I am preparing my choir for an ACDA-Michigan conference performance at the end of October. By my count we will have had nine 2-hour rehearsals and a retreat to prepare a 25-minute set of music.

The balancing act, then, is keeping them motivated but not afraid. I have programmed ambitious music for them, having faith that they will be up to the challenge; but also knowing that it will require significant individual effort to achieve it by Oct. 28.

An earlier version of myself would have definitely catapulted my students into the afraid column. It is only with time, and experience in similar situations, that I have been able to relax into trust that the music will come given the right instruction.

Anxiety won’t help! So I spend time every rehearsal speaking calmly to them, reminding them that they have the skills to achieve this goal, and that they are making the necessary progress. I’m keeping my eye on the students I deem most likely to lean towards afraid, as well as the students more likely struggle with motivation.

Furthermore, I am mindful that this experience is only a part of our year of music-making together. We want to achieve the best possible performance in October, but we don’t want to be so burned out that we can’t continue to grow and make better music in March and April. There is a real risk of burnout that comes with an over-pressurized lead up to the conference, and for me, that tradeoff is not worth pushing too hard.

Choir directors take preparation seriously, and when special opportunities come along, it’s appropriate to take them even more seriously. But if you take it so seriously as to risk burnout, anxiety, or fear, you are no longer offering the best possible musical experiences to your singers.