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Church Choir Members Missing Rehearsals Think It's 'Okay'

Okay, what is up with the younger generation of volunteer choir members who "can't commit" to rehearsals but want to be there for the service? Been doing this for 20 years with an older choir/congregation, moved to a new much younger church, starting a choir from scratch, and I'm experiencing some craziness. Anyone have similar issues? Any advice?
Replies (26): Threaded | Chronological
on January 5, 2016 2:35am
I've found this in younger and older folks both! I'm flexible with absences but ask 1. that they notify me whenever they'll be absent. I keep records of attendance so I can stay on top of what's happening. I also try to call if there's an unexplained absence witht the idea that they will get the impression that they are important and missed when they're not there.  2. However, there are some people who want to ONLY come to services and never attend rehearsal, and that doesn't fly -- with some rare exceptions. For example, there's a young man who plays violin and is the son of a couple in my choir. He can't/won't come to weeknight rehearsal, but shows up on Sunday morning before Mass and learns the violin parts I give him.  In another instance, I had a skilled and dedicated singer who just couldn't make it to rehearsals but would learn his music well and stayed in good communication with me.  The ultimate questions are: are they helping or hurting the ensemble?
Applauded by an audience of 3
on January 6, 2016 3:31am
I agree wholeheartedly with Lisa's first sentence. It's not at all an issue of age. Just keep pressing for higher expectations, but be patient - it may take quite a bit of time.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 6, 2016 7:00am
Thank you, Lisa. Your suggestion is more aligned to what I would usually do. I also agree with your exception handling as well. 
on January 5, 2016 5:20am
I recall a friend who had success by posting a sign on the choir loft steps “All are welcome to sing on Sunday who have attended three of the last four rehearsals.”  It was reasonable and respected by the choir.  All denominations are struggling with church attendance but I noticed the word “younger” in your post.  Most churches don’t have an abundance of “young” people on the floor or in the loft, so that might be a positive factor after you are more familiar with the congregation.
Give it time and treat everyone with respect.  Politely state your expectations, but allow for the reality that family and work schedules don’t allow perfect attendance.  Above all, expect perfection at rehearsals and build a sense of pride with those who attend faithfully.  You might be surprised how much they support you as others miss musical detail on Sunday because they don’t rehearse on Thursday.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on January 5, 2016 6:18am
This can be one of those opportunities to teach a life lesson where participating in a chorus is a microcosm of participating in society. I tell my students (many of whom may not have been taught this anywhere else) that it is NEVER okay to simply not show up for anything when you are expected: rehearsal, dinner, shopping, a date, playing ball, whatever. It is at the very least a simple matter of common courtesy (which I feel has become far less common over the past couple of generations) to notify those who are expecting you that you will not be where they are expected.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on January 6, 2016 7:05am
Couldn't agree with this more with regards to an academic environement. However I'm in a church volunteer enviornment with many different levels of maturity, experiences and motivations. I can definitely do this with my Teen and Children's choirs though. Good suggestion!
on January 5, 2016 7:13am
There are several things in play here.
  1. Younger people need to sense excitement in what they are doing. If the music is the same old same old, they tend to lose interest quickly.
  2. Younger people learn music more quickly that us older ones. Of course they haven't spent time learning all the nuances necessary to make it more than just plain old music.
  3. I have always required that they be at the last rehearsal before singing on Sunday so that they know exactly what is going on.
  4. It helps if they realize that by their actions, whether not showing up for rehearsals or on Sunday morning, how and who they impact with the change in sound. There are the two people on each sid of them, the one directly in front and directly behind them plus you as director and themselves. Each  difference makes a difference in the sound and confidence of those people.
