Trust: The Prerequisite to Change
Developing, enhancing, or creating a culture of choral excellence is rooted in trust. Singers must learn to trust the leadership of their director, the work ethic of other singers in the choir, and ultimately, their own abilities as a choral singer. Noted author Stephen Covey described trust as: “the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” For strategic change and development in choral programs to successfully occur, trust must be hierarchically superior to any musical goals of the ensemble. Trust precedes change.
Let’s look at a practical example of trust as it relates to strategic change. Your new ensemble of 40 singers is used to learning solely by rote and you are a proponent of using movable-do solfege to develop music reading skills. While your students are familiar with solfege, they prefer the “instant gratification” found through rote teaching. Do you give in, compromise, or hold your ground? One more (perhaps more difficult) example: your ensemble is used to singing popular music and thinks that “traditional” choral literature is boring. After introducing an a cappella Latin piece, students revolt and some threaten to drop the class if pop music isn’t the focus. Again, what do you do?
While these are two very different options, both are challenging and directors in these situations must proceed carefully. Both situations require situational leadership strategies – directors must strategically seek to change students’ perceptions to align with their own. After initial resistance, directors might strive to explain why solfege is a successful tool for learning music or why “traditional” choral music is important to the well-rounded development of their musical abilities, but is there a better strategy here that could work? Both situations are difficult, but they share one prerequisite for success: trust. How is this gained?
The aim of this article is not to prescribe the way for students to trust you. Everyone is different and every situation is different; however, here are a few things to consider before embarking on your quest for strategic change in the choral program:
- Do students know you? Not your whole life story, but do they feel connected?
- Do you know your students? Not their whole life story, but they are more than just a name.
- Do students know your vision for the choral program? Have you articulated your short- and long-term goals?
- Do you know how your vision for the choral program will impact students? Have you articulated that to them? How will they be better singers (and more importantly people) for embracing your changes?
- What are your students’ visions for the choral program? Have you asked? What is important to them? Where are they open to change?
Trust can be developed through team-building, leadership exercises, and by implementing social activities, but perhaps the most important things to do are to listen and communicate…often. Feedback on performance and encouragement on even the smallest of successes can do wonders for developing trust between teacher and student.
In the two given situations, directors must understand that while a new pedagogical technique may seem second nature to them, it is a completely new idea for students. Begin instead by reflecting on your strategic plan. What are the changes you would like to make? Which are most important to you? Once you’ve established that, look again at your list. Which change nets the highest reward for students? It may not be at the top of your list, but it’s at the top of theirs. Choosing this as your first “battle” will develop trust, making the next change strategy (perhaps your most important strategy) much easier to implement.
By learning first to trust in you and each other, they will begin to trust that your ways of thinking are not only in their best interests musically, but in them as people. Relationships always supersede music – people first, music second. Listen, change, reflect, and do it again. I trust that you will.