3 Tips to Help You Prepare for a Successful 2023-24 Choir Season
Aug 16, 2023
Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Assumption, and, for parish music coordinators and directors that means only one thing, practically speaking: summer is almost over and it’s time to start planning for the fall.
Before we know it, the parish office will be buzzing again, school will be back in session, schedules will start filling up, and weekly music rehearsals will kick into gear. And soon we will be preparing for Advent and Christmas, with Lent and Holy Week not too far behind.
Right now is the perfect time to start thinking ahead, while the glow of summer break is still dimly shining, and to start planning and preparing for a successful year ahead.
And even more, this year is the Parish Year of the National Eucharistic Revival which has offered us some even greater opportunities to elevate the liturgy and to draw the hearts and minds of our parishioners more deeply into the heart of our Eucharistic Lord.
Here are three tips to help you prepare for a successful 2023-24 choir season in your parish.
Tip 1: Make a Plan to Invest in Yourself
As a leader of your liturgy and music program, you bear a great responsibility. As a collaborator with your pastor, you are a custodian and servant of the sacred liturgy which exists for no other purpose than the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful. Yours is a high calling, and it is all too easy to forget about that amidst the hustle and bustle of the year that is about to begin.
The first thing you might consider to help ensure that you have an effective year is to make a plan to invest in yourself. Plan ahead to take care of your own spiritual, emotional, and intellectual needs, and to become an even more excellent leader and custodian of the liturgy this year:
Consider scheduling time each week to visit the church or Blessed Sacrament chapel for an hour, especially in this period of Eucharistic Revival.
Create a reading plan to grow in your knowledge of the liturgy, especially by reading or re-reading some of the church documents on the liturgy and music like the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Musicam Sacram, Sacramentum Caritatis, or Desiderio Desideravi.
Connect with other like-minded parish music leaders like yourself in your diocese and meet for lunch once a month, or periodically. Parish life can get extremely insular, and it is amazing how much growth can come from friendships that are oriented toward a common goal.
Don’t forget to plan practice time! Your duties involve a variety of practical skills, from instrumental and vocal technique, to conducting, to rehearsal leadership, and more. Be sure not to sacrifice the development and refinement of these skills to the many administrative burdens that often come with the job.
Plan a few mini pilgrimages to centers of liturgical and musical excellence to gain inspiration and vision of what you also could build in your own parish over time. Better yet, take some of your choir members and musicians with you! Make plans with your pastor and be sure that you can get away at least for a couple of Sundays or Holy Days throughout the year to visit the cathedral or a basilica downtown, or maybe visit a Benedictine monastery for a day of retreat.
Tip 2: Clarify Your Vision
Business and organizational health guru Pat Lencioni—a best-selling author and a faithful Catholic—has famously said “if you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” A parish liturgy and music program, like any other organization, involves many people who need to work together toward a common vision in order to achieve success. And the person who needs to communicate that vision, in concert with your pastor, is you—the leader of your program.
As Lencioni describes, most often the greatest challenges we face as leaders are the result of the people under our leadership rowing in different directions. They are not rowing together toward a common goal, but have different visions in mind that are motivating and directing them. That’s why it’s so important to articulate a clear vision for your program this year, which will guide and inspire your singers and musicians.
Lencioni recommends this general structure to clarify your vision in his book The Advantage. Take a few hours to answer these five questions for your music program and put them on a single sheet of paper on the wall of your office and even in your rehearsal room, referring back to it often:
Why do we exist? (Hint: that was already answered in part above, but it could have some particular adaptation to your own program! E.g.: “We exist to elevate liturgical prayer through music, to give glory to God, and to sanctify and equip our parishioners to bear the Light of Christ to the world.”)
How do we behave? (What are the characteristics of successful participants in your program? E.g.: “1. We are servants, 2. We are eager to learn, and 3. We have fun!”)
What do we do? (State this as plainly and simply as possible. Hint: This statement is also helpful in clarifying what you don’t do, i.e. you most certainly are not a kind of jukebox that will play or sing anything anyone requests because you are guided by principles given by the Church, and so on. E.g.: “We provide musical leadership for the liturgical prayer of St. Mary’s Parish.”)
How will we succeed? (List three things you will do that will lead to your success. E.g.: “1. By practicing well, 2. By praying the liturgy well, and 3. By fidelity to the Church’s guidance.”)
What is most important right now? (This you can revise every few months, though it could also be a macro goal for the year. E.g.: “Building a choral program that sings the antiphons of the Mass, hymns in four part harmony, and that has a working repertoire of 15 choral motets.”)
Following these five questions, Lencioni proposes a sixth question, which is “what must we do?”, and this question should be answered with five defining objectives that, if accomplished, help you achieve what is most important right now.
Five defining objectives for the example thematic goal above might be:
Dedicate 15 minutes of rehearsal time a week to chant technique.
Learn one new motet every month.
Recruit enough singers (especially tenors!) to sing well in four part harmony.
Host two Saturday workshops this year that focus on developing musicianship skills.
Develop choir section leaders to provide vocal leadership for the choir.
Do not be afraid to revise “what is most important right now” several times throughout the year, and the objectives that will help you achieve it. But do yourself the favor of spending some deep time and thought defining answers to questions 1 through 4. They will help provide the clarity needed for the members of your program to be rowing in the same direction behind you, their leader.
Tip 3: Get Smart! Streamline and Simplify
Pat Lencioni’s methodology in The Advantage is focused primarily on one side of the two-sided coin that is organizational success. His strategies (described in part, above) drive toward building a healthy organization, or in our case, a healthy liturgy and music program.
But the other side of the coin is to operate a smart liturgy and music program, which deals with handling the many administrative and organizational requirements of the job as efficiently and effectively as possible. These often include managing your music library, preparing scores for your musicians, attending to music licenses and reporting, navigating liturgical books, managing worship aids and pew resources, scheduling singers and musicians for liturgies, and communicating well with all members of your program, among much else.
For most parish music programs, these administrative burdens can consume most of our time and energy, sometimes causing us to lose sight of why we’re doing what we do in the first place, and robbing us of the time we’d like to spend preparing for and running rehearsals, building choirs, training cantors, and and actually singing and playing for the liturgy.
And, of course, when we are overly burdened with administration the first thing to go usually is the investment in ourselves, depriving us of the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual resources that drive us forward and animate all that we do.
A smart thing to do as you plan for the coming year is to find ways to simplify and streamline your administrative process, and to get an efficient system in place before the demands of the year ahead pull you off to the races.
One way you can get smart this year is by using tools like the Source & Summit Digital Platform to help you ease your administrative burden and manage your liturgy and music program almost effortlessly. It is designed to help you automate and consolidate your liturgy preparation process, allowing you to focus on what’s really most important right now, not what’s most pressingly urgent.
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