  5. FInally, we need to remember that singing in the church choir, or most any others they would sing in, is still a volunteer thing. They are volunteering their time and talents and we need to respect and applaud that much more than we tend to do. Their priorities are far different than ours. Volunteers are not as committed to the same extent that we as directors are. They may not have the same passion as us, but that's OK. LEt's buildthat passion in them. Eventually they may become us through our attitudes and mentoring.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on January 5, 2016 9:36am
I find this is a bigger challenge than I anticipated, too. To begin with, our church choir is very small, so when two or three people are missing from rehearsal, suddenly you're down an entire voice part! LOL
The way I deal with this in my church choir is by being over-prepared. I try to look at 5 to 6 weeks worth of music at each rehearsal, so that even if someone misses two (or even three) rehearsals, chances are good they've had more than one look at it. I also encourage (nay - forcefully recommend) that they bring their music home if they know their work / travel schedule is going to be crazy, and then email out recordings as often as possible. If it's a particularly tricky piece, and I can't find a youtube video or recording from the publisher, I'll make voice part recordings on my phone and email them out. I know - I'm enabling them. But on the other hand, I've been the "reliable" singer before, and know it can start to feel like a chore if you can't miss any rehearsals.
Applauded by an audience of 5
on January 5, 2016 9:52am
Being a volunteer does not excuse someone from or minimize the commitment one makes to an organization. I frequently have a few students or even community members who because of credit loads are unable to take a choral class for credit. On occasion someone will try to use the fact that they are not taking it for credit as an excuse or even justification for inconsistent attendance. My simple question to them is, "Are you a member of this group?" Once someone has volunteered to be a part of a group they have accepted the responsibilities of being part of that group which includes attendance requirements. This applies equally to all-volunteer groups including church and community.
Applauded by an audience of 4
on January 5, 2016 11:56am
I need to begin this by saying that I am a singer and not a director and believe the inconsideration and rudeness of No Call - No Show (NC-NS) is a "social" problem before it's a muscial problem.  The social aspect of the group dynamic should convey that each member is important and cared about.  In most groups NC-NS behavior is uncaring toward others who DO care about each other. He usually doesn't realize it, but the habitual NC-NS makes himself a pariah.  Nobody want's that.
 At the very least there ought to be a "sign out" sheet POSTED where choristers give advance notice of upcoming absences.  Don't just tell the director, write it down!  Then a simple phone call or text can be appropriate for something unscheduled that "just came up."  Being an unpaid volunteer has nothing to do with the maintenance of reasonable and caring standards of behavior.
It's all about positive relationship and mutual consideration.  The type of person that wants to sing in a choir also wants to "fit in" socially.  From there it's a matter of consistently keeping mutually beneficial standards for the sake of the group.  There are always exceptions and extinuating circumstances...stuff happens and we all know that, but NC-NS is nearly always inexcusable.  
I've sung in a lot of choirs and choruses over my lifetime and learned these things are usually a reflection of Managment, i.e. the director.   If the standard is embracing, affirming and reasonable, anyone that doesn't care enough to keep it just doesn't want to "belong" in the group and shouldn't be encouraged to do so.  If the standard is right, leadership's enforcement is not being "cold" or inconsiderate to the nonconforming individual, rather it is being "warm" and considerate to the group.   Singers tend to be proud to be part of a group with good standards and I've known several who left choirs because of the lack and in all cases they were among the best in the group.  All this is just human nature and applies equally in business, civic groups...with paid members, volunteers...doesn't matter.  It's the way we're all designed as human beings. 
Applauded by an audience of 6
on January 6, 2016 12:36pm
George, the sign-up sheet is a brilliant idea. I would have never thought of it. I'm in the process of starting a choir at my church, and I will definitely be using this idea. Thank you so much. You mention NC-NS, how can you deal with the NC-NSs without public humilation?
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 6, 2016 9:28pm
You've had some good responses to the question of avoiding public humiliation.  I think the most important precautions are to deal with the offender  1) PRIVATELY; 2) at an appropriate time; and 3) with clear communication of the singer's value to the group and thus dissappointment and negative example when AWOL.  But always start such a conversation by asking for help because their example is a great asset and encouragement to the rest.  The goal is that they should come away feeling affirmed and more important and influential to the group than they might have realized. 
