Advice For Running The Choral Marathon

Choral Marathon

Employing Priorities for a Lifelong Pursuit of Choral Excellence


     Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Working as a choral director for 30+ years, I have observed some who have burned out, some who have stopped running, and some who have run a beautiful life-long marathon. The marathon runners have several life-habits in common in my observation, and I want to share a few of them with you now. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but simply a few key observations based on my experience in the choral music field.


     The marathon-running choir director loves deeply; loves music making, loves their choristers and loves their work. Love means kindness and care toward every singer who enters your space. Love means placing the interests of your ensemble ahead of your own. Love means compassion, empathy, patience, impartiality and sympathy. These character traits are not acquired ‘accidentally’, but rather developed over time with great attention to personal discipline and spiritual growth. Deep love is developed from the inside, out. What are you doing to develop these character traits in your life?


     The choral marathon requires relentless planning. Know your music in great detail; every measure and every part of every piece. Sing and learn every voice part of each new work before presenting it for rehearsal. Know the challenges each section will face, before your singers sing a note. Do the hard and continuous work of detailed score preparation. Plan each rehearsal in great detail. Know your goals for each song for each rehearsal. The marathon-running choir director knows the value of tireless planning and reaps the great rewards it brings.


     Every person who enters your rehearsal space has equal value. Everyone is important. Everyone was created by God and is equal in His sight. No one is better than anyone else, and no one deserves preferential treatment. Singers pick up on favoritism and partiality very quickly, and it creates an unhealthy atmosphere in the rehearsal room causing singers to feel devalued and insignificant. Ultimately, where singers have choices, they will not return to participate in an unhealthy environment such as this. Treat each singer fairly and equitably.


     Just like singers pick up on inequity, they also learn instinctively the motives of their director. Is the director planning, rehearsing and leading with the ensemble foremost in mind? Or does the director lead from a place of selfishness and shameless self-promotion. Those who want to run the marathon learn to place the interest of their ensemble above their own interests.


     Life can get ridiculously busy, especially during certain seasons of the year for the choral director. Keep balance in your life. Plan times to unplug, relax, rest and care for yourself. Those who live and lead without balance rarely make it to the finish line. Take time to exercise, vacation and enjoy family and friends. The marathon will be over soon enough, the life-long director enjoys the journey along the way.

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  • And after 45 years, I still look for balance! But planning and having a wonderful choir really helps-some singers have been with me for 30 of those years! Some who were in my high school choir in the ’90s.. YOU HAVE TO LOVE WHAT YOU DO!

    Polly B. James
  • Gretchen – balance for me means leaving some less-important things undone.

    John Parker
  • After 33 years, I’m not sure balance is possible. 😳

    Gretchen Harrison

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