5 Simple Ways to Communicate with Your Choir

5 Simple Ways to Communicate with Your Choir

Communication skills are such an important part of ministry: keeping people connected and engaged, and making them feel a part of the things that are going on, both in the music program and in the church as a whole. Clear, consistent communication is key to building and sustaining your music program and developing that core sense of community among all involved.

I’ve talked about building community before (see How to Build Community in Your Choir), but it’s worth saying again:

"I believe the heart of ministry is community - a sense of connectedness, fellowship, and unity; shared responsibility and ownership. If we aren't united in our mission and work together as a choir, what kind of ministry do we have?"

How do you unite everyone, in mission and work? You guessed it - communication.

It doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, the simpler the communication is, the easier and more effective it will be most times. The important thing is that you keep communication lines open, that you regularly share updates, encouragement, news, and other reminders in a consistent way, and that you do your best to keep people involved and connected to the work you’re doing. 

Here are five simple ways to communicate regularly with your choir throughout the year:

A to Z: Must-Haves for Your Choir Room and Rehearsals

A to Z: Must-Haves for Your Choir Room and Rehearsals

It’s back-to-school season, which means it’s time for all things Fall, new school supplies, and the start of a new choir year. 

If you’re a planner, like me, and you like things to be organized, you probably spent some time this summer cleaning out choir folders and boxes, straightening up counters and rearranging chairs, getting the piano tuned, and planning music for the Fall and Christmas. You may have even spruced up your choir room a bit, with a new bulletin board, fresh whiteboard markers, and a blank calendar.

What’s missing?

Well, whether you’re working with an adult choir, a youth choir, or a children’s choir, there are a few things every choir room (and rehearsal) should have. Here’s my must-have list, from A to Z:

How to Organize Your Church Music Library

How to Organize Your Church Music Library

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a woman asking for help organizing her church's music library.

What should I keep? 
Should I put everything in alphabetical order? 
What about cantatas and reading copies?

Great questions. I'm by no means an expert, but I have learned a thing or two from watching others and organizing a few music libraries myself.

Of course, there are many ways to go about this and if you've been doing this long enough, you probably have your own system. But, if you're new, or you just started at a new church, or you're looking for a few ideas to be even more organized, keep reading, because today, I'm sharing my best tips and tricks for organizing your church music library. 

Where do I start?

If you're standing in a cluttered room filled with boxes, loose papers, and stacks of anthems, this is a valid first question. Sometimes, just the thought of organizing thousands of pieces of music and keeping track of everything can be overwhelming.

The Ins and Outs of Using Evernote

The Ins and Outs of Using Evernote

Paper clutter. Even in our modern, digital world, paper clutter is still a problem. There's that note a parent left on your desk last week. That receipt from your most recent music purchase. That Post-It you wrote to yourself reminding you to call the piano tuner. A draft of Sunday's bulletin. Unopened mail.

The problem is that paper clutter equals mental clutter.

Researchers suggest that when your home or work space is cluttered, it hinders your ability to focus. It also limits your ability to take in and process new information (source). 

Though it might seem innocent enough, clutter can become a distraction, overwhelming your brain with visual and tactile stimuli, and may lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, and frustration (source).

Sherrie Bourg Carter of Psychology Today noted: "Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve."

What if I told you there was an easy, free way to save papers, notes, photos, business cards, receipts, Post-Its, and even web clips in one convenient location? Stay on top of projects. Keep everything organized. Make collaboration a breeze. Keep good records. Never lose a piece of paper on your desk again.

7 Tips for a More Productive Choir Rehearsal

7 Tips for a More Productive Choir Rehearsal

Making progress, learning, improving, feeling a sense of accomplishment - ah yes, a productive choir rehearsal is something we all strive for, though attaining it may be another story.

You might be really organized, good with time management, and good about getting things done on your own, but add a group of chatty adults to the mix and suddenly a productive rehearsal feels like a more distant goal.

How can you get your group focused and keep everyone on task in rehearsal?

Here are a few helpful tips:

Start rehearsal on time.

It sounds like a simple concept, but this is something that requires diligence. Make a commitment to start rehearsal right on time each week and you'll communicate to your group that you value and respect their time (and that you have an agenda to get through!). Which brings me to my next point...

5 Things to Organize in a Church Music Program

5 Things to Organize in a Church Music Program

As a music director, you wear a lot of hats.