Then, if a second talk is required it should again be private and at an appropriate time.   But after re-affirmation of their importance to the group, address the negative side of the issue: the disappointment and harm to the whole enterprise because of their influence.  Only after it's apparent they are understanding and sympathetic, ask if they're in agreement and can give you the help you need.  This may sometimes illicit their resignation if they feel they just can't meet the standard, so resolve BEFOREHAND whether you're willing to risk losing the singer.  If not, then don't have this second talk.  Only you know your situation and can assess the risk/reward, "value proposition," in MY opinions applied to YOUR situation.  The value of having good standards and procedures in place from the beginning rather than "imposed" later can't be overestimated.  You have a great advantage starting anew.   
on January 7, 2016 4:27am
We have the sign out sheet system. I largely ignore it (don't tell the choir) because I know the ebb and flow of the choral year and have been careful to select appropriate anthems. I think, however that the choir believes that the sign outs show that attendance is important.
on January 6, 2016 3:26am
I'm not the conductor in my choir "only" a singer but as the chairman of the board I take responsibility in sending a text message to any NC-NS's. That shows them they're missed and that they should be there. In larger choirs this could be the task of the voice leader. 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 6, 2016 10:36am
One thing I did to help people manage their committment to choir was to divide our singing year into three modules: Sept. - Dec., Jan. - mid-March or so, and from then till mid-June when the choir stopped singing for the summer. That way people who had to travel a lot for work, or who wanted to be on the town council, or play adult soccor, could plan accordingly and only sing with the choir for seasons when they could expect to make most of the rehearsals and Sundays. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 7, 2016 7:12am
I'm definitely going to use this suggestion.Thank you, Suzanne!
on January 6, 2016 12:45pm
At my previous church, I was the youth choir director. However, the adult choir director gave incentives at the end of the year. I'm not sure if she still does it, but she would keep up with everyone's attendance, and at the end of the year when they had their Christmas party, she would draw a name of a person with great attendance and the person with perfect attendance, and give them a gift card to Walmart. I think she gave a $25 gift card.
I haven't tried it for myself because the youth choir didn't last long enough for me to do it, so I'm not sure how well it works, however; I do plan on doing it with the choir I'm in the process of starting at my current church.
on January 6, 2016 1:46pm
The old Augsburg Pub. house catalogues had a Peanuts cartoon on the back which stated, "Choral singing is a team sport." or something along those lines. I had it up in the choir room for my Junior Choir. My director put up a yearly calendar and reinforced constantly the fact that in fairness to everyone he needed to know who would be missing at any given time so that he could make adjustments in the scheduled music if necessary, because each of us was important to the choral sound. This is the perfect time of year to post a calendar and reset standards for the year. We were expected to call if we would be late or absent, and we had not spoken to him in advance and put our names on the calendar. He kept it right behind the piano, so he could easily turn at the beginning of rehearsal to see who was expected to be out and sometimes would ask if anyone knew where so and so was, especially if they had missed more than once. Those who didn't call in often got a phone call expressing concern and how much their input was missed. In sensitive situations he sometimes had someone who knew them call instead of him. As others have said, a lot has to do with setting expectations and then finding a way to reinforce them that makes your singers feel that they are important to the group, rather than shaming them. Often, if someone was missing, excused or not, he would make a comment about how important that person was to the section or to the overall choral sound. Those comments usually got back to people with a "You were really missed." type comment from someone.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on January 7, 2016 5:52am
My church adult choir's director used to, towards the end of each rehearsal, mention all the absentees:  "So-and-so is sick, is out of town for work, is at their child's concert, is signed out [sign-out sheet was posted], etc."  This set up an expectation that a member planning to miss rehearsal would notify the director or another member.  And she would follow up individually:  "We missed you last week!"  This built a strong culture of feeling necessary and important to the group.  And it worked--we showed up in bad weather, for memorial services, for weekday regional church meetings.  The sense of group obligation continues now, two directors later.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on January 6, 2016 6:15pm
I struggle with this personally on both sides. I sing in my adult choir, which has somewhere between 60 and 90 participants, and direct my youth church choir, which has about 15. Up until I had kids, I could show up religiously to every single rehearsal without fail. Although the social component is important to me, I know I am providing a service. At the risk of sounding horribly pompous, I learn the parts faster than singers who weren't music majors, and in so doing can teach others. It matters when I'm not there, and I get that 100%. That said, parenting a toddler makes the commitment extremely difficult sometimes. We don't perform every Sunday, but I try my best to be at 1 or 2 rehearsals before we sing. Perhaps your younger crowd does need help prioritizing, but it may also be that they have toddlers. :-) 
While holding the line is important, perhaps figure out some way to get your ringers to come to rehearsals. Ask them to sing a solo as part of a song, and tell them that the choir can't do it unless they come. If they can't commit to come to some of the rehearsals, find other ways to get them involved in your music ministry that don't require a major commitment. Short term headache may turn into long term investment.
