At Starling Arts, our passion is about singing with communities, as well as creating new communities through singing.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already considered starting a choir. This post will offer some step-by-step pointers on starting out (building on our previous post ‘How to Start a Choir’ which explores some of the decisions you will need to make in order to get you started).
First up is finding the confidence to start a new choir. Don’t wait until you’re ready - you’ll soon learn, and leading is best learnt on the go! Know that you don’t need to be an expert to begin, but that you will gather the skills you need as you go along. Be aware of imposter syndrome (that icky feeling that everyone else thinks you don’t know what you’re doing and that maybe they’re right!), and keep the faith to go for it, willing to learn and make mistakes on the way. No one is born ready to lead a choir, and there are lots of things that can make that journey easier for you as you progress!
Surround yourself with people who can help and contribute to your goal.
As the founders of Starling Arts, we’re lucky that we started together as a duo, and found our feet in tandem. We drew on all our individual experience - of being in choirs, singing groups and musicals as well as leading community projects. We looked at what we felt able to do and brought others in to help. For example we used a pianist for the first few terms. You might decide to find a conductor who is a pianist, or you might do some or all of that yourself. There’s no right way to organise a choir - many people work in pairs to offer skills and support to others in their team.
Plan your choir
You can read more about planning your choir in our previous blog post ‘How to Start a Choir’ but the main areas to muse on are:
What kind of singers do you want to work with?
What sort of atmosphere would you like to create?
Where will the choir be based?
What venue will you rehearse in?
What kind of repertoire do you want the choir to sing?
What sort of performances do you envision?
Financial costs and structure of your choir / organisation, if applicable
What training or skills do you need in your team?
Write down your vision using these pointers, as your answers will impact upon the decisions you make.
Leading a choir is putting into practice a multitude of skills simultaneously. Read this blog post for an insight into the sorts of skills exercised in rehearsals. How do you build these skills? Here are a few ideas!
Watch other conductors and attend workshops with other choir leaders
Record yourself leading a session
Attend training, not just about music but about leading and managing people
Use the internet - YouTube is packed with ideas, and there are many blogs and websites that offer support, training and advice.
Your goals will grow as your choir and experience grows. As well as having a few songs up your sleeve for the first few sessions (read here for how we choose songs), plan a small, low-key performance to work towards. Having a shared goal will bring your choir together, and the work will have purpose and direction. It needn’t be fancy - sing a song at a local fair, take the choir to a nursing home or throw a launch party for friends and family at a local pub.
Gradually your goals will develop as you and your choir flourish with confidence.
Running choir sessions are the tip of the iceberg of what choir leaders do. There are lots of things to get in place, and plenty of on-going admin. Be prepared to get organised by creating session plans including warm ups, and think about your future goals. It’s easy to get bound up in getting the next song learnt and lose track of your future goals and ambitions for the choir. You’ll want to look ahead at:
The next session: how will you break down timings, teach that tricky section and keep everyone motivated?
A month ahead: how will you keep the learning on track and make sure everyone stays engaged?
A term ahead: how will you make sure your choir are ready for the performance at the end of term, how will you sell tickets for the venue you have booked?
A year or further ahead: what key skills do I need my choir to work on? What ultimate goals do I want them to share with me?)
We often say that running a choir is as much about people as it is music! We are always in a process of learning how to better engage with our singers - and to encourage them to engage better with both each other and the music. Connections are key to all relationships with a choir setting - read more about how we nurture them here. Make sure your sessions are accessible to new joiners and make sure you look after yourself too. Leading a choir is demanding but luckily it is also incredibly rewarding!
Have a specific question? Join our Choir Leaders Network on Facebook, or see the below for a list of useful organisations and resources!
Sing Up - singing resources aimed at those working with children
Total Choir Resources - create, manage and grow community choirs
The Starling Arts Blog - full of reflections and advice on leading group singing with a range of groups
Chris Rowbury’s View From The Choir - selection of great posts from an experienced choir leader
UK Choir Festival - sessions with expert choir leaders at locations around the UK
My Choir Marketing - advice on marketing your choral activities