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How To Say No To A Singer

How do I tell a singer they did not get into my chorus?

If an unskilled singer walks into my audition, I pray it's a baritone. Then I don't have to be honest, just kind. "I'm so sorry. You're a lovely person, but we have a SEA of baritones right now."

I try to take very detailed audition notes – even it if is clear that this singer is not strong enough to join my chorus. Then when I make that difficult call I am able to be clear about the vocal issues. For example, "In order to sing in a chorus like this it is very important that each person is able to hold their own voice part on their own. Do you remember when I played those phrases for you to sing back and you struggled to repeat what I played? That is one of the skills I am especially looking for." I do encourage any singer who is particularly excited to join the chorus (but doesn’t make it) to take some voice lessons and try again at our next audition process.

More ideas on this topic at ChoralNet.

I have a singer who, I believe, has a cognitive dysfunction that has progressed to the point that he extremely disruptive in rehearsal. He is not able to track with rehearsal so he constantly interrupts people around him to ask where we are, what I said, etc.; he’s not able to manage movement at all; he no longer feels confined by singing just his part; and he generally makes everyone around him crazy.

He is a kind and sweet guy, and his attendance is exemplary. I’ve worked with him individually on his singing his part (with some success), and discussed his disruptive behavior, ways to get his questions asked without turning to everyone around him, etc. He seems to get it, but his behavior quickly lapses back.

I see no other option now but to tell him he can’t sing with us anymore. I HATE these kind of conversations, but it has to happen. Any suggestions on how to give him the news kindly, not destroy his self-confidence, and preserve some sort of relationship?

Kevin Robison, Artistic Director
Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus

If you're not 100% confident that you've given him a fair "heads-up", then that's the place to start. Give him a time-frame for improvement. If you've done this and he hasn't improved, it's time to talk.

First, have a witness. Someone else that's one of the pack (membership president?). Someone he'll respect as much as you. Prep and plan.

The best time to have the conversation is after a rehearsal. Don't tell him in advance -- he'll be the model of good behavior that night if he thinks he's in trouble. Have your witness ready to pull him aside for you right away. Then go into another area.

Decide that you'll be firm, no matter what happens. Have your talking points ready. I wouldn't ask a witness to say anything unless what you are saying isn't being processed. Then the witness chimes in, "What we're saying is..." or "In other words..."

During the conversation, use the word "we" and "the chorus" as much as you can. Likewise, avoid the word "you" when possible. You'll have to say "you" a few times, but depersonalize it where you can: "The behavior is disruptive to others." "This has been discussed in the past, but there has been no improvement."

Finally, don't tell him you've had complaints from other singers, even if you have. Avoid going into the brutal laundry list.

Some of this may sound hokey, but when put into your own words, it will work.

I always do this with our director of membership present. First, it's the necessary third-party observer. But equally important, that person is a conduit back to your board and membership as someone who can bear witness to your sensitive and appropriate way of dealing with these issues. That will serve you well in the future.

I always do this "hatchet-work" mid-week between rehearsals - never directly after a rehearsal. I do it over coffee. It's just too brutal when people are coming right off the "high" of a great rehearsal and the fellowship that goes with it. The only exception to this is when you really do want the person to come back to the group after taking time off for some remediation. For example, I had a wonderful singer 8-9 years ago who was battling a terrible drinking problem. He loved rehearsal more than anything else in his then-crappy little life. By telling him at the end of the evening that I was sending him packing for six months, he was able to immediately measure the depth of what he was about to lose. End of story: He got the help he needed, came back six months later healthy and happy, and has been one of my great joys ever since.