Your choir, which you are starting from scratch, may never have experienced a church choir that was any good before. They may think it's the same as singing in the pews, and wonder "why bother to rehearse?" Show them that there is possibility for something bigger.
Finally, I suggest that you accept the fact that in a volunteer choir, it is sometimes going to happen that you have at least one incredibly ineffective, possibly wasted rehearsal per season. However, let people know they were missed. With my youth choir, there was a really sunny Sunday afternoon in October on a week when school was out. I had one child show up for rehearsal. I canceled that rehearsal, but I emailed all the parents to tell them what happened and remind them that, while no one can come all the time, it really matters when they aren't there. I asked them to please make sure that when their children can come to rehearsal that they do. After sending the email, I had no problems with impossible attendance. If your non-attenders are aware that they matter, they may show up more often.
on January 7, 2016 8:46am
I had a pretty amusing instance regarding attendance. This was 1986-87 when I started using a word processor for the first time. I was Douglas McEwen's graduate assistant for ASU's 250-voice Choral Union and in charge of attendance. I started printing attendance rosters every week for members to initial. I made an announcement that if someone didn't show up for rehearsal 3 weeks in a row and I didn't hear from them I would assume they had dropped out. I said, "It's very simple. I just press control-Y (remember that?) and their name is deleted from the list." This got quite a bit of laughter but nothing like when McEwen said. "Anyone seen Joe? No, but I heard someone pressed his Y button and I haven't seen him since." I hardly had another complete no-show the rest of the year. Seems like people feared having their name deleted from the list.
on January 7, 2016 10:26pm
What I've written here previously has been addressing the church choir environment but I will share another experience singing with a certain symphony orchestra chorus for several years. The director started prompty at 7:30 pm and the entrance was locked by the chorus manager VERY shortly thereafter (within 2-3 minutes!).  The offical reason for locking the doors was for security reasons, but the effect was the same whatever the reason.  It was nearly impossible to be heard pounding on the door so in most cases late meant absent.  At the end of the last rehearsal for a particular concert, anyone having missed 3 or more rehearsals was asked to required to stay for an Individual Testing Session (ITS).  The names were called out just before dismissal.  The director would assign a short portion to sing that would not be easy without familiarity.  If done poorly in two attempts you didn't sing the concert.  Also, if you missed the dress rehearsal you didn't sing.  The director could make a fair and reasonable exception but that was rare.  We could be absent, even NC-NS, but we knew a 3rd occurrence would certainly mean an ITS and possibly enjoying the concert in the audience after buying a ticket.  It once happened to me (ouch) for Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem! 
This symphony orchestra chorus was mostly volunteer singers, but this sort of thing wouldn't be practical for small volunteer church choirs.
on January 8, 2016 7:33am
This is a vexing question for most choirmasters.  Having been in the business more than a few years, I've come to some realization that accomodation in necessary.  The days when choir was the big thing everyone looked forward to for an evening out are long gone.  There is too much to do.  Further, people are far more wealthy than even 25 years ago, and have the ability to travel almost at will.  So the long and short of this has to be that we understand that the ideal of everyone at rehearsal every week is a thing of the past.  It needs to be held up as an example of the ideal (gently and with some humor on occasion), but lived with as reality that folks are going to go missing once in a while.  My answer to this has been to work ahead many, many weeks.  I'm often out there eight to ten weeks.  The further out, the less you do on a tune ... but hitting a difficult page of an upcoming anthem is like having a savings account.  You can call on it when you need it.  I always work thoroughly through the next four weeks music every time we meet.  Then moving further out, read through easier anthems and hit difficult parts of others.  This keeps everyone in the loop, so that if they even miss a couple rehearsals, they have been there enough to know the music.  Dealing with the finished product ... we meet 45 minutes before the service and make sure everyone is on board with breathing spots, and all the details that can be missed.  It takes organization on the part of the conductor, and a good ear to track down the mistakes quickly on Sunday morning, and make sure they don't happen in mass.    I have found that living in the real world, accepting it as it is, and finding ways to keep high standards is challenging but workable.  When you meet people half-way ... often they feel a lot more embarassed about missing rehearsals and services than you would think, and learn to work around the choir schedule.    No pie in the sky here ... just the reality of 21st century church.  