I can’t get enough of the thrill of competitions—the nerve-racking feeling of going head to head with other chorale groups and learning from that experience.
To many, that may sound shallow, but that started the spark in me to go ahead and create my choir. Of course, I have hundreds of reasons more profound than just joining competitions, but I had to start somewhere and that’s how to start a choir – as far as I’m concerned.
How About You?
Starting a choir requires that you understand what type of ensemble you are building. Factoring that in will narrow down your choices and fine-tune your target members.
Knowing the type of choir, you will build will help you decide what age bracket to target and, ultimately, the type of pieces you will have your choir perform.
Well, I presume that you are well aware of the different singing voices according to the range and gender—soprano for the highest female voice, alto, tenor, bass, and between.
If you don’t know what these are, I suggest you do short research to help you decide what choir to build a voicing base.
I can only speak about the organizational setup of chorale groups in the Philippines, which may or may not be the same in your country.
I built a choir because I wanted to travel the world, make music with friends, and push my musical gifts to the limit.
I can’t speak on behalf of every choirmaster out there, but I’ve learned that it gives you and your team a purpose to exist and continue existing when you set goals.
Setting goals will give you and your choir a long-term vision and a short term motivation.
As cliche as it may sound, but to have dreams is a free thing; it’s making those dreams happen that require you to pay the price.
Nevertheless, set a goal, and don’t be afraid if it’s an ambitious one and be realistic.
Deciding how to start a choir also means you need to know what’s in it for you and your members. Remember, you and everyone else will be spending hours and hours of practice time, and for what?
Here are a few areas that you can check and see what things you can offer to those who would like to join your choir.
People who join your team will always have a personal reason for doing so. That can help them sing better, know more about music, or look for a sense of community and family.
Regardless of their reasons for joining, your choir will be giving actuality for these reasons and personal gains as they sing with you and everyone else.
A choir that is not doing workshops or training is a dead choir. When your members feel that they grow personally and the group grows with it, they are more likely to stay and make music.
Benefits such as workshops and training also allow your choir to meet other groups and make friends with them.
The very reason for every choir’s existence is to perform. That can be a simple school or church performance or a nerve-racking performance on local or international competition.
Performances give every member of your choir the reason to sing. It’s the very thing that we spend hours of rehearsals perfecting our craft.
Not every choir is blessed with this incentive, but when they do, it is rewarding. When choirs get to travel, stronger bonds are built, and they tend to find rehearsals more appealing.
In my personal experience of building choirs, my choristers have more reason to come back to rehearsal and prepare for the next trip after every trip.
Although cash incentives are something that very few choirs can enjoy, it is absolutely a strong motivator for joining a singing group.
Schools and organizations that offer scholarship programs integrate stipends into every performance as I have been someone who benefited from it. My school dormitory and tuition were paid by the university – perks of being a choir member.
The downside to this benefit is that sometimes there will be members who will have the notion of putting it first rather than the reason for making music.
Always give them a reason to come back to rehearsal! It’s one thing to start an organization, but it’s another thing to sustain it.
Every conductor out there will always find themselves battling with their members’ attendance, which significantly impacts the rehearsal atmosphere.
Here are a few tips I want to share from my own teaching choirs experience over the years.
I’ve met a few conductors that prefer quantity over quality, but I am still convinced that quality should be our priority first over numbers.
When I started my community choir, we only had six people who responded to the invitation. I could have given up there and then, but I didn’t.
When we have a strong desire to practice regardless of numbers, we create a culture of dedication. I noticed that if I base my desire to practice on the number of people who show up, it really won’t help me that much.
From six people, we grow to 30 more or less. We created a system of finding good singers and dedicated members.
In our case, we have plenty of singers known in the locality for joining pop solo competitions. Somehow it helped establish an image of quality and intimidation.
We don’t care if you do not have that start quality of a voice, but if you have the courage not to be intimidated by those who have it, we value it.
That does not necessarily apply to you and your audition style, but you have to set and build one that compliments you and your group.
You are not just there to make music but also to build connections and relationships. They are your students and to be able to help them far beyond music is to know them better.
Check their background or anything that will help you understand their personality. Not every method works for every student – remember that.
So, learning these things can help you teach them better and maximize their talents.
I have found that when you choose songs that your singers love to sing or will love to sing, it always makes rehearsal a bit more fun.
Having an excellent set of songs scheduled for rehearsal makes your singer want to attend practices and, most of all, be part of the group.
Having a culture of success means that the group is bent on accomplishing things or getting things done.
That can be winning a competition or the simple thought of finishing a challenging piece for the group. That may vary from place to place and group to group, but the main idea of succeeding over a given task can sustain your group’s existence.
You can’t possibly handle everything yourself. It would be best if you learned the art of delegation. Always remember to delegate stuff and teach your members to do so also.
Our choir exists with the following structure.
Chairman of The Board
The Board of Trustees
The Officers of the Group
We don’t randomly operate because we want to. We have a structure that keeps everything checked and in place, especially when conflict arises.
I learned this lesson the hard way. I still have some favorites within my group, especially those with musical gifts that can efficiently execute singing quite quickly and beautifully.
But, having to show favorites too much can cost you dearly. In my personal experience, it bit me in the ass.
Teach everyone that regardless of their musical gifts, everyone has a place at the table, and everyone can be replaced – including the conductor.
I almost lost my choir because I was too focused on talented people, and when things went sideways, they were the first people to leave the boat.
You don’t need to win a competition to celebrate; building a choir is also creating relationships between members.
And what better way to do it than spending some time together for recreation. In our case, that would be going to the beach.