Stressed out choir
  • AmyH
    Posts: 2
    Pre-Holy Week Stress:

    It's the week before Holy Week again, which like every Christmas and Easter Season, it means stress for our church choir.

    I don't have a music degree, but I've been the music director in my Catholic parish for 14 years, and leading church music in some capacity for about 35 years. We have an all-volunteer choir of about 30 and have been told by numerous people that they consider us the "best Catholic Choir in the area." As you can imagine, we have been working very hard preparing for Holy Week and Easter--we sing at all the services.

    Being a Type-A, perfectionist kind of person, I'm worried that I am trying to do too much with my choir. I had a choir member call this morning (after a rigorous 2 hr. practice last night where we ran through 13 songs), to tell me I am pushing my singers too hard--that choir members were feeling stressed and frustrated. I get frustrated when I have to tell them over and OVER again not to pronounce that "R," or don't breath "there,"etc. How do you make it "fun" when you are at crunch time? How do I keep myself from getting too intense when all I want is for us to do well? We have 2 more 2 hr. practices planned before Holy Thursday.

    I'm feeling discouraged and am just looking for a little commiseration/encouragement/inspiration. Maybe hearing from another choir director during this stressful week would be helpful. Any thoughts anyone?
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Listen to your choir. If you've been there 14 years surely you trust them and their judgment? If they're asking you to ease up, ease up. Maybe you don't have the pulse of the situation.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    That's a lot of rehearsal time. I find that after a point, my choir doesn't get any better. I'm just beating a dead horse.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    What's most important? Focus on that. In that order. Triage is essential, and it's your responsibility, and then to self-manage accordingly. Limits are liberating.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • I had a choir member call this morning (after a rigorous 2 hr. practice last night where we ran through 13 songs), to tell me I am pushing my singers too hard--that choir members were feeling stressed and frustrated.

    There is at least one person in every choir (except it appears from what CharlesW has said, hemay have a whole flock of them) who takes it upon themselves to attempt to tell the choir director what to do.

    You are the same choir director, doing exactly what you have for 14 years and you have not changed. You've gotten better, if anything.

    IF they would listen, you would not have to stop them over and over again. The only thing that you can do to make it fun is to turn them on themselves, make them the NoBreathThere/Don'tPronounceThatR police, and give them kazoos to grab and play when others in their section forget and screw up.

    I disagree with our three brethren above. It is not your fault, you are doing nothing wrong, in fact, you are doing everything right.

    If there are truly people who are pissed off because you insist that they remember to breathe only where permitted and the R's be pronounced in a consistent manner, then your "advisor" needs to tell them to join another choir, one that lost members to your choir because they do want to improve and be part of a group.

    You have the best choir because you work to make them sound better than they could on their own or any other director in your area.


    Or they could join this group where their pronunciation and breathing practices would be less obvious:
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    I think the law of diminishing returns is in effect during rehearsals. I have some singers who will never sound better or much different than they currently do. I could exhaust everyone else trying to get better from those singers, but it won't happen. The director before me couldn't improve them either. Pick your battles wisely.
    Thanked by 1barreltone
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    It does seem a little late in the game to be working on details of sound--a year-round project--with a volunteer choir preparing for Holy Week.

    I agree with others that it might be good to fix just one or two things. I would make sure everything is learned with confidence, and let them go home early from the second rehearsal if possible.

    On the other hand, one swallow does not a summer make, and it could well be that this one singer speaks for him/herself only. So you needn't feel like you've ruined everyone's Easter or anything. Choir people can sometimes be...interesting.

    Lastly, I would say that the more relaxed you can be and appear, the easier things will be for your choir. Charles Cole said the most interesting thing at the Colloquium last year. He said he doesn't have to speak about posture to his choirs. He communicates posture by modeling it. I think the same thing can be said for mood and confidence in general. If you want a tense choir that forgets things, be impatient. If you want a beautiful round sound, be full of confidence and pleasure.

    Thanked by 1barreltone
  • It does seem a little late in the game to be working on details of sound--a year-round project--with a volunteer choir preparing for Holy Week.

    I agree with others that it might be good to fix just one or two things. I would make sure everything is learned with confidence, and let them go home early from the second rehearsal if possible.

    Trying to be calm and polite...

    She's a successful choir director of 35 years, 14 with this choir. She's approached us about one problem asking how to handle it - a comment from a rogue from the choir - and she gets advice on how she should be doing things....things that, if she has been there 14 years, she knows how to do.