You direct, you play, you email, you plan, you listen, you conduct, you coordinate, etc. Your time is valuable and you know that your rehearsal time is valuable. How can you make sure you're making the most of it? It always helps me to start by getting organized. There's something about crisp file folders, colored pens, pretty charts, and a few fun paper clips that makes me feel more confident, productive, and ready to get to work.

Not sure where to start? Here are five things to organize in your music program to help things run smoothly this year:

How I Organize My Finances As a Freelancer

How I Organize My Finances As a Freelancer

As any freelancer or small business owner will tell you, managing your finances is a huge part of the job. From the ebbs and flows of self employment income to keeping track of all your deductible expenses to paying quarterly estimated taxes, managing your personal and business finances is no small feat. But, having a clear, organized system for keeping track of everything is a great place to start.

We've found sorting our money into different places helps us manage multiple income streams and work toward our savings goals. It's also makes paying quarterly taxes much easier. 

Here's how SD and I organize our finances as freelancers, teachers, and small business owners:

Taxes for Freelancers - Part III

Ashley Danyew | Taxes for Freelancers

Welcome back to the third post in my "Taxes for Freelancers" mini series (be sure to read Part I and Part II, if you missed them!).

Today, I want to share a bit about my process for staying organized and keeping good records throughout the year. This is essential for making sure tax season goes smoothly!

One thing that helps me stay organized is setting aside a few hours each month to work through a list of business to-dos (inspired by this post).

On the first Friday of each month, I spend a few hours organizing my records from the previous month, checking in on my financial goals, and preparing for the month ahead (make invoices, schedule blog posts, etc.).

Here is my monthly checklist:


Schedule credit card payment(s)
Buy Roth IRA mutual funds (set monthly amount)
Make loan payment (set monthly amount)
Review bank statements from this month*

*Other monthly investments and savings are automatic

SD and I set financial goals at the beginning of the year with monthly investment amounts. It's rewarding to see our progress month by month! In addition, I feel more productive and organized when I do all of these more administrative tasks at one time (instead of remembering to pay bills at different times each month).


Create studio invoices for next month
Write and schedule invoice emails (thank you, Boomerang!)
Record income and mileage for this month in studio budget
Deposit checks
File receipts (I sort mine into categories: Business Travel, Meals, Professional Development, and Business Expenses)
Print assignment sheets for lessons next month
Pay estimated taxes (federal, state) [quarterly]

As a teacher, music director, and full-time student, it helps me to step back every few weeks and evaluate my business as a whole, reflect on my teaching, and plan ahead. Setting aside part of a day each month keeps me accountable in those tasks that can easily be overlooked (e.g. filing receipts, tracking mileage, and setting aside estimated tax).


Plan blog calendar for next month (I love this one from Em for Marvelous!)
Run computer backup
Back up iPhone photos [quarterly]

Some of the things on this list help me stay on track with my monthly goals, as well (bonus!).

The real secret? Organize and keep records as you go.

1. Report your income and expenses in a spreadsheet each month.
2. File your receipts every few weeks.
3. Tally your business travel receipts when you get home from your trip.
4. Keep a separate bank account for estimated tax money.
5. Keep a little notebook in your glove compartment to document mileage.

Have other creative ideas for staying organized and keeping good records throughout the year? Leave a comment below - I'd love to hear!

Taxes for Freelancers - Part I
Taxes for Freelancers - Part II

Goals for 2013: July Update


The beautiful gardens at Lake Junaluska

Happy summer!  Hope y'all are having a summer full of lazy weekend picnics, freshly-picked flowers, outdoor experiences, and al fresco dining!  It's hard for me to believe the year is half over already - 2013 has been a great year so far.  Here's a little update on my goals.

Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you decide to purchase through any of them, I will earn a small commission. This helps support the blog and allows me to continue creating free content. Thank you for your support!


1. Run 2-3 times per week and increase circuit to 2 miles once per week Progress: By May/June, we had sort of settled at 1-2 runs a week with lots of walking on our off days.  Confession: Y'all, running is hard for me, especially in the heat.  I have trouble motivating myself to run on a regular basis but I've found it's easier for me when it's colder out (go figure).  Now that it's a little warmer out (in the 90s every day this past week!), we've been looking for a few exercise alternatives.  We rented a tandem bike one Sunday afternoon for a 2.5-hour ride along the canal and we started a new workout regime this month called the Insanity Workout (aptly named!).

