Directing a volunteer choir can be challenging and quite rewarding at the same time. The potential to immediately and radically change the sound of your ensemble is always present. Consider these six strategies that can help you improve the sound of your volunteer choir right away:
TAKE TIME TO HEAR EVERY VOICE: Take time to hold one-on-one singer/director “mini voice lessons.” These will give you valuable information about your singers such as range and tone quality as well as any weaknesses the singers may have. Be sure to avoid the word “audition” when promoting these one-on-ones. It needs to be presented more as a “getting to know you” meeting.
UTILIZE STRATEGIC VOICE PLACEMENT: Once you’ve listened to very voice in your ensemble, it’s time to make decisions about placement. There are so many opinions and strategies for voice placement, and the difficulty with a volunteer choir is that you will not have the exact same singers from week to week. I tend to place confident/certain singers near mics, and less confident/certain singers between two confident singers. Also, try to avoid placing entire sections of singers on a single row because your ensemble will sound much better sitting in multiple rows, in sections.
CONVENE SECTIONAL REHEARSALS: The best way to confront incorrect singing and repair faulty singing practices is in the context of section rehearsals. Working occasionally with smaller sections of your volunteer choir will not only help your rapport with your singers, but will also give them a greater opportunity to sound better as a section. I recommend convening sectional rehearsals about 4 times per semester.
SCHEDULE A MINI RETREAT: ½ day and over-night retreats offer excellent opportunities for growth in your volunteer choir. Why is this? It is because you spend time together, getting to know each other, learning from one another, and rehearsing multiple times within a short time frame. These are often best-attended in January and September, although any time you can get most of your singers together for an extended time is a huge win!
FIND NEW SINGERS: One of the best strategies to potentially improve the sound of your volunteer choir is GROWTH! Adding new faces with strong voices can transform your ensemble very quickly. Look throughout your community to find potential candidates for your choir. School choirs and band are full of students whose PARENTS were also in choir and band. That’s fertile soil for growth if you ask me.
ENLIST A GUEST CLINICIAN: Having someone say the same things you’ve said to your volunteer choir a millions time can be a very effective way to improve their overall sound. Utilize personalities from local high schools, colleges, universities or composers you know to reinvigorate and energize your volunteer choir. You’ll be amazed at how responsive your choir can be to directors other than you.
John Parker has directed volunteer choirs since 1986 and currently serves as director of the Worship Choir at Hillcrest Church in Austin, TX. For questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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