Joining an established choir: a guide for how choir leaders can help new singers

Listed on February 16, 2014 in Blogs!

Last week I wrote about the challenges faced by singers joining an established choir.


This week I will look at what choir leaders and committees can do to make the transition easier.

my experience

I used to take new singers into my choirs whenever people asked to join. Then we got full and I started a waiting list. I soon decided that I would only take new singers on in bunches. If you allow just one or two people to join at a time, it’s so easy for them to become overwhelmed by joining what they see as an established clique, then they may well leave.

I always take on at least five or six singers in any one go (my choir is usually around 60 singers) so they don’t feel too isolated.

And make sure you check on new singers regularly, don’t just make an effort in week one.

I had a man join one of my choirs for a term. At the end of term he wrote to me saying he wouldn’t be coming back because he found it took a long time for him to learn the songs and everyone was clearly better than he was.

I had a chat with him and assured him that everyone else in the choir felt the same (see You are not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well). He re-joined us and is still with the choir over five years later!

a guide for choir leaders

Here are some other things you can do to help ease singers into your established choir.

  • be welcoming – make a point of greeting new singers personally when they arrive, or allocate an existing choir or committee member to do so.
  • write a user manual – write a short information sheet which will give new singers an insight in to the choir: reiterate start times and venue, how important the warm up is, how often you perform, where they can find out more information, any things they need to bring to rehearsals, whether you have a dress code, etc. Make it light-hearted and chatty!
  • keep an eye on the breaks – everything can go swimmingly when everyone’s singing, but during any breaks it’s all to common for singers to break off into existing groupings and newcomers will feel left out and maybe not be comfortable approaching what they see as a clique. Go round introducing the new members to others.
  • allocate a buddy – one way to delegate and to make sure that new singers are being looked after is to ask for volunteers to act as ‘buddies’ for new singers. Probably best if they’re from the same section. They can act as the first port of call if the newcomer has any questions and also they can keep an eye out to see if they become too isolated during the breaks.
  • get regular feedback – make a point of regularly gathering all the new singers together at the end of rehearsal to see if they have any concerns or problems. Make sure that they’re happy with the way things are going! Or simply choose an individual each week to have a chat with.
  • don’t put newbies on the spot – if a new singer is struggling, don’t pick on them. Allow them time to settle in. Don’t ask new singers to volunteer. If there are only a few basses and many of them are new, be kind! Singers can so easily be put off that they might end up leaving.
  • make your house style clear – every new singer will come with their own expectations: about what a ‘choir’ is, how formal/ informal you are, how much music theory they need to know. Be clear very soon about the ‘flavour’ of your choir or people will get confused.
  • which pub? – if singers regularly go out for a drink after rehearsal, make sure the new singers know that and know which pub and how to get there. New singers may also be new to the area.
  • where do they live? – see if any other singers come from same area and suggest lift shares. Chats in the car to and from rehearsals can be very valuable!
  • put singers at ease about learning back catalogue – have a strategy about how you expect new singers to integrate with your existing repertoire. Don’t let them feel that they have to learn it all soon or they will feel overwhelmed. Have a sensible policy in place and make it very clear to everyone.
  • make sure you have resources in place – if new singers do want to learn some of the old songs, then make sure you have the resources available for people to learn in their own time: sheet music, concert recordings, section rehearsals, one-off rehearsals going over old songs, recordings of separate parts (either on CD or downloadable from your website).
  • separate rehearsals for new members – if a concert is coming up and you’ve had a large influx of new singers, you might want to have a rehearsal with just the new members.
  • don’t make assumptions – time for a bit of self-reflection: realise the habits and routines that the choir has developed and don’t assume they’re obvious to new members.

further reading

You might also find these articles useful.

Fresh blood: the pros and cons of letting new singers join your choir

Helping new choir members learn the old songs

Chris Rowbury