    I suggest that this discussion be limited to people who have been choir directors at one church for 14 years. That would eliminate a lot of people from this discussion and let her get advice from others who are equally successful at holding a job for an extended period of time about dealing with this one isolated comment by one person in the choir.

    Melo may have been where he's at for 14 years. And there is Dr. Mahrt.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    I have been at my position 15 years, and 5 at the church before that. How far back do you want to go? I have seen many come and go, as well as, stay and shoot themselves in the foot. A little calmness and politeness goes a long way toward peace in the choir, and toward defusing stressful situations. You don't think Easter is stressful enough?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Noel, ole buddy, ole pal,

    If you look back over the original post, there is more than one single question expressed.

    I probably haven't been reading as many years as you have, but I thought I would point that out, because you've misread.

    Just tryin to keep it real. What do you say, eh?
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    I've been at my church for almost that length of time. It is a volunteer choir. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.

    Have you had your final pre-Easter rehearsal? If not, at your next rehearsal bring a treat to say thanks. Bake something, buy something... Whatever... See if the pastor is available and have him come in and say a big thank you.

    Continue to strive for excellence. But take a GOOD look at what you have accomplished and what needs to be done and decide on what matters most. If there is time, touch on the extras.

    I was completely frustrated with our Crux Fidelis at last rehearsal... I don't know what to do with it...I feel your pain.

    Noel is right, it could be one squeaky wheel, but others may be right in believing he could be speaking the thoughts of others... Try to keep a balance.

    God bless your work, especially next week!

    Thanked by 1Andrew Motyka
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,160
    Like Charles, I've been places for a long time.

    My advice: next rehearsal apologize to the choir for your frustrated comments. Immediately following that sentence, remind them that you are there to make them the best that they can be, and that the next week will be hard on everyone, yourself included. You don't need to list all the reasons. They can read the calendar.

    Then tell them they get the week off after Easter.

    Otherwise, do NOT change a thing. My bet: no quits from your group--or if any do, they'll be the ones you won't really miss.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Choirparts
  • Noel, ole buddy, ole pal,

    Where'd you get this idea?
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Because I've been invoked by my friend and ego-checker, FNJ:
    I've been here 23 years.
    This is how direct and intimate it can get.
    We were reheasiing PSunday to Easter last night. Among about 15 choral preparations, we were rehearsing one of the Palestrina's. We had a ton of programmed agenda.
    As is my better half's inclination, she chose to inquire about my conducting of a clearly rubato piece, asking for "special cues" and a quatifiable pattern of itcti. it was, at the moment, most unneeded and worst, un-warranted. But she stumbled into it anyway. (The subtext was that she required me to itemize the rehearsal order for the whole of Triduum)
    It was disruptive, to me, beyond ken because she helped me dictate the efficiency of the rehearsal.
    I was so blindsided. So, I paused and asked my wife if that (the clear ictus of 2) was all on her agendae. She understood.
    The rest of the rehearsal, even as noted by her on the way home, was unmomentous.
    If a director cannot estabish, for good or for ill (which will require redress), subsidarity with one's spouse and the rest of the best singers who've stepped forward in the parish, then you get what you get.
    Is that the mission of a true choirmaster?
    We're still in love, we're still married, she's still (almost 60) the finest soprano ever (even over our first daughter, who's in MACW's league), and she gets it. And I get her),
    It's kind of a cosmic joke, you have to know and defend (on the fly) your "Sh*t." if you can't, you won't make it.
  • I was tempted to click the 'thank' option on Noel's first comment above, but negotiating his syntax and unfortunate vocabulary dissuaded me. Now that I said that, I do agree wholeheartedly with him - in substance.

    It is admirable that you have a choir that is scheduled for two more two hour rehearsals before the Triduum! I assume that they are doing this with willing hearts if you have been following this schedule for a number of years. Both you and they are exemplary. One rarely finds this kind of dedication outside Protestant circles. You are doing everything right.

    Your frustrations are not unique. They merely show your concern for reaching the highest level of which your choir are capable, and of your zeal for the Lord's house. Just don't let your angst infect the choir. Share it with colleagues but not with them, lest they give in to their own fears and become demoralised. At the same time, be sensitive to them and always be encouraging. And, be as encouraging to yourself as you are to them. You and they will do well; and I can't imagine that with two more two hour rehearsals you should have to alter the programme you have planned. I disagree totally with those who counsel jettisonning repertory.

