Choirs ARE a Team Sport
Interesting thought, eh? Not a new one to me, as I have been talking and writing about this since at least 1978, as you can see by clicking here. Since the World Choir Games (Yes..Choir Games) are about to start in Cincinnati very soon, I thought it would be interesting to revisit my 1978 point of view, but update it specifically as it applies to church choirs.
First on my list in 1978 was the connection between music education and ensembles. I still believe strongly that the two go hand in hand, and I think that in the church it is even more essential. That subject is covered in much more detail elsewhere on this website by Colleen Cronin (click here to read it), so I'll move on here to the core of the team sport analogy. I do encourage you to read Colleen's cogent writing, though.
Pardon me while I put on my helmet...I do so because I fully expect some flak being hurled in my direction when I say that, at some level (I say at some level) in spite of the physical education aspect, sports are entertainment. When I wrote the original article there was no ESPN.(it launched on September 7, 1979, and the "E" stands for Entertainment).
Now ESPN has a whole bunch of channels, and they paved the way for things such as the Speed channel, the regional sports networks of Fox, and, eventually, the Food Network (Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives is my favorite) and the History Channel, among many, many others. If sports are not entertainment, why are so many people paying to advertise during the programs, and why are even more people watching?And, in spite of the artistic aspect, so choirs are, at some level (I say at some level), entertainment, when they appear in public. Are there any of you reading this who haven't had at least one person (in your church ministry career) say to you: "I really enjoyed that anthem"? Thought so.
Let me take my helmet off now...
In 1978 I made what might be considered a preposterous statement, in the context of choirs in educational settings: "If the same level of student commitment is evident in the ensemble as in the football team, there is no reason why one performance per week is not possible."
Which, of course, is what church choirs have been doing for literally hundreds of years. Except that I meant (and said) one concert per week...in a public venue...for an audience. Because I also said that the only way to do it was to also have all the other perks that a football team takes for granted. Stay with me for a minute, because the list below will seem to be a bit unreal, or unrealistic. But play along:
• 5 "full" rehearsals for the singers of at least 3 hours over the course of a week
• during the full rehearsals an assistant director and accompanist are available for each section so that, at any time, a single singer up to the whole section can get direct, focused instruction in something that only pertains to that person or section while the rest of the rehearsal goes on
• at least 4 ensemble practice rooms, one for each section, each equipped with a piano, audio and video recording and playback equipment, recordings of each part in each song, sung by the assistant director who models the appropriate tone color, phrasing, dynamics, and more...
• an expectation that each singer will spend at least an hour in the practice room every day, if not more (besides the musical benefit, this also builds cameraderie amongst the members of each section)
• each practice room is staffed during "office hours" by either an assistant director available to work with singers individually or as a group and/or an intern to allow for access to previously recorded material for self study on the part of the singers
• a full time tech person to ensure that everything works all the time
• 5 score study sessions for the singers of at least 1 hour over the course of a week
• during the score study sessions experts are made available on an "as needed" basis for instruction in things like language/pronunciation, performance practice, historical context (for instance, imagine have the resources to bring in a composer -- even via skype -- to explain their work and the story behind it), and more...
• a full time administrative and marketing staff who take care of all music purchase/storage/distribution and collection, arranges venues and doing publicity, handles the assembling and printing of programs, fundraising, budgeting, and more...
• a full time "travelling secretary" who deals with all the details of getting the group to and from wherever they are going including transportation and meals for each "regular" performance (let's say every Wednesday evening...)
Sounds like an English cathedral with a choir school, doesn't it? But not practical (or possible) at your church, right?
Let's look closer. If you get past the administrative, marketing, and tech staff, what have you got? All right, let's reduce the schedule, eliminate the practice rooms and the musical assistant staff too. Now what do you have?
You have a goal, and a vision.[Tweet "choir as a team sport"]
You also still have one anthem a week and/or some service music. And you have rehearsals and score study sessions.
So if you can't have "everything," you can still apply the team sport approach to what you have left. Here's how:
• create a "playbook" for each and every piece of music (I've provided an example for reference purposes, which you can find by clicking here)
• create a detailed rehearsal schedule that includes time for relevant warm ups, vocal training, technical development, and more
• create a "game plan" for each and every piece of music that explains its position in the worship service, why it is being placed there, the logistics of what has to happen to enable that piece to add to a seamless worship event rather than take away from it, and more...
Most importantly, create an environment in which your choir members are truly a team. They may not be ready to compete in the World Choir Games, or be a part of the Sing Off competition, but they can make some extraordinary music together, and lead worship in a way that touches people's lives. Now there's a goal for you.
I'm putting my helmet back on...
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