Eastertide choir burnout?
  • trowland87
    Posts: 15
    Over the past several years, I've noticed a trend with the choirs I've directed at both my current parish and a previous parish. After a successful Holy Week and Easter Sunday, the choirs basically disintegrate during the remainder of Eastertide.

    My choir season follows a fall through spring schedule - Sunday after Labor Day through early June, typically. Most of the singers are given a week off following Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, but whereas I have not generally had a problem with attendance when we've picked up again after Christmas, it seems like choir members sort of just zone out after Easter. I've tried to schedule music that would motivate them to keep going, but attendance has still taken a nose dive and I've had to cut some of it. In one choir that usually has about 18 singers, I had 3 at rehearsal a couple weeks ago. And sometimes, even the singers who are there have seemed to have given up on individual preparation between rehearsals; We'll work on a piece of music and, regardless of how much rehearsal time we've put into it previously, it's like they're looking at it for the first time again. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but in general, choir members seem to be so distracted during the springtime.

    Is it just me, or has anyone else been dealing with this as well? Spring seems to be a busy time, with a lot of absences: Travel, graduations, or even springtime allergies have been to blame for a lot of the absences in my choirs. But is it also just a matter of burnout? With the grueling pace of rehearsals leading up to the Triduum, is a week off enough of a breather? (On the other hand, does giving too much of a break kill the momentum of choirs, making it harder to pick back up again?)

    Does anyone have any thoughts or tips about dealing with this sort of situation?
  • TCJ
    Posts: 973
    Individual preparation time between rehearsals? What's that? Haven't found very many people who actually do that. Volunteer choir members tend to be a rehearsal + Sunday only type of people. Nothing I say or do actually gets them to practice on their own. Those who always did will continue to do so and those who don't never will.

    I don't see any particular trend with my choir. We don't take the summer off, but people take vacations whenever they want, so it's not like it's a high pressure thing. We do have a week off after Christmas and Easter, but there's no significant drop-off. There do tend to be more vacations, graduations, etc., this time of year, but those absences are more to do with the return of nice weather and important family events, not burnout from the choir.
    Thanked by 2trowland87 LauraKaz
  • trowland87
    Posts: 15
    Individual preparation time between rehearsals? What's that? Haven't found very many people who actually do that. Volunteer choir members tend to be a rehearsal + Sunday only type of people.

    True, but I guess I'd say that they seem to have more trouble retaining what they've worked on this time of year.
  • Bombarde16
    Posts: 123
    I dealt with that at first...

    I have a choir of ~24 volunteers.

    The issue I faced was that, prior to my arrival, there were two choirs that rotated every other week. So they would only sing 2 times per month on average.

    Due to a variety of reasons, we combined choirs in fall of 2023, and moved to an "every week" schedule in February of this year. Overall it has gone well, but I have been a broken record in talking about "communication" and "commitment", reminding people that it's not necessarily about their decision to be gone, but they have a higher calling to serve the Lord in the Mass if this is how they wish to be involved. Being in a choir is more than just singing on Sundays..... Mercifully, the choir has taken well to that Catechesis and formation, and have stepped up.

    I ask alot if them, but at the same time remind them to not feel bad about being gone when they desire to go and spend time with their family (and they, in turn, remind me of the same!!).

    If choir is just one more ministry, and it's just about getting together to sing nice music then there isn't much impetus to go above and beyond, and there isn't really a call to holiness and to holy living (and giving of one's self and abilities back to God)...

    Formation is key to consistency. I don't think I have found this to be untrue in any of my other positions...
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 258
    Part of it is natural with the demands made on the Choir during Holy Week. I understand that many here are professional musicians who do work very hard during Holy Week. But most choir members are volunteers who hold down full time jobs or have families or both.

    The demands made on volunteer choir members around Easter can be significant.
    Someone at a church I sang at came up with a great idea one Easter, why not have the choir sing at the 9:00 a.m. mass on Easter as well as the 11:00 a.m. mass? So that meant that we sang Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and two masses on Easter. At my diocese's Cathedral, for a number of years, the Cathedral Choir was drafted to sing for the diaconal ordination scheduled on the Saturday of the Octave of Easter. While it is a ministry, there are times where the demands are significant.

    This leads to understandable burnout.
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 428
    A lay person's call to holiness is first and foremost within the domestic church, for most, this is in their family.

    To my mind, family needs always come before communal worship or preparation for it.

    I'm grateful for whatever people can do, and trust that the Holy Spirit will provide people when and where they are needed.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,746
    Newly-minted cathedral director here, and I can confirm the burnout.

    We had:
    • Chrism Mass
    • Palm Sunday
    • Holy Thursday
    • Good Friday
    • Good Friday Tenebræ
    • Easter Vigil
    • Easter Morning
    • Ordination two weeks after Easter.
    • [Extra rehearsals to be able to even hope of learning it all.]

    I prepared a choir packet for holy week that was 160 pages, and that did not even include the ordination or tenebræ which were their own complete packets in the 20 page range.

    Every single one of those liturgies necessitates different music. Different anthems and psalms at least. I doubled up where I could, but suffice to say, it was a lot.

    The choir (to say nothing of myself) was understandably tired. Our new choir members who had never run the gamut before were totally in shock, and I profusely tried to reassure them that this is *not* the norm! I still lost two after holy week and they haven't come back.

    In many ways, I think that it is "too much". (Our Lord knows what He is doing, but let's be honest: it is intense.) It would be better if churches had more than one choir and each one could take one or two services while the others get the day off. Most of us don't have the luxury of more than one choir though, and in any case, we would end up attending all the events just the same.

