“Relationships are built at the speed of trust, and social change happens at the speed of relationships.” (Rev. Jennifer Bailey)
This is the third quote that’s guiding many of my actions this year. I’ve only served as Director of Music Ministries for about a month. As a new staff member, building solid relationships in the first few months will be a strong foundation for the future. I first heard the quote on a podcast a few years ago and it made quite an impact on me. As both a choir director and a singer, I firmly believe that trust and strong relationships are the bedrock of soulful music making. In my opinion, I feel that my actions have the capacity to build or erode trust and connection.
I agree with the quote that trust is foundational to relationships. Regarding trust, I really like Dr. Brené Brown’s framework. She breaks it down into seven components in the word BRAVING: Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgment, Generosity. A wonderful and short definition of those terms can be found here:
She further explains these concepts in this short video:
There is much to unpack in this framework, so I thought I would give some examples about one of the categories, Reliability. According to Dr. Brown, Reliability means “You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.” That means if a singer asks me to do something, I follow through. For example, this past Sunday, a singer was distracted by someone wearing something scented and asked to remind the choir not to wear scented products. As a result, I sent a gentle reminder in the weekly email announcements. In addition, I believe that part of reliability is staying consistent. For me, that means starting and ending rehearsals and sending out email announcements every Monday.
It takes time to build relationships. That’s something I need to constantly remember. Close relationships don’t happen overnight and require small, intentional actions over time. Even if we’ve been in our school or church positions for years, there are always new members to get to know, or entire choirs where the singers are new to the program. In addition, I believe that building relationships and trust both have aspects that intersect, yet there are some subtle differences.
From my perspective, singers join a choir mostly to be a part of a community. That means having different type of activities that building relationships, from social to connecting through the music. With Adult Choirs, social events have included Christmas parties, seeing a choir member perform in a fantastic 70s/80s cover band, bowling, progressive dinners, and many other types of events. I’ve found success with asking a choir member to help organize or think of ideas for social events.
More recently, I’ve thought about quick, easy ways during rehearsals for choir members to build relationships. Since last Wednesday was my first rehearsal with the Adult Choir, I asked the singers to go around, say their name, and a hymn they liked. For a particular page in an anthem, I may say “turn to your neighbor and discuss what you think is the most important word or words”. Then I’ll ask them to sing accordingly. Afterwards, I’ll ask what changed. Luckily, this activity takes a very short time, yet the payoff is profound and multi-faceted. The Adult Choir at St. Andrew (the congregation where I serve) sings every Sunday during the academic year, so the more ways I get singers to internalize the music and gain ownership, the more profound the music making will be.
If we return to the quote, I’ve only recently started wrestling with the second half: “social change happens at the speed of relationships”. I interpret this that relationships are necessary for social change and that when individuals or organizations take time to get to know each other, a better world is possible. I am finding this work slower than building trust. It takes energy and initiative to build relationships with people or organizations outside the music ministry. It’s easy to solely focus on the music ministry and requires risk taking to reach out to others. In this work, it’s best to ask questions, including “Who is already doing work for social change and how might I come alongside them?” With that mindset, I feel as if I honor and respect those who have already been doing the work.
How have you fostered relationship or trust building and acting for social change in your choirs? Please comment below!