It Takes a Village: Building a Team for Choral Excellence
For this week, I offer confessions of a struggling choir director: I am a Type A. I am a proud perfectionist. I am a Gryffindor. I like playing the part of a hero. But you don’t have to play the part of martyr. A choir culture can only be built with the backing of a purposeful team of support staff. You may think “I’m the only one qualified to do what I do!” That probably is true, but is “what you do” what you HAVE to do? Delegation can be hard, but it frees you to do other things that you do HAVE to do, most importantly make music! You can pave the way for success, but teamwork and collaboration actually allows it to happen.
Below are a few individuals you might consider when building your team of excellence:
A voice teacher can be an invaluable part of the choral team, providing individual instruction to students, encouraging performance skills, and developing the core sound of your choral ensemble. Some districts allow voice teachers to teach during the day at a set rate per lesson, while others permit lessons outside of the day. A voice teacher can also be used to help expand the choral team. Don’t be afraid to ask voice teachers to help break up the choir for sectionals, help a student with matching pitch when you don’t have time to work with them individually, help choose solo literature, organize Solo & Ensemble contest logistics and entries, or even help with the musical. I have found success in paying voice teachers as a clinician/consultant and negotiated a set rate for their time. Often, voice teachers are waiting for the next class period and are looking for a way to use time most effectively.
Other Campus Colleagues
Your own backyard may prove to have the answer for how to choose that difficult soloist! You might be surprised at the results if you asked your colleagues if they had ever been in choir. The percentage might be higher than you think. While these individuals may not have a music degree, they do have a teacher’s heart and might be willing to serve as an “outside source” for solo auditions, talent show spots, etc.
Other Music/Fine Arts Teachers
Remember that most of your colleagues are certified to teach MUSIC, not just band, choir, or orchestra. They have a fine ear and can be used as a “judge” for mock auditions, pre-contest run-throughs, and more. Art and theatre directors can also be valuable allies in producing shows, creating sets, or designing posters and programs, to name a few.
University Partnerships: Internships & Student Teaching
If you are lucky, you have a college or university near you that has a music program. College students are always looking for experience, and with the right training, modeling the way, and leadership on your part, it can be a win-win for them and your kids. Reach out and contact music education professors in your area and let them know you are interested in hosting student teachers, interns, and/or observers. Colleges and universities are always looking for ways that their students can have practical experiences. We all know that we learn best by doing, not just reading or watching. If you are so inclined, give them small jobs to do such as warming up the choir to determine if they might be able to do more large-scale jobs such as teach sectionals. With interns and student teachers, strive to ease them in to their experience. Perhaps begin with warm-ups, then add sight-reading, then literature with one choir, and eventually move to teaching a class period. Once they are able to make it through, expand to more classes until you give up a day of instruction and let them fly solo! Don’t forget to give lots of feedback, both positive and constructive as you go. Student teachers are so malleable and need us more than we know!
One successful way to expand your team is to use students who are interested in careers in music. Give these individuals a student director role where you can teach them to lead stretches, do simple warm-ups, begin sight-reading, etc. Organizations such as Tri-M or a state affiliate like Texas Future Music Educators can help to oversee these and bring credibility students can use on college resumes.
Even if students are not interested in a career in music, many are interested in being a leader in their field and have likely exhibited many leadership traits during choral rehearsals. Embrace these inherent abilities by letting students lead each other. With the right leadership from you, students are more than capable of completing simple administrative tasks like attendance, leading stretches, helping facilitate warm-ups, or even leading rehearsals in your absence. This will take time on your part but the payoff in your investment will be worth it.
Booster Clubs and Parents
When I first began teaching, working with parents and booster clubs made me nervous. After hearing horror stories about misappropriation of funds, “breathing down your neck parents,” and “gotcha” moments, I felt that parents were out to catch me doing something wrong. I can sincerely say that parents are out for their child’s best interest. How they go about it can be positive or negative, but we can influence this in many ways. I have been fortunate to lead choirs of small and large numbers. As our programs grew, the need for volunteers also rose. For the beginning of my teaching career, I felt the need to do it all. For a couple of years, I was able to accomplish it, but I neared burnout the larger the program got. After hitting bottom, I was able to pick myself up by learning to trust others around me. The first step was enabling parents. I had to learn to give up control, but do it in ways that still left me in control of the most important musical and programmatic decisions. One way to involve parents is to think of the question: do I have to do this? If the answer is yes, then do it. Examples would be processing grades, handling confidential student information, etc. If you’re not sure, the answer is probably no.
Regardless of the person(s) you choose to include in your team, find individuals that complement your personality, supplement your weaknesses, and enhance your life. Your kids deserve it. This African Proverb says it best: “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Go far, choir tribe – in peace, love, and with great music.