Why do people miss rehearsals?

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missing personIt is something that drives all choir directors batty: people saying, ‘Oh, I can’t come next week, because…’ Whatever excuse ends the sentence, the conductor thinks, ‘And why is that more important than my rehearsal?’

A couple of years ago, I did a quick and dirty survey among my students about this. I asked them to write down an event they considered completely unmissable (in the past, in the future, or in their imaginations), and why they felt they couldn’t miss it. About 50 students responded, and their reasons for valuing events showed several common themes. These themes in return give us as directors some clues as to what we can do to put our rehearsals higher up the list of our singers’ priorities.

  1. An unmissable event is one in which you have an important role to play. Somebody you care about or whose opinion you value will be disappointed not to see you there. This may be because of religious or family values, or it may be a sense of professional responsibility. In any case, you are aware that your own presence is necessary to make the event valuable for others.

    What we can do:
    Give individuals specific roles or jobs to do. Thank people for specific contributions they make that are theirs alone. Let people know that they are missed if they’re not there.

  2. The rarity of the event is also key. People will skip a regular commitment for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    What we can do:
    Well, the choir that rehearses regularly has a built-in disadvantage here. Choirs that convene for short-term projects, on the other hand, can get over this one to an extent. In either case, the kinds of routine that are good for structured skill development are commensurately bad for creating unmissability. But we can endeavour to make every rehearsal a special occasion, to create a sense that missing a rehearsal is not just about getting behind on the learning, but actually missing out on an experience that is to be treasured. When planning each week, think: if this were the last rehearsal I ever took with these singers, what enduring memory would I leave them with?

  3. Unmissable events are enjoyable and high quality. These factors emerged far more often than, say, the inconvenience or fear of repercussions of missing the event.

    What we can do:
    Use rehearsal strategies that favour the carrot over the stick. Singing is a joyful, pleasurable activity, so we have an inbuilt advantage here. But we must be sure to keep the joy bubbling away even if we’re feeling the pressure to get things right in time for the performance. Besides, if there’s no joy, there’s no music.

  4. People don’t like to miss events for which they have prepared. The sense of culmination appears to be a powerful motivation.

    What we can do:
    We can set and share goals for future weeks so that singers have something to prepare for in their own time and which they can then see come to fruition. Challenges are motivating, and people won’t want to miss the chance to rise to them.

  5. A personal connection or affinity with the event makes people reluctant to miss it.

    What we can do:
    Help our singers identify with the choir as a group and with the repertoire we sing. Encourage discussion of what the music means to choir members, and build a clear sense of choir ethos and values within the choir. Help singers experience choir membership as not simply something to do, but as an important part of who they are.

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