Most church and civic organizations are extremely dependent on volunteer musicians and singers. These people choose to participate in musical activities that are above and beyond their daily responsibilities. It is up to the Music Director to ensure these people find fulfillment in this volunteered time. To help achieve this task requires keen awareness from the Director.
Whether it’s a church or civic choral group, a big band or just a small rhythm section, Music Directors must be cognizant that people unconsciously choose to be a part of an organization based off of community. They want to build connections to other people with similar interest and forge friendships and comrades in the arts. Creating a positive social atmosphere is one of the primary task of the Music Director. We cannot force friendships or relationships, but we must provide an environment that encourages interaction and team building. Also, in our quest for new members, having the realization that community might be of greater importance than talent can be a hard pill to swallow for a Director with aggressive musical goals. Trust me, I know! Not all musicians or singers carry a collegiate or professional experience, but have an eager desire to share their talent. Some want a forum to express or find their developing talent and the biggest payoff is the fraternity of people who appreciate performing music.
We also understand that some people are not just choosing community, but they want a positive and challenging musical experience. It is up to the Music Director to not just repeat repertoire for repertoire sake, but to choose music that challenges, fulfills and sometimes brings nostalgia to the performers. Civic groups unlike church groups tend to be more open to a varied repertoire. Though, church groups should be open to learning new music. It is important the Music Director gently move any group away from static and redundant repertoire into music that evokes excitement and challenge. With the vast resources we have today, there is no need to be stagnant in the music styles you choose to perform. You will see the morale of the group grow when the music they are performing is fulfilling and exciting. So, allow the music to build excitement and stretch the musician or singer.
Musical experiences in these group settings are more than just getting notes correct, but they should be filled with invaluable instruction. In my experience, a tremendous amount of people have utilized their time with me as a place for deeper musical learning and education. Making moments teachable moments can help every musician and singer grow in their talent. When you create better musicians the overall sound of the group will improve. You will also build excitement in your music organization. Don’t spend your time on just getting people singing or playing an accurate pitch/note, make teachable moments. It is imperative that Music Directors teach technique, voicing, placement, etc. to the volunteer group. Remember, a better overall sound attracts people. Give these people a music education for their time they give to your music group.
Make the rehearsal moments energetic and positive. There is nothing so disheartening as experiencing negative Music Directors who are not making their rehearsal times enjoyable. People want a reprieve from the mundane and pressured activities. They deserve to enjoy their music time because it is their volunteered time. Throughout grad school I specialized in the positive reinforcement of musical learning. It is very easy to get caught in the language of correcting bad pitches and stating what is wrong. It takes tremendous discipline to state what is good and focus on the positive parts of musical happenings. Bringing enjoyment of performing music should be the incipient goal of every Music Director.
The next time you conduct a rehearsal of volunteer musicians, I hope you realize the wealth of talent and time you have been given. It is up to the Music Director to create an atmosphere of excitement and challenge. Make the most of this time and you can see your organization flourish.
Stephen Nix is Music Director of Hillsboro Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN. He is a frequent clinician and lecturer for choral clinics, songwriting clinics, and vocal clinics. He is known for his education of the “Science Behind Singing and Songwriting.” Teaching Music Professionals and Educators about the physiology of sound production.