Planning A WARD CHOIR RETREAT
Summer is a critical time for many Ward choirs. Starting Memorial Day weekend and continuing until Labor Day it seems as if somebody or other is missing from every rehearsal. By the end of the summer, members are out of the habit of singing, rehearsing, and performing. Wishy-washy members may take advantage of the change of pace to drop out of choir unnoticed, while stolid members may fatigue on account of pulling the extra weight. One useful tool for revitalizing choir is the Choir Retreat. This article will explain what a retreat is, as well as when and how to hold one.
Scenario: It is July 15. Choir drags on with the several families that alternate between vacations, out-of-state weddings, and missionary farewells. The July 4 performance was weaker than usual, and the 24th of July performance promises to be even weaker; you question if your only remaining Tenor will even be in town that weekend.
Response: Plan a Choral Retreat. Take your choir to a neat place and spend the better part of a day or weekend rehearsing, eating, playing games, and getting familiar with one another.
Step 1: Select great music for the new season. During the week, you visit the music store (or surf online for free music) and choose an exciting Thanksgiving anthem, a Christmas carol or two, something where the choir sings with a soloist, and a book of fun sing-alongs. You have chosen this music to be fun to sing, beautiful, and absolutely intoxicating. This music will be your bait for the upcoming Fall.
Step 2: Select a great location. You need a location where your choir will be able to eat, play, and rehearse for a full morning, day or overnight. The location needs to be somewhat off the beaten path, and needs to be for the most part free. Uncle Bob's cabin in Park City comes to mind, as does your Mother's ward's chapel in Logan.
Step 3: Get Approval. You check with the Bishop, who prefers that the choir not have an overnighter, so you get permission to use a friend's Stake Bowery in Tooele, with the Relief Society room as the rehearsal space.
Step 4: Delegate. You invite the choir president, accompanist, and ward general music chairperson over for a planning meeting. You introduce your idea for a "Tooele Getaway" retreat, and divy out the responsibilities of planning the menu, advertising the event via posters and announcements, decorating, planning games and get-to-know-you activities, etc. You choose a date for the retreat that doesn't conflict with other ward or stake events, then schedule follow-up meetings to keep the project moving along.
Step 5: Publicize. Finally, you advertise the retreat to the entire ward, being careful to emphasize that family and friends are welcome (you neglect to tell them that to come is to sing). You send personal "RSVP" invitations to past or potential singers, then follow up on each one.
Step 6: Follow-through. Your retreat is now an inevitability, and promises to be well-attended. Over the remaining weeks, you keep regular contact with all other planners to ensure that plans are going forward as planned. Choose back-up plans for inclement weather. Choose a back-up accompanist. Have food contingency plans. Know what to do if double the expected crowd shows up, or if half the expected crowd shows up. Arrange to have non-choir people there for the dishes, or else use disposable dinnerware. (Otherwise, your Alto section may insist on cleaning up during the get-to-know-you excercise or rehearsal.)
When to hold a retreat: Summer-end retreats are useful for recruiting new and old members. They build social relationships that will strenghten choir loyalty. Late Fall retreats are useful for uniting a standing choir. They also give the director an opportunity to dig into difficult Christmas music.
How to structure a retreat: Day Retreat: Meet at the retreat location as early as possible. Set up the night before, or arrive before the choir. Have place settings, music folders, and a written schedule on the tables. Consider "Hello, I'm (name)" stickers if needed. Have the rehearsal area set up. At the appropriate time, welcome everyone. Review the schedule, thank them for coming, and thank all of the people who helped organize the event.
The Schedule: Your schedule might look like this: 8:00 AM Breakfast. During breakfast, each person stands up and introduces himself, including one thing that other people might not know about them. 9:00-10:30 Rehearsal Session 1. 10:45-11:45 Activity 1 (balloon relay, water balloon toss, musical chairs, charades, balderdash, etc.) Use this activity to get the blood pumping. It should be an activity that builds teamwork and that doesn't require athletic ability. 12:00-1:00 Lunch. Roast the choir director or bishopric member. 1:15-2:00 Camp Song Sing-along, Lip Sync contest, Karaoke, etc. 2:15-3:30 Rehearsal Session II. Other fun activities include scavenger hunt, trust walk (good for overnighters), ghost stories (same), s'more-devouring contest (choose up teams), guest speaker or entertainer, service project, costume ball, pool party games. Avoid activities that don't require human interaction, such as watching a movie or playing bingo.
After Retreat: Send thank-you cards to attendees, stating the dates and times of choir practices and performances for the upcoming year. Assign the choir historian or secretary to make a post-retreat poster for the foyer. Post all of the best pictures, and include the choir meeting times on the poster. At the first rehearsal, take 5-10 minutes to solicit ideas from the choir for next year's retreat.
April Feature Article: Famous Choir Recipes
March Feature Article: Recruiting, Retaining and Sustaining a Ward Choir