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"Sunday only" singers?

Dear Choral Collective,
I am wondering about alternate paths to choral participation, one of which would be singers that only sing Sundays. We currently have a Thursday night rehearsal from 7-8:45 and a Sunday warm-up/rehearsal from 9:05-9:50 on Sunday morning. The service is at 10am. I have had members approach me and say that they simply can not make Thursday rehearsals and would sing if 'Sunday only' were an option. I imagine that most of were rasied in the "thou shalt sing with the ensemble as much as possible" camp, but as I grow older and the world around me changes, I want to explore adapting with it.
My questions for you are as follows:
  1. Have you or anyone you know implemented such a plan?
  2. What were the affects, side-affects and its over-all effectivness?
  3. Did you suffer any schism in the "full timers" and the "SO's"?
  4. Are there any other options that one should consider?
Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
Replies (14): Threaded | Chronological
on January 21, 2016 6:26am
I also struggled with attendence for weekday rehearsals and so I finally (very reluctantly) went to a Sunday morning rehearsal from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 several years ago. Our service is at 10:30. The choir almost doubled in participation.
This does not give much "advance" rehearsal time for Sunday anthems but we do have special weekly rehearsals to prepare major works or for special services.
Yes, the world has changed and people's lives have become less centered on church participation. It is a struggle for some of us.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 21, 2016 6:36am
Hi John,
Here are three things I have done:
One alto will rehearse and sing with us on Sundays. Her husband is in the Philadelphia Orchestra, so she can't make Thursday night rehearsals because they have two elementary aged kids. She is an excellent musician. I have not heard any complaints.
A few times a year, I will have Festival Choir anthems that will be extremely easy. I invite supplemental singers for that Sunday.
For my Lessons and Carols service, there is a 3 hour rehearsal (with break) the day before the service. I give music and rehearsal CDs ahead of time to singers. In some years, we have nearly doubled the size of the choir for Lessons and Carols.
However, in all three cases, the Thursday night group formed the core and were supplemented by other singers.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 21, 2016 8:25am
Our church choir in Chatham MA rehearses Sunday mornings from 9:00 to 10:15, or as soon as people begin to arrive for the 10:30 service.  When I was directing the choir I would run through each anthem for five Sundays, beginning with that Sunday's hymns as a warm-up and then that Sunday's anthem. We would work on the next 4 anthems in the remaining time. There was a Saturday rehearsal before any major musical event, probably twice a year.  R. M. Treen, UU Meeting House
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 21, 2016 10:34am
Rehearsing on Sunday only is one of the options I offer to my singers, and there are some weeks that some of them come on Sunday, only.  I don't have anyone who permanently chooses Sunday only, but they are grateful to have that option when they cannot come on Thursday night.  The community of Thursday night seems to be important to most all of my singers, so we continue, even when there is reduced attendance.  Once a month or so, we have a Volunteer Choir Sunday, when anyone who walks into church an come up and sing with us, usually a hymn that isn't in our current hymnal.  We often get a nice crowd from that.  At this tme, we don't have any regular Sunday Only folks.  We did, but those folks started coming on Thursdays, also.  When we want to sing really big works, I invite some of my singing friends from other ensembles and some of my singers invite friends from their groups, as well.  We usually get a handful or two of singers who join us for those times and it is very festive.
We do have to sort of wiggle around a bit with the times, but you might take one slow step at a time to see what works best in your congregation.  Best of luck to you!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 22, 2016 3:11am
If it will get more people singing, go for it and allow them that option. Just make sure that they know they have to know their music at the start of the Sunday rehearsal - note-learning happens on Thursdays.
My church choir has worked like this for decades. I currently can't make Thursdays (which are only once a month) due to having small children, but I turn up on Sunday morning knowing my part.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 22, 2016 5:36am
Vernon deTar (Juliard Organist) once said in a workshop at Winthrop University that a paid singer asked to be excused from rehearsals, but wished to sing at services.  Vernon said that he told him, he could until he missed the first note.  Once he missed the first note, he would then be fired without question.  I thought this was a clever reply. If  anyone assumes he/she is so good that no rehearsal is necessary, then this is a reasonable expectation.  We all know that the experience of the rehearsal (the group experience) is key to a good performance. This of course was for a paid section leader, but I think even for volunteer singers rehearsal is still so important.
on January 22, 2016 8:01am
I have one choir member who cannot make Wednesday night rehearsals, and only sings on Sunday.  So far, it works.  I do hold Saturday rehearsals for our Lessons & Carols where everyone shows up, and sometimes it works OK, other times you find spots that really need some work, and only have 1-2 rehearsals left before Lessons & Carols!  We do the same prior to Holy Week.  If there was enough time on Sunday mornings, I would try choir rehearsals then, but I would need committment from the choir to get there on time.  As it is, they show up almost 10 minutes late to the warm-up time on Sunday.  At present, Wednesday night choir rehearsal is a tradition at the church, and most do make it.  I do have a sign-out sheet for members who are away for work or vacation, which helps a great deal when planning music.  There are times like now in the winter, when I am using more 2 or 3-part music.  My choir prefers SATB music the majority of the time.  I feel better that this seems to be a universal problem!
on January 28, 2016 2:31pm
I think I'm a little against the grain here, but I have and will continue to strongly resist the notion of encouraging any singers in my choir routinely skip rehearsal and only sing on Sunday. Here is why:
1. The point of choral singing is teamwork. Would a baseball team allow someone to skip practice every week but still play in the game? heck no!
