This post is adapted from A Novice’s Guide to Directing the Church Choir by Kenneth T. Kosche. Though written specifically for choirs, the suggestions can apply to any church ensemble.
Rapport is one of those relational terms that most easily defines itself by its presence or absence. How well you get along with your choir and they with you is a measure of your rapport. There are no surefire solutions that will work for everyone to establish rapport, though there are some points of advice to offer.
As director, you will discover soon enough that, to a great extent, the choir will mirror your most overt personality traits. (What a scary thought!) This is both a blessing and a curse. If you encounter relational difficulties with your choir, it may be helpful to examine first the attitudes you project to the choir before you become critical of them.
One personal trait that can create or destroy rapport very quickly relates to how you wear the mantle of authority. People who have a high degree of self-assurance generally do not need to assert their authority vigorously. If you are in command of yourself, you can be in charge of other people more easily than if you feel insecure. If your insecurities stem from a personal lack of skill or self-confidence in musical matters, you have to practice and develop your skills to gain the requisite self-confidence.
It is no good pretending to know something if you do not, especially if there are choir members who know more than you do. Which is worse, a person with great musical skills and little self-confidence, or a person of decidedly modest gifts and overconfidence? The second person may get more accomplished, but a brash approach probably doesn’t establish an effective rapport with others.
It is important to remember that your authority as director naturally covers musical and spiritual matters that relate to the choir. In these areas you should not make decisions by majority vote. However, when it comes to matters like whether to wear robes or not in the church’s balcony on a hot day or scheduling people to bring treats for the after-choir coffee klatch, you may actually score points with the choir by delegating the decision to them or to an individual in the choir.
In other words, assert yourself in matters where you are naturally in charge and avoid needless controversy in areas of indifference.
Goals of the Ensemble
If there are areas of disagreement about the choir’s purpose and goals, rapport is harmed. You need to encourage servant attitudes whenever you can. Simultaneously, you need to continue to encourage fine musicianship for the sake of effective ministry, not for enhancing the stature of the choir, for aesthetic reasons, for educational purposes, or for anything that takes precedence over ministry or draws attention to itself and away from the proclamation of the Gospel. On the contrary, work hard to proclaim the Gospel with the finest quality singing of which your choir is capable. This is the choir’s noblest ministry.
Working together toward the goal of effective ministry accomplished through excellent singing will build rapport like nothing else. The motivation is intrinsic. It is not something imposed by you or by someone else from outside the scope of the church choir’s natural mission and purpose.