‘can do’ attitude is essential!

I recently led a workshop with singers who mostly belonged to a choral society (which gives formal performances of major choral works, with most members reading music), and a few who didn’t usually sing at all. Participants had little or no experience of singing gospel music or learning by ear (i.e. without music). As with all singers new to singing in a community choir, some things I asked them to do were outside their comfort zone; moving and singing with actions, learning a round – encouraging greater vocal independence – and tackling a gospel song. Many community choirs meet regularly and develop skills and confidence over time; this group managed a fairly secure ‘performance’ in just one session.

Watch this short video of excerpts from the workshop.

The success of this approach is down to good pacing via small steps and the choice of very accessible simple repertoire that has the potential to develop over time. Suitable pieces are ones which are flexible enough to cater for any type of group. Community choir leaders need to find repertoire with adaptable parts which is accessible to all – hence African welcome songs, silly rounds, gospel songs, and spirituals, all of which feature few words, simple harmonies, and much repetition in the melody lines.

Singing is one of the quickest routes to social bonding and a feeling of shared endeavour. This explains why community groups are immensely popular and provide invaluable support (and even health benefits) to so many people. Leading such a group is exciting and rewarding. You’ll learn a huge amount about how best to communicate your enthusiasm and passion, and how to motivate others. Get passionate, be an advocate – try it!

Featured image credit: St Christopher’s Community Choir. By Garry Knight. CC-by-2.0 via Flickr.

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