Building Community in the Choral Ensemble

We Are Family:
Building Community in the Choral Ensemble

By NAfME Member Dr. David Holdhusen,
University of South Dakota

By creating love for each other, the ensemble, and the music, the choral bond is formed.

The ability for a choral ensemble to grow together into one cohesive unit is a significant aspect in building the quality of performance, but also in ensuring a positive familymusical experience for the singers. Several factors contribute to the building of community within the performance group. The choir’s ability to build trust within the ensemble, establish pride in the mission and accomplishments of the choir, and inspire a passion for the music and for what it is the group stands for can all have a substantial effect on the morale, learning environment, musical enjoyment, and ultimately, the performance quality of the chorus. The environment and community established in these entities can have a lasting effect on a student’s lifelong musical involvement.

Choirs are like families. Research indicates that there are six characteristics of successful families. Those characteristics are:

  • Appreciation
  • Commitment
  • Communication
  • Defined Roles
  • Spending Time Together
  • Values and Convictions

These properties can be applied directly to the choir. By utilizing these and creating the family environment, the choir becomes bonded and more invested in the success of the ensemble.

In my experience it comes down to the simple formula:

Trust + Pride + Passion = Love

By creating love for each other, the ensemble, and the music, the choral bond is formed.

Establishing Trust

Trust is an important aspect of any relationship. Within the choir, trust must be fostered between the director, the individual, the section, the ensemble and with the music. There are many opportunities and activities that can be utilized to promote togetherness and faith in each other. These events go beyond the traditional trust games and team-building activities. They must delve deeper to allow a more personal connection to the members of the ensemble and the music produced. Goal-setting, relationship-building, personal value, and creating the safe environment are key to establishing trust. In my session at NAfME’s National In-Service Conference, I will provide ideas that have worked for my ensembles at both the college and high school levels and discuss how these activities have fostered the family environment.

choir choral ensemble




Establishing Pride

Pride within the choir can lift an ensemble to heights that it did not realize it could reach. As each singer develops a pride in themselves, the section, the choir, and the community, the ensemble will galvanize and form that family that will protect its members and elevate its expectations. There are three elements of pride that must be fostered:

  • Confidence
  • Responsibility
  • Tradition

With each of these, the director must help the singers develop ego without arrogance by promoting success, instilling a belief in excellence and fostering the environment of mutual respect across the ensemble. This session will provide philosophies for developing pride in the choral ensemble by discussing traditions and ideas used to create ownership within the ensemble.

accountability teamwork






Establishing Passion

Passion is an element that must be brought to any artistic endeavor or personal relationship. It is important that we as music educators demonstrate passion for what we do and express that to our singers and invite the singers to do the same. Each performance, each musical selection, and each rehearsal must evoke passion. It is hoped for to provide behaviors to assist in increasing passion within your ensemble. With each opportunity to meet with your ensemble, the opportunity is there to develop the passion.



To quote the Beatles, “Love is all you need.” With the establishment of the elements discussed earlier, Love will be the end result. Love for yourself, each other, the choir, the music, the art, and for all that we do. If you have love, you will have success. The only way you can have love for a lifetime is if it is unconditional.

A wise man once said, “No Family is perfect . . . we argue, we fight. We even stop talking to each other at times, but in the end, family is family . . . the love will always be there.” It is this unconditional love that makes a family work and this unconditional love that can bond a choir forever.


About the author:

choral director

NAfME member David Holdhusen is the Director of Choral Activities and the Douglas and Susan Tuve Distinguished Professor of Choral Music at the University of South Dakota (USD). His responsibilities include serving as conductor for the USD Chamber Singers and teaching courses in conducting. In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Holdhusen is the Chair of the Department of Music and Director of the university’s annual Choral Directors Institute and the USD Summer Music Camp.

Dr. Holdhusen received his Ph.D. in Music Education from Florida State University. He holds an M.M. f rom Northwestern University in Choral Conducting, and a B.A. in Music with education certification from Gustavus Adolphus College.

Dr. Holdhusen was the recipient of the SD-ACDA Encore Award for excellence and achievement in the field of choral music and the prestigious Belbas-Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor USD bestows on its educators. He is in demand as a guest conductor, adjudicator, and clinician throughout the county and has had research published in several national journals. Choirs under his direction have been invited to perform at state and regional festivals and conventions and have been honored the American Prize for sustained excellence in Choral Performance.

Dr. Holdhusen will be presenting on his topic “We Are Family: Building Community in the Choral Ensemble” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today!

music education

Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!

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