For some community ensembles, the number of bodies in the room can vary wildly each rehearsal. Retention can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks that community bands or choirs face in their lifetime. BUT it doesn't have to be this way! Making sure that your members are not only coming to rehearsals, but even getting them to come early and eagerly await the first downbeat comes down to simple strategies built on mutual respect.
A community ensemble is capable of providing a safe space for many and opportunities for people who may not have otherwise met to become fast friends. If you have notions of starting an ensemble to please your own ego, it is best to look into different types of ensembles. In order to cultivate a positive environment, it is crucial to remember that the ensemble is for the community first.
Keep the room light!
Many people join a community ensemble to relive the enjoyment of playing. This should not be a cause of stress in anyone’s life. Getting overly upset about mistakes or calling out individuals for negative reasons is not a way to get through to anyone. This doesn’t mean that good playing is no longer a priority. Rather, use rehearsal time to work trouble sections and encourage practicing at home without disparaging anyone for imperfect playing. When you enjoy the people you play with and have a caring environment to go to, you’re more likely to put in effort to improve. Remember that nothing grows well when planted in toxicity.
Avoid ruling with an iron fist!
If you are the one who has started the ensemble or has been involved from the start, there is much of yourself in every decision. It can be difficult to relinquish control. However, the point of a community band is to bring together people from the community. Therefore, getting input from the members is important! If members are paying dues or fees in order to support the band, they will likely want to be able to have their opinions heard. Not everyone will speak up in the same way or agree at each turn. That is not a bad thing, as long as abject arguing is not tolerated. It is also important to be able to delegate tasks to others in order to lighten the load. There is much to do when involved in leadership, so do not be afraid to let others contribute in ways that they are able.
Listen With Open Ears
If there is a disagreement on the specific way a piece is being played, listen with open ears. There will be times when you make a choice that doesn’t make sense to the members. This is ok! Try your best to explain your choices so that everyone is on the same page. Explaining yourself or listening to concerns does not change the fact that you are in charge of bringing to life the vision that you have for the piece that you are directing. Making conscious choices will help you to have confidence in your ideas, which may help make it easier to explain to others what you would like to hear. Do not feel as though you need to implement every change that a member mentions because this could cause confusion.
Remember to Have Fun!
At the end of the day, the most important piece of advice available is to treat people with respect and listen with empathy. Your room is filled with people who have been in at least one other ensemble and have valid opinions of what a group should look like. Being in a leadership position does not give anyone the right to put others down for the sake of appearing powerful. If the environment is positive, players will thrive and begin to create magic together!