Getting your LDS ward choir to rehearse regularly is not easy. As I mentioned in the previous article, choir directors often find success by personally inviting each choir member to rehearsal, by helping them feel accepted, and by being consistent with rehearsal schedules.
In addition to personal invitations, acceptance, and consistency, here are a few more “best practices” I recommended to encourage better participation in your LDS ward choir.
When ward choir members see enthusiasm and confidence, they will come to rehearsal.
Make sure to have quality rehearsal time. But here, “quality” doesn’t mean technical mastery or difficult pieces or perfect conducting. Choir rehearsals should improve technic and ability, but ward choirs aren’t really about performing as much they are about inviting the spirit by singing praises to God.
So, choose pieces that are meaningful, worthy, and that match (or just barely stretch) the choir’s ability (more on that in the next article). Wise music selection helps choir members feel successful by increasing their confidence and, at the same time, improving their talents.
Many choir directors worry about their conducting technic and such anxiety often undermines a choir’s confidence. LDS ward choir members don’t demand perfect technic. Their first concern is where to come in and when to stop singing. They need some help remembering the dynamics and feel of each section. And they definitely need a steady beat.
Improving your technic is worthwhile, and spending some time learning how to properly conduct by visiting music.LDS.org or browsing YouTube may be a good idea (this TED Talk from James Stegall at Western Illinois University gets at what I’m trying to say). But please keep this in mind for ward choirs: it’s not about your technic, it’s about your enthusiasm and your genuine concern for them.
Love the work.
Conductors communicate enthusiasm as much with facial expression and body language as with proper arm waving (okay, “conducting”). So smile. Be kind and encouraging. Express the mood of the music and give little nods or winks or silently-mouthed praises (“good job!”, “yes!”) along the way. You might even find that your enthusiasm looks suspiciously like confidence, and that your confidence quickly spreads to the choir.
The choir will follow your mood. If you show anxiety and stress, then they will too. Show enthusiasm and confidence, and they will too. Find joy in worshipping the Lord through music, they will too.
When ward choir members understand the purpose of music in the church, they will come to rehearsal.
The Lord wants us to learn and improve our talents, but he isn’t overanxious about technic and performance—for directors or singers. He’s concerned about the purity of our hearts and the sincerity of our discipleship. He “delights” in the song of the heart, not the musical technicality of the voice.
Understanding music in the church is just as important for choir members as it is for the choir director (see this article and this one). Helping choir members see themselves not just as singers, but also as teachers and missionaries, can inspire participation and help the choir invite the spirit with each and every song.
When ward choir members know they are appreciated, they will come to rehearsal.
Be sure to show appreciation to your choir at every rehearsal and praise them for every performance. In fact, invite the bishop or stake president to come to a rehearsal to thank the choir for their efforts. A little gratitude and kindness goes a long way. Love those you teach. Express your gratitude for them. It’s that simple.
When LDS ward choir members receive personal invitations to participate, when they feel accepted, when they see consistency, confidence, and enthusiasm, and when they understand the purpose of music in the church, they will come to rehearsal.
When they know you love them and that you love the Savior, they will come back.
A note about choir organization.
If all this seems overwhelming (and it certainly is hard work), consider that Handbook 2 also suggests that “the bishopric may call choir officers, such as a president, a secretary, a librarian, and section leaders.” Wherever possible I recommend bishops call a choir president in addition to a choir director. It often helps to have someone handle the “administration” so the ward choir director can focus on the music.