    Part of the difference is that, while you prepare a lot of music in the run up to Christmas, most of it is very familiar, and it also tends to be of a more joyous nature. Conversely, each lenten liturgy is different, and the music isn't necessarily familiar the way that happy Christmas tunes are. There's also not the burden of performing to quite the same degree (such as the a cappella Good Friday service which takes particular care and attention).

    All that to say to the OP, you aren't alone, and you aren't crazy.
  • CatholicZ09
    Posts: 271
    I think spring is hard for many reasons. Spring means a lot of new things are added to the routine: school activities, sports, etc. Whether your choir members are participating in these events or attending their children’s events, spring has a lot of different activities that take time up the time that they might’ve had in the winter. Spring also means the end of school, and people are thinking of vacations. Minds are elsewhere. I’m a teacher, and this time of year is hard for all of us. So many things going on.

    September is usually a “fresh start” type of time where everyone’s ready to start anew, and you regain that focus with the choir.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,001
    I know people who practice at home without being asked lol, but that’s rare indeed.

    We had almost the full schola last night, and it wasn’t even a HDO here.

    I can only second trying to divide the choir or having two groups. I know that in trad land, if you get over the opposition, having a woman’s schola opens up a lot of possibilities during this time of year; otherwise you reduce yourself to low Mass.

    I’m a firm believer in volunteer choirs, yet some of these demands are insane even for professionals. So clearly what I’ve been told before, that pros are better, and more reliable, isn’t going to solve everything.
  • Bombarde16
    Posts: 123
    Les us all remember that even the mighty J.S. Bach had to draft in friends to play for free, and often was so short of musicians that he had to rewrite parts or deal with less than half strength at most times!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    Although now retired, I am aware that the musicians do this for a living. The choir does not. They have lives outside of music and hold down full-time jobs and have family obligations. I think priests expect too much, also. They don't do anything else and think everyone else is free to adapt to what they are doing. I suppose one could say that for us, music is our life. For volunteer choir members, it isn't.
  • tandrews
    Posts: 161
    I came into my Cathedral job expecting a choir that would sing until Corpus Christi. That worked for the first 2 years, but with most of the singers past retirement age, they like to travel, and so the numbers got thinner and thinner as Easter wore on, so there was nearly an empty loft for Corpus Christi.

    This season is even worse. Confirmation is today and after that seemingly all of them are committed to whatever else in their lives that the Pentecost liturgy I told them about for months is going to become just a cantor/organ liturgy. But that's better than having a sparse choir.

    Definitely make Pentecost your cut-off unless you realistically think you can make it into June.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,967
    And next year Easter falls on 20 April, and Pentecost on 8 June with Corpus Christi on 22 Jun.

    And Americans mark your calendar for the first weekend of July 2026 because the national semiquincentenary falls on Saturday.
    Thanked by 1MatthewRoth
  • trentonjconn
    Posts: 551
    And next year Easter falls on 20 April, and Pentecost on 8 June with Corpus Christi on 22 Jun.

    Oh man. I hadn't looked this far ahead...that's really late.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,967
    The date of Easter ratchet: when it falls in March, the next year it's usually 20 days later, then gets earlier by a week a couple of times before the ratchet moves it later.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,715
    Today we had, almost the full choir
    Sopranos x2
    Altos x2
    Tenors x2
    Basses x2
    plus and organist and a cantor.

    Next week we have the new normal number...
    Soprano x1
    Alto x1
    Tenor x2
    Bass x1
    plus a cantor

    Those that have access to our choir programme will see a problem...
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,967
    You have my sympathies.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 2,057
    I haven't noticed burnout. Yes, there are allergies, medical leave, school things. But that's different from burnout.
    Things that are different here:
    We sing 52 weeks a year
    We only sing on Sundays (thanks to Arthur Roche and his boss). So no Triduum. And I can well understand how a cathedral would be different.

    I'm maybe feeling a little burnout though.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw ServiamScores
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,746
    I hadn't looked this far ahead...that's really late.
    On the plus side: we will have more breathing room between Christmas and Lent. The turnaround was SO fast this year.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,967
    In 2027 & 2032, Easter will fall on 28 March.

    In 2035 and 2045, we will have the Western version of Kyriopascha: when the fixed (but of course not observed) date of Annunciation and Easter coincide on 25 March.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,001
    The Byzantine Catholics who, I suspect will all be on the Gregorian calendar by then (I’m somewhat less sure about Armenian, Alexandrinian, and Syriac Catholics in their homelands), will observe that!

    To Serviam’s point, yes. We got behind in our rehearsal schedule after having practiced St Joseph at the beginning of March.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    It's grueling, but if not for the money, sex, and glamour, we wouldn't do church music.

  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,472
    Yep....can't get them together after Easter...they are checked out
    Thanked by 1trowland87
  • trowland87
    Posts: 15
    An update: Our main adult choir had their final rehearsal before their summer break last night. I was preparing for the worst, thinking that I was going to have to cut some of the music that I'd planned. We still had the attendance problem that we've had this spring (all for legitimate reasons), but to my delight, every singer who was there was focused, receptive to my instructions, and they ended up sounding probably the strongest that they have since Easter. I couldn't have been happier with them. On top of it all, they presented me with a thank you card and gift, which was very touching and completely unexpected.

    Even with all of the effort, stress, and sometimes consternation that goes into it, I wouldn't trade Catholic music ministry for anything in the world.

    All for His glory.
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    In our parish, Easter season actually has helped us put a new choir together that now has 4-5 female and 2-3 male singers, and they have been active ever since.

    So instead of burnout, we've been building up again.