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Organizing a Volunteer Choir.

“First catch your hare,” says the recipe. When a church has no volunteer choir and wants one, the process is very simple; but when there is a quartet or merely a precentor or soloist, the first step necessary is to create a sentiment in favor of a chorus. There is no better way than for the organist to go about organizing a chorus on his own responsibility—of course with the permission of the music committee; and, if the church service is out of the question, then the Sunday school will do just as well for a beginning (and it would be a good thing for the Sunday school). If neither of these plans is feasible, then let him organize a choral society in connection with the young people’s society of the church, or a choir to lead the singing at their meetings. Anything to make a start and create a sentiment, even if it be only a sentiment of tolerance at first. The chorus, if well drilled, is sure to win its way sooner or later.

The easiest way—and it is usually easy enough—to set about organizing a volunteer chorus is to appeal to the young people, not ignoring, of course, such older folk as show any inclination to come in. The young folks are full of energy, looking for new experiences, and will hail with delight any new means of diversion. Just as quickly will they drop out, when the novelty has worn off, unless the director sees to it that the interest is kept alive. Even so a number will be sure to desert sooner or later, but, with a good handful as a nucleus, the choir ought to be a success.

The first qualification necessary for success is personal popularity on the part of the director. If he hasn’t got it at first, he must cultivate it. It is not enough that he be a fine organist and musician. These things are quite as likely to repel as to attract; it is the personality that counts. For when the test comes, when the first glamor of enthusiasm has worn off and the work begins to increase in difficulty, then it is that the popularity of the director will hold the choir together when all other means fail.

Do not weed unless absolutely necessary. The weeding process is always painful and is sure to cause feeling which the director would better avoid if he can. The unmusical elements will soon enough weary of the treadmill and drop out of their own accord; so that a little patience and a little judicious tone-deafness (so long as the effect is not bad) will help the director out of many an unpleasant situation without the slightest loss of prestige on his part.

For the same reason it is not well to indulge in personal criticisms. If you feel as though you must “call Jones down,” just don’t—at least in public. Take it out on the whole body of tenors instead, and they will soon do the calling down process for you in their own way. If Jones is incorrigible give him a tactful and quiet two-minute talk some time when you have him all alone.

Make the rehearsals instructive. It is not enough to sing the same songs or anthems over and over again, even though the music-committee may be thoroughly satisfied. The choir must be considered, and the choir demand something new once in a while. Besides, there is no better opportunity to exhibit teaching ability than right here, and doing a little quiet advertising on your own account.

Whatever you do don’t discriminate, unless it be in favor of some older person to whom all defer. The average human mind is prone to jealousy, and where each member is giving up something for the good of the cause, as in a volunteer chorus, it is not fair to show partiality. If solos occur, let all the sopranos, or all the altos, or tenors, or basses sing them, or, if there must be a division, let it be made for some good reason other than a personal one. And upon no consideration at any time let yourself go upon record as judging unfavorably to any member of your choir as regards talent or ability.

An annual, or semi-annual, or biennial concert is often a great aid in maintaining the choir. Considered merely from the musical standpoint, the idea is a good one, as the entirely different class of compositions used upon such an occasion, some of them necessarily secular, will call out a different set of activities all around and assist in the musical development of the choir (of course, the higher the musical development of the choir the better the musical results). Then, too, the enthusiasm aroused by a concert is a most valuable factor in the success of the regular work of the choir, besides leading to the growth of an esprit du corps which is most valuable. Besides, as the rehearsals necessarily extend over some weeks when the lines are drawn tight, a good opportunity arises for a little greater urgency as to regularity, promptness, and discipline.

Then last and perhaps most important is the social element. Every successful volunteer chorus, unless held together by the magic of a great name, makes a great deal of this feature. The choir social gathering, either after the rehearsal or upon some other evening of the week, in the church parlors or at the home of some one connected with the choir, is a most powerful factor in its success. The personal friendships formed in this manner between the director and soloists (if there be any), on the one hand, and the members of the choir and their families and friends, on the other, are the magic ties that establish the human relations between the different individuals whose collective labors make up the success, or failure, of the work.

One of the most successful choirs in this country—in fact, the most successful of which the writer happens to know—is connected with a Brooklyn church. The organist and choirmaster, a most capable man, has applied the social factor to his work with the most signal success. The choir, numbering between two hundred and three hundred members, has been in existence for a number of years and has exerted a wonderful influence in the life of the church. It would be a most pleasant task to go into details as to its management, but space forbids. It is sufficient to say that the discipline is excellent, the esprit du corps remarkable, and the musical efficiency of a very high order. And the secret is that every member of the choir swears by its director as the greatest choirmaster in America.—J. Lawrence Erb.

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