I asked you all to give advice to a new chorister and your comments were so good! There is some great advice here, thoughts about being prepared, listening to the Spirit, building confidence and having fun. I thought I should respond to my question as well, though I don’t know how you all will take it. This advice might seem a little awkward because most of us are heading into the program season, but I’ll say it anyway because you probably won’t hear this from anyone else! If you were a brand-new chorister and I could sit down with you and, heart to heart, offer my best advice, this is what I would say:
You are going to feel enormous pressure over something called the Children’s Sacrament Meeting Presentation. You’ll be given a list of songs for the children to sing as part of this presentation and the pressure you’ll feel is to have them prepared to sing. Sometimes the children already know a couple or even several of the songs. If so, shout hooray! You will need to schedule time to teach the ones they don’t know. The pressure will come from a couple of directions. Members of the Primary presidency and other leaders, teachers or parents sometimes feel anxiety for the children to do well in this presentation. This pressure might get passed on to you if there is worry that the children are not learning the songs adequately or fast enough. How well the children perform may also be important to you if you somehow think this reflects on your ability to teach or lead them.
My most dearly held advice has to do with this presentation. Don’t let the pressure to perform in this program drive what you typically do for singing time each week.
If you allow yourself to feel and respond to this pressure you’ll end up spending an excessive amount of time, most of the year really, teaching and reviewing a few songs at the expense of being able to sing a wide variety of primary songs. You’ll feel obliged to find another creative way to sing those same songs. You’ll constantly feel the need to motivate your singers to “do better.” This sends a subtle message that what they are doing is inadequate or that they should get a reward for singing, even if it is compliments. You’ll feel frustrated and unhappy if you cannot make the children co-operate. Children seem to have an uncanny knack for resisting pressure from adults. If the children are constantly aware of the presentation they may come to feel as though singing time is one eternal choir practice. They may even learn to hate those songs or to dislike singing entirely.
On the other hand, if you succeed in resisting this performance pressure, you’ll create a more natural, enjoyable singing experience for the children in your primary all year long. There will be time to teach and sing songs that are not on this year’s list. There will be time for musical activities that are simply fun. There would be space for the musical abilities of everyone, including the very young and the “musically challenged.” Of course you still need to teach and review the program songs, just don’t tell the children which ones they are! When it comes time for the sacrament meeting presentation you can help the children polish the designated songs. You can emphasize that these songs are another way we can all teach and testify to the congregation. When you believe it yourself, you can legitimately teach them that they are NOT performing. Whatever anyone else says, part of this job is to help the children understand and feel that music in our church is about worship rather than accomplishment. Without this subtle performing pressure your primary could be free to genuinely “feel the joy that comes through singing.” This is clearly chorister heaven! Having finally realized it, I will never willingly go back.
I just have to say that I think both you and the children in primary will have a much more positive experience throughout the year if you can focus on singing activities apart from the pressure of the sacrament meeting program. This is my best advice. Take it and ask me further questions if you have any. Or leave it and I won’t mind. I guess I’m happy enough to know it for myself.