We asked Matt Williams a few questions about starting his community choir and how things are going. We wanted to pass it along to you, to encourage your ministry, and remind you that we are all in this together. We hope this helps and blesses you today!
What are some initial struggles to starting a choir practically, after your members begin to show up and start the actual rehearsal process?
Matt Williams: Sometimes I fear it will all fall part at some point. Or that it might never work. Did I select the right music? Is it too hard or too easy? Will I have enough soloists? Will anyone show up to our performance? I agonize over having a place to perform or the right sound equipment to use. Juggling everyone’s holiday schedules. But as we begin, my priorities focus on keeping everyone excited about what we’re doing and why, and making sure everyone understands what is expected, and how we can use our time wisely.
What expectations do you set for yourself and your choir members going in?
MW: I guess I’ll start with what I expect from the choir members. My expectations are set at the beginning and every choir member knows from the first rehearsal what they are. Be on time. Every rehearsal is important. If you’re going to miss, please let me know. We will memorize the entire program, so you need to listen to the music on your own at home. We will participate in one community outreach project each season. We can’t be perfect, but we can be excellent.
If I ask my choir members to be prepared, then I need to be prepared, and then some, before every rehearsal. I work hard to make sure I understand all the parts of the music, and the details of the performance. I commit to knowing everyone’s first and last name and who invited them or where they came from. It’s my responsibility to overcommunicate to the choir what I want them to know and to lead the way when it comes to spreading the word on social media. I pray and pray. Pray for each choir member, every volunteer helping put it together, and for each person who will be in attendance.
What obstacles have you encountered while starting a choir, and what did you do to overcome it?
MW: The first major obstacle was having a place to practice every week. I spoke to two churches that I had a history with and they agreed to let us use their buildings for rehearsals. My next issue was recruiting enough members to participate in a choir and not a Christmas quartet! I reached out to my former choir members and asked them to do the same. I leveraged social media with creative banners, live videos, and almost daily posts to my personal Facebook. I handed out flyers to local churches and held an interest meeting before rehearsals even started so I could provide information about all that would come up this Christmas Season, including time and monetary commitments. Since I’m not connected to a church, I don’t have a church budget for music, sound, lights, or even risers, so basically everything you need to put on a program we’ve paid for out of our own pocket or asked local companies to help with donations.
What kind of support do you have from the pastors, governing bodies of the church, and/or host churches?
MW: Since my choir is community based, we don’t have a home church. I spoke with two pastors before we started, and they graciously agreed to open their doors for us on Thursday nights for 15 weeks. I know both these pastors and owe them a hug and a thank you for saying yes! I think, since this group is so new to the area, the other local churches and pastors I spoke to are a little leery about jumping on board with something so unfamiliar and unproven.
Talk us through your rehearsal structure.
MW: Our rehearsals are every Thursday night from 6:30-8:15pm. By the time announcements are over we generally start singing at 6:40pm so every minute after is extremely important. I make sure I post our rehearsal schedule every Sunday before the next practice on Thursday, that way when they listen at home, they focus on what we will be working on in rehearsal. Most weeks, we start with sectionals for the first 30 minutes. Men in one room and ladies in another. I always plan to work at least 3-4 songs, sometimes 5 songs, each time we’re together and almost never work an entire song. In rehearsal I will select 2 or 3 spots in each song to work and then move to the next song. I’ll always pick a spot or two that I know is going to be tricky and take some time, and then another spot that should be a little easier and give them some confidence before we move to the next song. Depending on the mood I want to set, I’ll end rehearsal with something upbeat if I want to have some fun before leaving, or if I want to share something deeper, I’ll choose a song in the program that helps get us there. I don’t want to waste a lot of time talking about things that don’t matter, so I’m very intentional every time I speak to them when I’m not just giving instruction.
How do you create (or try to create) interests across all age demographics?
MW: I think it starts with the music. I look for something with a clear message that everyone can understand and then I look at style. I generally like something that feels current but has traditional elements included.
Aside from providing music for inspiring worship, do you see the choir as a small group ministry/community aspect of your church body? If so, what does that look like for you?
MW: In my opinion, this is the biggest reason for starting a choir. I tell them all the time that the title of “Community Choir” really holds two meanings. It’s obviously a community-based group that invites people from all over the local area to join, but the community bond that is formed internally is really special. New friendships are formed, prayer requests are lifted up and people share a common interest of music and singing in a choir. I have always looked at the choir as potentially one of the most powerful small groups in any church. We are a community group that not only does great works together, but we can sing while we do it or after we’re finished!
About the Author: Matt Williams is married with two teenage sons and resides in Bixby, Oklahoma where he and his wife serve at Life.Church. Matt brought people together from surrounding communities to form the Voice of Joy Community Choir. Psalm 71:23 is the verse that inspired their name.