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How to prepare new choir members for their first visit

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    No matter how hard you try to make your choir a friendly, welcoming place, joining a new choir is like starting a new school. It can be frightening.

     

    photo by Capture Queen

     

    Here are some ideas that may help prepare new members for their first visit to your choir.

    It can be a daunting prospect joining a new choir. You may never have even sung in a group before.

    We all like to think our choirs are friendly, welcoming places (see How welcoming is your choir?), but it can be scary walking into a room of strangers, most of whom already know each other.

    There is only so much that a choir leader can notice. It may seem that all the new members are smiling and enjoying themselves, but that may all be a front.

    New members can feel out of their depth, or that they don’t really have the right to be there. When the break comes, it can be like their first day at infant school all over again. If a child found that hard, there’s a good chance that the adult will still find it hard.

    There are some things that can be done to make it easier. Every person is different so not everything will work for everyone. The most important thing is to keep checking in with new members and make it easy and safe for them to share their worries.

    Here are a few things that might help.

    • never enrol lone singers – always take new singers on in a group. Then at least they won’t be alone and have the company of a few others in the same boat.
       
    • only allow singers to join at sensible times – it would be crazy to take a bunch of new singers on just before a major concert. Similarly – unless you’re a drop-in choir – taking singers on any time after half way through a term makes things difficult. Letting new singers join at the start of a season means that you create more of a level playing field.
       
    • be aware of preconceptions – your choir is a familiar and friendly place to you. But outsiders (especially those who have never sung in a choir before), bring a whole set of preconceptions with them. See Everybody has a place in the choir
       
    • work with new singers before their first session – working with just the new singers in your regular rehearsal space can work wonders. They will get used to the choir leader and their way of working. They can be eased into singing in a small, safe group. They will be able to familiarise themselves with the rehearsal space (how to get there, where the toilets are, etc.). The choir leader will have a chance to explain how things work and overcome any preconceptions that the new singers might have.
       
    • check in regularly – with a large choir it’s really easy to feel that everything is going wonderfully. But unless you check in regularly with singers you might not realise that they have concerns, difficulties, misunderstanding, etc. It can be the choir leader, section leader or a ‘buddy’, but make sure you do it often and in a gentle way.
       
    • choirs don’t suit everyone – it may be that even after a few weeks, a singer might still not quite fit in or feel comfortable. It may simply be that choirs aren’t their thing. See 5 good reasons why joining a choir might not be right for you
       
    • practical ideas – I’ve written two guides for new singers joining an established choir. One for the singers, and one for choir leaders. You’ll find plenty of useful, practical tips there. See Joining an established choir: a guide for new singers and Joining an established choir: a guide for how choir leaders can help new singers
       


    Do let me know if you have any other ideas that may help new singers. Or if you’ve been a new singer yourself and found it hard. I’d love to hear from you!

     

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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