What makes a good Choir Leader?

When I bought my current house in 2008, it came with the option of being carpeted throughout for a modest cost. At the time this seemed a good idea. I was aware the supplied carpet was likely to be made out of sandpaper and probably no more effective as a floor covering than a dust sheet. But nevertheless, it was an easy option and I figured it would be simple enough to change at some point in the future.

8 years later, I bought a wingback chair.  This, it turned out, was the catalyst for changing the lounge carpet.  I figured the existing carpet had soaked up enough glasses of wine and been trodden on sufficiently to warrant it being replaced, particularly if i was about to put a new shiny chair on it.  Some research lead me to the conclusion that a wooden floor was the way forward and various tradespeople were gathered together to make this happen – as per my previous posts on here, that was of course somewhat more complicated than you would imagine.    Nevertheless a few weeks later a new floor was duly installed.

To be honest, the installation of the floor didn’t seem that complicated. Well obviously I didn’t get involved.  3 men turned up with some hammers, and within a couple of days the new floor was finished.  The hardest bit of the whole process was removing everything from both the lounge and the kitchen in order for the existing floors / carpets to be taken up and the wood to be laid down.   Ironically, what could have potentially been the most awkward thing to move – my grand piano, was in fact the simplest. This is because I got a man in!  My good friend Mark Doman who runs Abbey Piano Services was called upon. Within minutes of arriving, he had flipped the piano on its side, taken the legs off and moved it temporarily into an adjacent room.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to start a new choir.  In fact I was asked to be involved in several choirs with the idea being that I oversee the running of a number of groups.  Part of the enquiry was to ask how much a ‘choir leader’ would cost.  Of course my first response was define ‘choir leader’.  If you google choir leader you will find a number of adverts of choirs looking to recruit someone.  There are many good choirs out there and many exceptional choir leaders, a lot of whom are friends of mine. However, I always worry when i read adverts from ‘organisations’ who run choirs as a franchise.  Usually the advert says something along the lines of:

The successful applicant will have some piano/keyboard skills and the ability to sing/play at the same time. Sight reading skills are essential, with an ability to understand and teach harmony.

You will be charismatic, energetic and enthusiastic with good leadership skills. The ability to work well as part of a team and inspire others will help your career progression with us.

I personally think that a choir leader does need some keyboard skills – although you’d be surprised just how many so called choir leaders can’t actually play the piano!  An ability to teach harmony is a curious requirement.  I was taught Harmony at school when I studied A Level and again at University studying for a Music degree.   However, I’ve never taught a choir how to harmonise a Bach Chorale!  What this advert is actually asking for is the ability to teach people to sing a single line of music whilst others sing a different line of music so that the end result is a choir which can sing in more than one part (harmony).

I could go on but I won’t for fear of this sounding like a rant.  Although it is curious that a lot of such adverts for ‘choir leaders’ never ask for any kind of musical qualification or training.

The moral of the story is that if you want something done properly, get a qualified professional in.   The results should then speak for themselves.

——————

Jules Addison is Musical Director for The BlueBellesThe Pewsey BellesCirencester Male Voice ChoirBlue Notes & Great Western Harmony.