Choir Members Participate Faithfully When … by Prof. Robert Ham

Every choir director knows the value of a highly motivated choir member. Keeping those singers participating is very important to the success of any program. In the case of a small choir, this may be the key to its very existence. Though we may never keep every singer that walks through the door, we must strive to make singing in the choir a powerful experience; one that compels singers to participate faithfully.

To me, the key to faithful participation is creating a sense of "connectedness" to people, purpose and God. How we go about that will be varied and sometimes personal, but there are some pillars that may serve to guide all of us. Here are fifteen suggestions.

1. Rehearsals are productive. Anyone who values their time knows the importance of feeling that the rehearsal was worth the time spent practicing. Implied within this concept is that members sense consistent planning and organization.

2. Choir members enjoy themselves. Pleasurable experiences usually draw singers back again and again.

3. Choir members feel safe. Intentional embarrassment or verbal "put downs" are not a part of the process.

4. Directors expect, and teach members to produce, their best efforts. Choir rehearsal is not a time to offer God our left overs, but a time to offer our personal best.

5. The choir sings regularly and often. That’s why we practice so hard.

6. A variety of music literature is offered. There is so much to teach and so little time.

7. Members embrace and under-stand their ministry as vital to the life of the local church. Perhaps this is the most important statement of all. This vision takes us beyond our sense of fulfillment and pleasure and puts us into linkage with God. If the choir becomes a powerful ministry tool then it thrives upon fulfilling its mission and purpose.

8. Success is the choir’s signature and failure is not fatal. Success can be defined and measured any number of ways. Whether spoken or felt, success is a powerful motivator. Failure, on the other hand, should only be a momentary set back, not a death knell. Hopefully, we keep failure to a minimum, but just as in our relationship with God, there is grace. The only true failure is giving up completely. This failure is fatal and should not even be an option in our thinking as directors or as singers.

9. Members know what is expected of them. Can they sing if they missed the rehearsal? Should they come late if they can’t be on time? Is music to be memorized? Can they leave the service after they’re done singing?

10. The director exhibits leadership. Anne Ortland wrote

in her book Up With Worship that the choir director needs to be

a "benevolent dictator." That’s leadership. Effective leadership must be combined with servant-hood and respect for others. Leadership implies relationship. Choir members expect leadership and will follow a leader they respect.

11. Members know they are missed when absent. Their attendance makes a difference.

12. The director knows and uses member’s names. Yes, they are a choir, but they come one by one with identity.

13. Rehearsals begin and end on time. Though seen as not very impor-tant to some, it models respect for the rehearsal and its members.

14. Members develop ownership through opportuni-ties for input and responsibility.

An effective director does not "do" everything. Choir leadership demonstrated through elected officers, section leaders, committees, or singing servants strengthens our choir. They embrace the vision and employ their time and talent to provide leadership. Group projects are like building blocks, which are foundational to the choir. In turn, the choir becomes "our choir", not the church’s or the director’s.

15. The director expresses appreciation to the members. Cheri Walters, a minister of music who’s written some wonderful articles, once called this "the power of encouragement." We should all know the importance of our verbal and body language. Members who are encouraged will do their best to be their best.

I pray you’ll find these suggestions helpful in all our efforts to honor Him.

Prof. Robert N. Ham is Chair of Fine Arts and Choir Director at Bethel College. He also directs the adult choir at Clay United Methodist Church, South Bend, Indiana.

hamb@bethel-in.edu