2. Find ways to give to others each month Progress: Since April, we made a few donations of household and clothing items; volunteered with RAIHN, a hospitality organization for homeless families in May and earlier this month; and handed out Subway gift cards to those asking for spare change on the streets.

3. Read 6 books in 12 months Progress: I read "7" this spring and am currently reading "EntreLeadership" by Dave Ramsey and "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Timothy Ferriss, though these are on hold until my summer class is over.  For class, I'm reading "Tell Them Who I Am" by Elliot Liebow, an ethnography on homeless women that has special significance because of our work with RAIHN this year.

4. Study the Word actively Progress: SD and I finished reading the Story - the Bible written in chronological, chapter book format.  I've also been reading through a few plans on YouVersion (most recently, the one about Hosea).

5. Get up at 7:30 a.m. six out of seven days a week Progress: For the most part, yes!

6. Be intentional with rest Progress: I'm trying to be intentional with how I spend my time this summer by setting goals, staying organized, being productive in my working hours, and planning fun things for SD and I to do on the weekends (festivals, time on the roof, trying new recipes, etc.).  So far, it's been a wonderful balance of work and rejuvenation.

7. Make a list of things we are grateful for to display in our homeProgress: I just hung up a new sheet in our kitchen - find the free printable version here.

8. Focus on inspiring influences; purge negativityProgress: This really comes down to social media, for me.  Focusing on inspiring influences means spending less time on Facebook and Twitter, especially on the weekends.  It's amazing what a difference this makes!

9. Eat more whole foodsProgress: We started reading labels in the grocery store and being more intentional with the things we buy.  We also started planning a few meals for the week before we go to the store, to ensure that we have everything on hand each night.  This month, I've had class twice a week until after 8 p.m. so we've made good use of our crockpot with things like Pulled Pork Sliders and Jambalaya.  Delicious!

10. Find ways to add value to othersProgress: I'm finding out that there are so many ways to do this - sending notes to those who are grieving or celebrating an accomplishment, going out of your way to help someone, smiling at people, baking things to give away, pausing to have a conversation with someone.  Recently, I've been thinking about this goal for my studio: How can I add value to my students?


1. Get published Progress: I submitted two papers for journal publication consideration and I had a paper accepted to a research poster session at this year's National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy outside of Chicago!

2. Write a hymn arrangement Progress: I composed a hymn tune for an existing text back in April for a class assignment.  Next up, a hymn arrangement using some of these (and these) skills.

3. Spend more time in the practice room Progress: I practiced 8-10 hours a week during the semester and I managed to keep 2-3 hours in my schedule for the first two months of summer, despite not being at school every day.  I'm working my way through the Well-Tempered Clavier (mostly as a sightreading exercise), reviewing some keyboard skills, and improvising.

4. Create a blog schedule Progress: Summer = less school + more time to write!  This blog schedule helps keep me organized.

5. Update website Progress: I had a short list of things to fix/update on my site at the beginning of the summer and I'm pleased to say I've done just about everything on the list!  I've also been helping Steve update his site - go visit!

I'd love to hear how your 2013 goals are coming along - feel free to share in the comments below or if you post them on a blog, please post the link.  I'd love to read them!

Read more:
Goals for 2013: April Update
Making Things Happen in 2013 - Part I
Making Things Happen in 2013 - Part II
Making Things Happen in 2013 - Part III

For the Church Musician: A Planning Worksheet

As a church musician, you know that once the church year starts, there seem to be fewer and fewer days between Sundays. 

It can be challenging to get ahead and stay ahead in your planning and keep everyone (staff members, choir, etc.) on the same page week-to-week. I always found summer to be the best time to find new anthems, order music, and sketch out ideas for the fall/Christmas. Also, using a spreadsheet like this one helped me easily keep track of month-to-month planning and made it easier for our administrative assistant to prepare the bulletin each week. 

So, I designed a simple downloadable worksheet to help you plan for the year.

Download the 2013-2014 [download id="3" format="6"].  Open it in Excel and save it to your computer.

The columns are customizable so you can fill in the specific components of the service that you need to plan - I added a few place holders that I've used in the past to help get you started. The 2013-2014 dates (September-June) are filled in for you, including the most common non-Sunday services like Christmas Eve and Good Friday. There's also a pre-filled column for seasons of the church year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, etc.).

Once you've done a little planning, you can print a hard copy to keep on file or send electronic copies to others on staff. Hope this is helpful to you as you prepare for the coming year.

Happy summer and happy planning!