World Choir Games Flanders 2023

Have you become too dependent on your choir leader? You might be denying your own abilities

  • [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]


    I’ve been noticing something interesting recently: when I move away from a part when I’m teaching them a song, they tend to fall apart.



    Since I’m not actually doing anything for them at this point, I wonder what’s going on.

    the process of learning a song

    I only teach songs by ear.

    I build the harmonies up gradually, trying not to leave any one part standing around doing nothing for long. See How to teach (and learn) a song by ear and Learning songs by ear.

    After correcting a few minor glitches, the song comes together and everyone is singing in harmony.

    I might leave the song for a while (an hour or so in a short workshop, or maybe a week or so in a regular choir) then revisit it.

    I usually then go over each part to make sure they remember it correctly.

    I stand in front of the part and sing with them, as well as indicating with my hands when the notes go up and down.

    This doesn’t take long as singers usually remember their part quite well.

    Just to make sure, I continue to stand in front of the part and listen a couple of times just to make sure they’ve got it.

    At this point I don’t sing or use my hands to indicate.

    Then I walk away to bring one of the other parts in.

    At that point, the part I’ve just left usually crumbles!

    what’s going on?

    Somehow the singers in that part are giving their power to me, even though I’m not actually doing anything to help them. I’m just standing in front of them listening.

    But they are assuming that they can only sing their part when I am there. My presence (not their own abilities) is what is enabling them to remember their part and get it right.

    I’ve seen this a lot in the community choirs that I’ve run in the past.

    We may have a song in our repertoire that we’ve been singing for years and that everybody knows inside out. So I suggest that they don’t actually need me to stand in front and conduct.

    There is usually panic: “We can’t do it without you!”

    Even if I stand in front of the choir without conducting at all, it somehow makes the singers feel safe and confident.

    And when I compliment them on their singing after a concert, they say “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

    But of course they could.

    how to reduce singer’s dependency

    Are there ways of getting singers to believe in themselves more and not rely so much on their choir leader (or other singers)?


    Here are a few:



    • regularly step away – as a choir leader running a regular group, the more frequently you step away from the front and just let the choir sing on their own, the more singers will realise they can do it without you (see Your job as a choir leader is to disappear).



    There are plenty of other tricks and techniques to help singers lessen their dependency on others, I’m sure you can think of loads!

    I’d love to hear about your own experiences – either as choir leader or singer. Do drop by and leave a comment.




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    Chris Rowbury

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338 views - 2 comments - Post Comment
  • Anke de Bruijn
    Anke de Bruijn Dear Chris, thank you for posting your interesting blogs. I'd like to respond from one aspect only (mainly because of lack of time, forgive me :-)) - physical distance. It strikes me that, since I have been teaching singers through Zoom, they become more ...  more
    January 26
  • Chris Rowbury
    Chris Rowbury Hi Anke. I totally agree with what you've said! During the pandemic singers online have been forced to rely on themselves which I'm sure has improved their confidence and listening abilities. Let's hope they can keep this confidence when they go back to c...  more
    January 27
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