Properly leading a choir is harder than it looks

Published 6:00 am Friday, December 11, 2020

Recently, during worship, I interrupted the director just as she was about to lead the choir.

“Excuse me. I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you mind if I take over?”

She gave me a strange look but cautiously replied, “No, not at all. You are the pastor.”

Email newsletter signup

I said to the choir, “I’ve always wanted to direct a choir, so today I’m going to do it. Will you help me?”

You could hear mumbling as first one then another choir member replied, “Sure. okay.”

My hands went up just as I saw the director do so many times before. “Are you ready?”

“Wait,” a voice from the choir shouted interrupting my directorial debut. “What are we singing?”

1. To be an effective choir director, it helps to know what you are going to sing.

“Oh, that’s a good question.” I replied, but already beginning to lose my confidence. Maybe this job wasn’t so easy after all. “Let’s do something familiar and Christmassy. We can sing, ‘Joy to the World!’”

The murmurings among the choir began again but stopped as soon as I raised my hands high. With a flourish I began the rhythmic side to side motions I watched so many directors use. I was confident my inspired leadership combined with the solid voices of our talented choir would create the finest performance of “Joy to the World!” ever rendered, but alas, I was so wrong.

What really happened was an explosion of noise, off key singing, and unrecognizable words. Some choir members were singing loud, some soft. Others seemed to be singing a different song.

“Stop! Stop!” I screamed. “What are you singing?”

I soon found out.

“I’m singing from the hymnal,” said one choir member.

“I’m singing from an arrangement I brought from home,” another choir member said.

“I decided to start with verse two,” a third singer said.

“My words are in Spanish,” yet another member said.

“Wait! What song are we singing?” a voice in the back asked.

2. To be an effective choir director, you should lead from the same music.

At this point, I didn’t think it could get any worse, but I was wrong again. An argument broke out. One choir member said, “Larry, this song calls for a soloist, and I will gladly volunteer my voice.”

“Now, wait a minute. I’m the one that sings the solos here. I’ve been doing so for 30 years,” replied one choir member.

“It’s been 20 years too long if you ask me,” retorted another.

“Why does Dan always have to play the organ? I want to play the organ,” a third singer said.

“Wait. What song are we singing?” the voice in the back asked again.

3. To be an effective choir director, you combine compassion with clear communication.

At this point, choir members were arguing, the congregation was mumbling and I was bewildered. “What’s wrong with our choir?” I wondered.

Actually, the problem was not with the choir but with me. I was about to receive a lesson on spiritual leadership courtesy of God, and the real choir director.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at