Becoming a Director, Part 2: Before You Start

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Not everybody falls into the role of a director through random circumstance. Some people aspire to it in advance. If you are singing away in the middle of your choir, thinking, 'it looks fun out there, I'd like to do that one day', this post is about the kinds of things you can usefully do to prepare so you are in a better position to start when opportunity comes a-knocking.


Well, lets start with the obvious. Depth of musicianship is always going to benefit a director. Singing in a choir is itself a great foundational skill for this (which is why it is often a core activity for first year music students in higher education), but is not enough in itself. In particular, you need to gain experience in activities that (a) require you to engage with the whole musical texture, not just your own part, and (b) involves you in making musical decisions.

So, activities such as singing in a quartet, or arranging, or making teach tracks will engage and develop musicianship skills. If you have done nothing of this ilk, you may find yourself floundering as a director. Note that section leadership, while useful in all kinds of other ways, won't build this dimension.

Teaching skills/coaching skills

A central part of leading an amateur choir is helping people do things better. Experience as a classroom teacher or as a trainer/presenter in the workplace will stand you in good stead here. But you also need some specifically musical experience too, in working out what the singers and/or the music need and what to do to help it happen.

This is where section leadership provides a useful background, as does spending some time as a 5th ear to a quartet. Singing one-a-part is also valuable, especially if you regularly use rehearsal techniques such as duetting that build in the listening-and-feedback loop into the rehearsal process.

Leadership and Teamworking Skills

These are much more general life skills that can be picked up in pretty much any situation that involves working with people to make things happen. Indeed, your time directing a choir may in turn prove to be experience with which you can make a bid for a more responsible role at work.

But this is also why you rarely see someone appointed as a director if they don't have some section-leading and/or assistant directing track record. Changing roles within a team is easier than coming in to lead a team of which you have no prior experience.

Hand skills

This is the one specific aspect of choral directing that you get no experience of whatsoever in other areas of a choir's life. This is, therefore, the bit you are likely to find most baffling at first. So, yes, it is worth attending training events so you've got some sense of method before you need to use them for real. Assistant director and section leader roles also give opportunities to get a bit of experience under your belt.

So, none of this is very surprising. But it's worth spelling out, as there is often a little time between first conceiving the desire to direct a chorus and having an opportunity come along, and it is useful to spend that time purposefully so as to be as ready as possible for that opportunity.

Most people who get this urge will tick some of the boxes quite readily, but may feel rather underconfident about one or two others. If you're great at people but have never sung in quartet, do it now and stretch your musicianship before you have to rely on it in front of a chorus. If you're a crack arranger, but have never done any teaching, go and get some experience there.

Because however well-prepared you think you are to take on a directorship, it will still feel like you're riding a tiger when it actually happens. Better to go in knowing that you have at least not neglected the things you knew you didn't know.

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