By Mark Cabaniss
I’ve sometimes heard from directors over the years that choir programs are “just too much work.” Well, a lot of things in life that are really worthwhile are hard work. From putting a man on the moon to utilizing the transforming power of music with a bunch of volunteers singing together, it’s not going to be easy. But, oh, how sweet it is! The most successful choir programs have something I call the “wow” factor.
That “wow” factor is intangible in some ways, but I can pinpoint several common (and basic) denominators these choirs have:
1. Organization and discipline. Start and end things on time; have a rehearsal plan and goals . . . etc. Show your choir you personally are organized. Don’t plan your rehearsal in front of the choir five minutes before rehearsal begins.
2. Musicianship. As the old hymn says, “Give of your best to the Master.” God is our audience in worship and He deserves our best efforts. And if we build strong, musically excellent choirs they will attract people who want to be a part of something that is excellent.
3. Variety. Use a variety of musical styles (that are in keeping with your church’s overall worship style). However, don’t be afraid to occasionally stretch those boundaries. This will help keep things interesting and inviting to a wide age spectrum…and continually attract those 20 and 30 somethings.
4. Fun. Always build in fun experiences for your choir. Before, during or after each rehearsal.
5. Spirituality. You would think this goes without saying, but I’ve seen some church choirs where no devotional ideas or prayer were ever offered. Of course, the music itself can be devotional, but I don’t think that’s good enough when you’re hammering notes and rhythms. Make sure you budget some time during rehearsal for an authentic spiritual connection with your group.
6. Plan strategically. We know that the fall is a busy time for choirs . . . everyone gets back in the swing of things and you’re rehearsing Christmas music heavily. Sometimes when we plan our fall anthem schedule, it’s been like “shopping on an empty stomach.” In June or July, the idea of doing various anthems plus a Christmas cantata seemed great at the time. But then the crunch happens . . . suddenly it’s late October and you’ve got too much music that’s too difficult and there are all the Christmas services coming up soon. Help!
Finally, you must continually renew yourself with fresh ideas. Go to conferences; read great new books on leadership, creativity, etc.; reach out to fellow worship leaders for unique ideas, etc.! If you are burned out, your choir will be, too. Current and vibrant choirs help build churches and God’s Kingdom. And that’s the biggest “wow.”
Mark Cabaniss is a music publisher, producer, and composer based in Nashville, Tennessee. As an ASCAP composer and arranger, Mark’s published compositions have been performed nationally and abroad, and include musicals, cantatas, and instrumental works. His stage adaptation of the film It’s a Wonderful Life, titled Miracle in Bedford Falls (premiered by the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre), has been subsequently performed coast-to-coast. Other musicals include The Homework Machine, The Stardust Supper Club, and The 50th Annual Polk County Picnic.