Dedication is something that builds over years together, so be patient. And also be prepared to be disappointed every once in a while.  To keep track of things, I suggest that you keep a "SIGN OUT" caldendar around, so members must sign out when they know they will not be present.  At least you have warning of impending doom.  And it gives you time to rethink your schedule and choose something more appropriate.    Finally ... you need to plan ahead ... WAY AHEAD.  By August 1, I know what we're singing from 1 Sept to Jan 15 or so.  Then after Christmas break, choristers receive a listing of everything we will do until the end of the season.  It's more for me than them.  If I plan well ... we can do our best.  It is a pain to put it all together in advance, but it really pays off in the end.  Best of luck ... and enjoy your new choir!    Oh, one last thing.  Those 'professional' musicians who think they can read their way through without rehearsal ... they may be helpful on an odd occasion, but it is a very bad precedent to set.  Any orchestral musician knows they would not be welcome in the symphony without having rehearsed.  They just want to get away with something, and devalue the choral experience.  Essentially, singing is more difficult than pulling a bow over the strings ... it needs intensive practice and regular workouts.  Don't let the cow you.  You are basically better off without them!  If they know that, and still want to sing, you can be sure they will magically find time to attend practice!    Best of luck.   TCJ
on January 8, 2016 9:07am
I've been in several choirs where there were "ringers" who missed all or most of the rehearsals, but came for the performance to help out. I've even been one of those people. If they are talented or read music well, this can be a big help, especially with a smaller group.
Mostly, though, it's hard on the people who struggle with their part or the pitches, and need the good singer next to them so they can follow. It's hard on the people who make an effort to attend the rehearsals. And it's hard on the director, to know what the piece will really sound like.
In these situations, communication is key. If there are good singers who want to participate, who can't or won't come to the rehearsals, then they need to be clear about when they can come. That allows the director to plan rehearsals and performances. In some cases, the faithful choir members can be motivated by knowing that reinforcements are coming.
I've worked around this with my church choir by getting a schedule for each choir member a month or two in advance, and keeping it up to date. In some cases I choose music that only needs a couple of good rehearsals, and schedule the performance when attendance should be strong. I have some singers who really want to rehearse every week, and I choose some easier pieces  or hymn tunes that help them with basic skills, even if the soprano section is gone or something. These pieces can be performed on the Sundays when some people have not seen the music until Sunday morning. The faithful members are glad to have the extra help at the last minute, and they get to be the leaders, explaining the performance points to the late arrivals.
on January 9, 2016 12:29pm
When I had the Junior Choir at my church a big problem was children arriving late on Sunday Morning and not knowing if they were going to show up at all. As the oldest of six kids I understood the issue of getting a family out the door for things, so the rule became if you were going to be more than 10 minutes late for the 9:20 warm up you could sing (provided you had good attendance) if you called. It allowed me to adjust as necessary if there were going to be several out, yet took the pressure off parents and singers if their morning was just not going well. I only had to say no once. The parent complained to the music director, he challenged my decision, I explained my reasoning, and the rule stayed.
on February 20, 2016 11:58am
I have the same issue and I agree with all that have commented.  My choir has forty-three members on the books; however, it's rare that I have over twenty-three on any given Sunday. Some Sunday mornings I walk in to discover we only have thirteen present and we're singing the biggest anthens yet.  My age group is from 15 - 72 years in age.  Yes, that's a rather mixed-matched of voices, however, it is also the only choir in our church. The only time I actually get close to having every member on the platform is during Christmas programs. But even that is beginning to break down.  I do agree with a couple; some only want to show up to sing on the platform and are rarely available for rehearsals.  On the flip side, our church have at least thirteen individuals who participate on our special groups, yet avoid the choir like it is beneath them.  Our church used to have the policy that you must attend at minimum of four rehearsals a month before being permitted in singing in a special group or solo.  About five years ago, that was retracted.  The choir is now shrinking and the special music individuals and groups are growing leaps and bounds.  I just shake my head with grave discouragement. I pray that now being a member of this group, I can find some moral "brother & sister" support.
Have faith in God!
Bro. Erick
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