Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Advice to a New Chorister

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.

16 comments:

Meg said...

THANK YOU! I was called to this calling a few months ago and I immediatley felt the pressure was on. The kids didn't know or missed some months of the assigned songs prior and so it's been my opportunity then to teach them what they've missed and continue teaching the new song each month. Its been challenging and would I love to have a more natural and fun singing time with the kids rather then just focusing on the years songs. Thank you for sharing your wisdom because you are so right. I can't wait for next month to experience the Primary Program with the kids, but also to have fun learning other songs and enjoy the joy of music, just more relaxed! Thanks again!

andrea said...

Thank you for that! That is just what I needed to hear.

Robinson Roost said...

How did you know that is how I feel? Thank you for your valued insight because I sense that the kids are getting tired of review and I am feeling the "Program Pressure" now. Thank you for sharing you ideas with us choristers.

The Children Sing said...

It takes a while to learn how to let go of the emotional responsibility for how well this program comes off. The fact is that many of us are SOOOOO relieved to get the program over with so that we can finally (for one or two measly months) have some fun and just sing with the kids. This feeling should really give us a clue that we need to find a better way of handling the program. Thanks for your comments.

Vicky said...

Great advice! I think something we all needed to here. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

Ashley said...

I love everything you said! You have so much wisdom-all of us who read your blog are lucky to have your advice from your years of experience! In my planning for September I was starting to think...how am I going to keep things interesting singing the same songs (the program songs) over and over all month? This post was absolutely inspired and just what I needed to hear. Thanks for the reminder that there is much more to Singing Time than just preparing for the program!

Sandra said...

Unfortunately I'm 2 years too late on reading your advice. You are exactly right, and I wish I had known it when I was called. This has been a very miserable two years for me, and I'll be asking to be released by the new year. However, I am very, very grateful for your advice, so I can pass it along to the next chorister.

The Children Sing said...

Ah Sandra, I'm so sorry that you've had a miserable time. Can we talk? Would you e-mail me? Please imagine me giving you a big hug and patting you on the back. If I could dry the tears you might have shed, I would try.

Amy Marshall said...

The Children Sing said...

Aaaaccck, Amy your comment got lost as it was publishing and I can't seem to retrieve it. Please forgive me! I'm surprised really that I don't make more mistakes with the computer. I'm constantly hitting wrong buttons, or hitting them too soon, or something! I still have so much to learn and sometimes things happen and I don't know how to fix them.

Thank you for your comment, however. I hope that, as the first counselor, you'll be able to influence and train your next chorister. Meanwhile, have fun doing the music and just breathe deeply through the next couple of weeks.

belliesue said...

Thank you for your timely advice. I too was feeling the dread of "performing" the songs that we just love to sing. I hope I can keep the right perspective and balance this month during music time.

Emily said...

This is great advice. I just finished my first program as chorister (it went fine, of course) and in doing planning now, I realize there are so many songs that the kids have either forgotten or just never learned because we focus so much on 8 songs each year. I have a goal now to teach a much wider variety of music and focus on enjoying it.

Funny anecdote dealing with this: I was reviewing a certain song one week and one child (who obviously wasn't enjoying it!) spoke up and said "Why do we have to do this? It's not a program song!" Even they feel the pressure.

The Children Sing said...

Emily, I'm so glad you have a goal to "diversify!" ;o) You'll all have so much more fun, every Sunday. Although it's cute, your anecdote teaches us a very valuable lesson. Our children shouldn't have to feel that they sing only for the program. The kids do have a way of stating the obvious, don't they?

Becky B. said...

Thanks for your liberating advice. I was just released as Primary President and called as Chorister. The old chorister did a great job but she did focus exclusively on the monthly song, thinking up clever games to help the kids forget they were singing the same song over and over for 20 minutes. When I took over I wanted to take things a total different way. I wanted to sing lots of different songs each week. Why can't we learn 4 new songs over the course of 4 months, rather than 1 song in 1 month. But then there is that pressure to do the same thing that has always been done and not rock the boat. I'm glad to find someone that agrees with me... well, actually, it looks like lots of someones.

Kathleen said...

Ah Becky B. You are girl after my own heart! Having been the president you'll have experience and insight that will be such a benefit to you now. Sometimes choristers just don't have the perspective or experience or confidence needed to rock the boat, as you say. I'm glad that you do because your primary kids will benefit.

Luke&Megz said...

Thank you for this, I was just called a few weeks ago and since the program is so soon I am definitely feeling a lot of pressure, especially since I am just learning some of these songs myself! I know you are right. If the children love singing then the program will be successful no matter what. Your blog is so helpful, thank you so much!

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