2. Rehearsals are not just for learning notes; they are also for rehearsing all of the little details in the music. Someone can be the best music reader in the world, but without rehearsal how will they know that I adjusted the rhythm in measure 7 to allow for breathing? Or that I would like measure 25 to be mp instead of p? Maybe I could mark their music in advance, but sometimes I make those decisions on the fly in rehearsal, as we all do.
3. What if someone in your choir who doesn't have the skill necessary to learn the music on their own decides they don't want to attend rehearsal, either? How do you choose who gets to skip and who doesn't? hold auditions or give a test?
4. Sometimes other choir members who DO attend rehearsal can begin to resent those who do not. When I arrived at my current church, several choir members asked me to set an attendance policy, because one person in particular was in the habit of skipping rehearsals and only singing on Sunday. It was a source of frustration to the other singers.
Now, all that being said, I understand the challenges in peoples' lives that dictate their schedules. In my current church our worship schedule does not allow for us to only rehearse on Sunday mornings. So that idea is out - but I know plenty of other churches that make it work. My official attendance policy is, if you miss more than 2 rehearsals in a row, you are kindly asked to sit out for that Sunday. I also willl frequently make exceptions. My choir members know that I expect and value their presence at rehearsals, so they are really good about letting me know when they will be absent, and asking permission to sing on Sunday when they have missed rehearsal. Also, I don't run notes on Sunday morning, and they know that. Honestly I'm pretty flexible on the attendance policy, but it's a lot easier to set a strict policy and then flex when needed, than it is to have a loose policy and have to pull it back when people start to abuse it.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 29, 2016 3:11am
easier to set a strict policy and then flex when needed, than it is to have a loose policy and have to pull it back
I have to disagree with this statement.   It is a recipe or more nearly a prescription for unequal treatment of your singers, including a great deal of resentment from those who are less jolly and less good at getting 'flex' in life.   
on January 29, 2016 3:06am
The notion of having Sunday-only singers who do NOT contribute to the sound and quality of the choir's production is one thing, but it has always seemed to me (and this is a very old issue) that the director could have an intelligently targeted method or procedure to bring in those Sunday only singers so that they DO contribute.   It will be apparent to most of the regular singers which is the case, Contribute or Not contribute. 
This would mean, imo, that for a very good musician, who sings frequently, the simple requirement that they find time during the week to work through the music for the service, and for a less good but still valuable musician, a commitment that they both work through the music, and even more important for this set, spend at minimum the 2 hours of your Thursday rehearsal by themselves working on their vocal quality.    You might advocate spending double the time on their voice, on their own schedule.  Singers cannot sing well only one day a week.  
on January 29, 2016 3:17am
Hi John,
I inherited a situation where some people can only sing on Sundays; it isn't ideal, but it's better than having no viable choir, which is what would have happened if I had insisted then that attendance on Thursday nights was requisite.
if the people who come regularly on Thursdays are preparing a special anthem I will sometimes ask those who come on Sunday only to not sing it, if they truly just haven't learned it.
The worst side-effect is that people who might otherwise take Thursday rehearsal as something that is non-optional do tend to miss more rehearsals than I think they otherwise would; and it's that, not the ones who can never do Thursdays because of another regular commitment, which seems to cause the most resentment among the 'regulars'.
If you have six or more people who regularly turn up for Thursday rehearsals the choir has been steady at that stage for at least a year I would not move to a 'Sunday only' option -- but I might have some 'special' Sundays (festivals or carol services or whatever) with a wider, 'community choir' feel and some special rehearsals leading up to it. It's often easier for people to participate in something which isn't a long-term commitment; and some of them might enjoy the singing enough to reconsider their other commitments.
Another way to do it might be to require an audition for the 'Sunday only' people: I'm not in a position to do this in my own context, but given I have a number of people in the choir who do not read music (or didn't when I arrived; some are learning!), it would allow Thursdays for note-bashing and Sundays for a more general rehearsal.
on January 29, 2016 4:53pm
I wonder if you could give the people who show up on Thursdays a little something extra to sing by themselves above and beyond what the full Sunday group performs. Then they would have a reward for the extra work.
on January 31, 2016 3:11pm
I like the idea of rewarding the "full timers", as they come to be dubbed in this thread. I have 8 singers plus myself on a good Sunday. However, your suggestion, albeit a wise one, wouldn't work with my 8 as they won't even volunteer for a small octavo - integrated solo!
on January 30, 2016 6:44am
-I have never implemented this kind of arrangement. If the situation warrants and the community can support it I would think is a good thing.
-side-effects: I think it would be very hard to see much improvement or tackle big works.
-schism: I see it most defiantly happening in subtle or not so subtle ways. Perhaps the “full timers” can have their own way of participating on occasion. This really depends on the personality of those involved in both groups.
-another option that might spark some ideas for you, which is not so much about rehearsal but more about robed choristers sitting and singing up-front in a church:  Check out the choir at St. Gregory’s Episcopal of Nyssa in San Francisco
I admire your courage to adapt to a changing world. Do a trial period and evaluate. Go for it!
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