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8 top tips to be a commanding choir leader

by Dominic Chandler
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Are you a member of an existing choir considering taking the step to become a choir leader? Or are you thinking about starting your own choir and are wondering if you’ve got what it takes? Maybe you’re already a choir leader looking for some tips on how to stay at the top of your game?

Whatever your reasons, we’ve got you covered with our 8 top tips to being a commanding choir leader.

Choir leader conduct

1. Be organised

When you’re the head of any team of people, you need to be organised. But, when you’re leading a choir this is even more essential. From rehearsals to performances, you need to ensure that each member of your choir knows where to be and at what time.

If your choir has a designated member to help with administration then they can help with things such as venue bookings and membership management. But, if you’re going it alone, you’ll have to take care of all these duties alongside the musical arrangements and score preparation.
And it’s not just venue booking that you have to consider, on the day of the performance you’ll have a lot to do.

Choir leaders are usually responsible for ensuring all the attire is ready for the performance, if your choir wears a particular uniform. And you’ll have to get confirmation from each member of the choir to know that they’ll be there for the performance.

Plus you’ll need to be ready to address the audience in between songs and be ready to give a special mention to soloists and other members of the choir.

Even if your choir has someone to help you with these organisation duties, the reality is that because you’re their leader, the members of the choir will look to you to give them the information they need. You need to be ready at any point to give the members of your choir the answers to their various questions.

2. Be a friend

While you need to be authoritative as the leader of your choir, you also need to be approachable to the members you lead in the choir.

You want the members of your choir to be able to come to you and speak openly with you about any issues they’re facing within the choir or in their lives outside of the choir which may be impacting their performance.

By being open and approachable to your choir members, they will have more respect and appreciation for the work you do. And, when you lead from a place of friendship, you will begin to form a community within your choir; meaning everyone can be open and trust one another.

Choir leader church

3. Be firm but fair

If you’re constantly giving solos to one specific member of your choir, or turn down certain people for opportunities, you may lose favour within the choir.
Giving different people a fair shot at taking a lead role in your choir’s various arrangements will help each member of your choir, or at least those who wish to take a lead role, to feel valued and appreciated in the choir.

Operating an equal opportunities policy in your choir will help to avoid any feelings of resentment or receive any judgements of favouritism when it comes to who is given a starring role in songs.

However, while being fair is vital to a smooth-running choir, you also need to be firm and realistic. If a member of your choir is asking to sing a part that is inappropriate for their vocal range or is dominating over the other voices in the performance, it is your responsibility as leader of the choir to manage this and bring everyone in line.

Ultimately, everyone in the choir should be working towards producing the best possible sounding performance. It is your job as the choir leader to help the members of your choir to perform harmoniously; both on stage and off.

4. Be enthusiastic

To bring out the most enthusiasm from the members of your choir, you need to be enthusiastic yourself.

Being a choir leader is a lot of work and if you don’t live and breathe choral singing, choral arranging and music as a whole, you may find it a struggle to sustain your position and engage your choir members.

Part of the role of being a leader consists of boosting the morale of those you lead. When you display enthusiasm for your choir and its performances, you will inspire enthusiasm in the rest of your choir.

Choir leader music

5. Be musical

This one should be pretty obvious, we hope!

You don’t have to have studied or know the ins and outs of music history to be a good choir leader. But, you should be familiar with music theory.

As a choir leader, you need to be able to read music, know the chords and understand and recognise how to form harmonies and arrange a choral piece.

When you lead a choir you take responsibility for how that choir performs and sounds; having an ear for music means you can recognise when someone is hitting their notes correctly, or if they’re off-key. Meaning you’ll be able to create performances that show off the best of your choir’s talents.

6. Be patient

Patience is a quality that is vital to a leader of any type of choir but is especially important for leaders of amateur and community choirs. When people come to join your choir, they will be coming from varying levels of experience and confidence in their abilities.
Part of your role as a choir leader should be taking the time to get to know the people you’re leading. Learn where they excel and understand where they may need more help.

As you begin to train your choir and work to help them develop their abilities, having a wealth of patience will help you as you allow for each member to progress at their own rate.

Choir leader conductor and choir7. Be consistent

When it comes to conducting a choir, each person will have their own individual style and approach. From the hand gestures you use, to your posture and interactions with the choir and audience behind you.

While having an individual flair and style is great and will draw audiences into your performance, what is most important for a choir leader when conducting your choir is to be consistent in the way you conduct.

Keeping your gestures consistent and easy to understand helps your choir members to remember their cues. Take the time in rehearsals to go through the gestures you will be using in your performances with your choir.

Making sure everyone is on the same page will help you to produce a performance which flows without a hitch and creates a smooth timbre.

8. Be innovative in your performance

Being open to new ideas in your choir will help your choir to stay entertaining, original and engaging for audiences and members. Engaging and then retaining your audience to get your choir to gain a following can be tough, but adding to your performance can help to keep the audience wanting more.

Whether it’s trying a new song suggested by a choir member, or taking inspiration from another choir you admire, adapting and changing things up within your choir will help you to stay fresh and keep the members of your choir and your audiences engaged.

As we’ve already said, leading a choir can be hard work, and it can feel like a lot of responsibility for just one person. But, when you’re open to other people’s ideas, accept help where it’s offered and create a community environment within your choir, it can be hugely rewarding and great fun!

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