    P.S.: Decide on what matters of 1) Nuance, 2) diction, 3) rhythm, 4)dynamics, 5) blend, 6) Vowel and Pitch agreement, 7)Tuning, etc., you will address, and parcel out your time to deal with all of these in a relaxed and catechetical manner. Keep your rehearsal relaxed and unruffled. Be methodical and display absolute confidence in you choirister and yourself. Never raise you voice or betray pertubation. And, IF you can afford to let rehearsal out ten minutes early, this is good for displaying and building confidence. With your group, I wouldn't mind being in your shoes! (By the way: where are your shoes?)
  • I second the idea of fixing a very few things at this point.
    I might take away a few pieces that are not prepared enough, and plug in some standards so I could focus on a very few things.

    It will not sound all that much better by next week. So less done well is more than more done poorly.

    Thank them, mean it, and dial it back only by way of how much you do. If you need the time, take it, but by shifting the focus to making sure a few things go really well, that could improve morale and lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Noel, God bless you. Just one more thing you may have missed in the original post. It ended with "Any thoughts, anyone?" Let's take that "anyone" seriously, shall we, as always on this forum.

    A story: once I took on a big gardening project during Lent, knowing that I would need a physical outlet for my stress leading up to Holy Week. That was a good Lent for this music director.

    Once against my better judgment I accepted a friend's invitation to Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. Before dinner I chatted with an elderly woman and we were seated in such a way that I had to have my head turned to the side to see her for perhaps 10 minutes. Normally I can survive such physical demands, but on this particular day my neck skipped way beyond the crick stage and basically locked in place. Didn't sleep a wink all night, hobbled to a doctor next morning-sad, sad business.

    Just to confirm, from my pov, that the demands are serious and somewhat mysterious, and hylomorphic.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 593
    We always have a two hour practice, 7-9pm. As long as you keep the things going and for the most part in the order that you plan on singing them practice can be a lot of fun; We also offer prayer intentions before practice and after practice we close with an Our Father, Hail Mary or Glory Be. Most choir members are volunteers, an "R" here or there isn't going to make or break things and when they stop breathing then you got real problems. If you come at people like a bear you're likely to get a bears reaction, they'll grumble and growl or they turn and leave.
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    No one said that aspiring to such high standards is not admirable. No one said that a director should always give in to "one rogue choir member."

    As ALWAYS there is a lot of info missing. But the OP gave no indication that this member is a problem child. In fact s/he seems to take this person seriously enough to ask our advice.

    I think we simply made the statement that if this is a person whom you trust you might give pause to consider that they might have a point and maybe they do speak for others.
  • BJJ1978
    Posts: 22
    I hope my thoughts help. Here's what I've learned in the same capacity as a DM/organist for about the same number of years as you. My choir will be stressed and frustrated IF I am. The energy among your singers has so much to do with the energy YOU bring into the room. If you bring your own stress, expect that entire room to feel stressful. I must say, your choir singers are troopers for spending 2 hours going through as much music as you mention. I'd remind them cheerfully of how glad you are to have their efforts and dedication, and that the music will be ALL the better because of their efforts expended. Sure, we can drive away thinking about all the things that could be better, but perhaps let's switch our thinking to what has become better through that rehearsal. Instead of "oh well I'm a type A".....let's remember that we're church musicians and we ALL want our musical offerings to be well presented. I try to remind my singers that after the season is over, they won't reflect on how stressed they were, they will reflect on the music and the impact it had on their worship.
    Thanked by 1Choirparts
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    I've been at my current position for 20 years. With one week to go before Holy Week, it is my experience that the choir won't get measurably better than they are right now. As a result, it is best to tweak a few things that can be made better. I assume that AmyH is working with non-professionals. If this is so, it is more important to simplify the rehearsal process and encourage them at this point. As for myself, by this point, I want the heavy lifting to be done. It is very important that the singers feel encouraged, even with what imperfections may remain. Finally, trust yourself. You are the one who sweats and sacrifices with the singers. You should know them better than anyone. Your years of experience and your training will get you through this. Enjoy Holy Week.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Choirparts
  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    Forgive me for opening up an old-and-edging-into-acrimonous thread, but whichever of the earlier posters judged the situation correctly, I once received one piece of advice that seems to fit all situations.
    Remember to love your choristers more than you love the music.
    Save the Liturgy, save the World
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    Thanks G. I needed to hear that tonight!
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,536
    [L]ove your choristers more than you love the music fine, assuming you love the music. Just hating them less won't cut it! ;-)

    It always helps me to remind myself to worry about things that might stick beyond this week and make a difference down the line. Arrr's and breathing according to the phrase surely are part of that!