Avoid toxic choir leaders – the end does NOT justify the means

Listed on February 23, 2014 in Blogs!

There are some workshop and choir leaders who work through fear. They are not particularly nice people, but they do get good results.


photo by Craig Sunter

Yet it is possible to work compassionately and with fun to get the same results. That’s my kind of choir leader!

dictators rule!

I used to work in the theatre and often came across directors who were petty dictators.

They would shout and fume and create toxic atmospheres to work in. Actors would cower in fear of getting things wrong. The directors would make crazy demands and force you to work long hours. It was not a pleasant experience. But the end result was often amazing.

I used to believe the “no pain, no gain” mantra and assumed that directors had to be nasty in order to get the best work out of us.

Then I came across someone who did the whole thing through love rather than fear.

They used a compassionate, caring approach to draw the best work out of us. I looked forward to going to work and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun, although we took the work itself seriously. The results were always amazing.

I took over a choir from someone who was a bit of a tyrant. I asked the singers to perform a song they knew so I could see what they were like. It was clear from their eyes and body language that they were working from fear: fear that they would get something ‘wrong’ and that I would shout at them and tell them off.

Is that any way to get the best out of your singers?

don’t let them get away with it

Be clear that there ARE alternatives. If you work with someone who is shouty, disrespectful, socially inept, quick to anger, who puts the music before the individual singers, who creates a tense atmosphere filled with fear, then realise that you have a choice.

There are many good choir and singing workshop leaders out there who work with kindness and compassion, who give individual attention, who create a working atmosphere of relaxed fun, who help tease out the best in you and who always put the people before the music (yet end up helping you make a beautiful sound together).

Don’t put up with less than the best. Don’t let the nasty people get away with it.

And if you attend a choir or singing workshop lead by someone who works through fear just because it’s the only choir in your neighbourhood – don’t let them get away with it. Form your own choir and find someone better (see How to set up a choir if you’re not a choir leader). You’re worth it!

further reading

You might find these other posts of interest:

The six qualities needed to be a good choral director

How to tell if your choir leader is rubbish

Getting the best out of your choir 1: moderate or martinet?

Getting the best out of your choir 2: not too gentle, not too tough

Getting the best out of your choir 3: the moderate choir leader

Chris Rowbury

Website: chrisrowbury.com

Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury