Choir Development Skills

Your first Choir! Now you have the chance to make your mark in the choral world. Like so many others, your ambition is to become the successful and admired Director of a great choir. So what will give you the edge? What skills do you need to make sure you succeed in developing your group of singers to its full potential?

One of the first areas you’ll have to investigate is voice production – how to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of singing technique. Take the same path a singer takes – go to a good singing teacher and take singing lessons. But don’t go to a quack! You need someone who knows what they’re doing. Many singing problems call for technical solutions – how to stop people straining and forcing, how to stop them squawking, how to improve breath control. To master these difficulties you will need expert advice – a good singing teacher is essential.

Before you start your new choir, join a good one and learn from its conductor. Watch, listen – and sing, of course! – and work out how the conductor’s getting the results. Don’t imitate slavishly because we all have our own methods, but do pay attention because this is a great chance for you to concentrate and learn.

Confidence and Inspiration

Your choir will expect you to exude confidence and inspiration. This will depend greatly upon your own reservoir of confidence and inspiration, and this comes from an inner serenity and security.

How do you develop this? Through a profound knowledge of choir rehearsal technique, assurance with people and a total lack of paranoia. That guy laughing in the back row is not laughing at you, nor is the lady in the front row, deep in conversation, talking about you! You’ll need complete ease with the music you’re rehearsing. The more genuine your confidence, the easier your job will be.

Your singers need and will welcome inspiration. If they sense that you are hardworking and committed you are well on your way. The power to inspire is a skill you can develop. Show the choir that music and texts move you, impress them with your love of singing and ensure that they feel the depth of your understanding.

When you stand in front of a choir you open your innermost feelings. Choirs respond to this – they love sincerity, warmth, respect and concern.


The choir will assume you have an extensive knowledge of repertoire. It’s not difficult to get this but it will call for hard work. Watch what other choirs are performing, study publishers’ catalogues, and the programmes of choral concerts, Consult libraries and talk to other choir directors.

Always be on the lookout for attractive contemporary music and arrangements. And if you want to perform a difficult piece, ask yourself: “Will the final result be worth all the effort?” If you hesitate in finding the answer, then don’t do the piece – it will make a rod for your back, and undermine your choir’s confidence in you.

Building Choir Respect

Don’t lose your temper with the choir! Rehearsals need to be goodhumoured, and an extensive stock of musical jokes is essential. Prepare your spontaneous witticisms – you must ensure that you don’t offend people with ill-judged remarks. You’ll want to earn the respect of all your choristers. Know when to stop labouring a point – never bore your singers!

Always give your choir clear goals. If they know where you’re going – and that you’re determined to get there – they’ll be happy to come with you. They need to know what you intend to achieve in a rehearsal – singers cry out for a well-structured, disciplined approach and this needs thought and drive.


Here is an example of a choirmaster who moulded his group of singers into a loyal, committed, and enthusiastic group. This choirmaster works in an historic and beautiful church in Holland.

A few years ago his Bishop announced the closure of the church due to a clergy shortage. My friend and his singers got together. They decided to approach the Town Council and Bishop and they made an offer for the building. It was accepted and they bought the church! Every Sunday there is one Mass at which the choir sing and for the rest of the week the church has become a concert hall.

That’s a great and unusual story with a happy ending. But it illustrates well the bonds that are formed when you inspire and enthuse your musicians.

Hopefully you won’t be expected to go to these lengths! Your church choir will expect your support, your technical expertise, and your enthusiasm. But most of all they’ll expect you to run a happy ship.

These articles may also be of interest to you:

The Psychology of Choir Practice – The Psychology of Choir Practice – getting the best from your Choir

Gregorian Chant – Gregorian Chant

About Colin – Colin Mawby’s biography

Gregorian Chant interpretation – Gregorian Chant – how best to interpret it?

Choir Warm-Up – Choir Warm-Up – wind up your singers