Surprise Me! Planning a Mystery Destination Youth Choir Tour

Surprise Me! Planning a Mystery Destination Youth Choir Tour

Hi friends!

Today, I'm featuring a dear friend and church musician extraordinaire, Janis Maxwell. Janis is Director of Youth Music Ministry and Organist at Athens First United Methodist in Athens, GA (Go Dawgs!). When it comes to youth choir and youth ministry, she is a wealth of knowledge and creative ideas and I know you'll love what she has to share.

Have a topic you'd like her to write about in the future? Leave a comment at the end of this post! - Ashley


We are pretty traditional in my current church setting, and we “do” youth choir pretty much the same way churches have “done” youth choir for the past thirty years. We rehearse on Sundays, sing in worship, sing in the community, and take a summer choir tour. Just typing this out makes me feel in need of a makeover!

This year we shook things up a bit with a Mystery Destination Choir Tour. I don’t know who came up with this idea, but I have several friends who have tried it and loved it, so this year it was my turn. The kids were not thrilled. Actually, they were really good sports about it, but I have discovered that they are not used to the idea of Surprise.

What I'm Working On This Summer

What I'm Working On This Summer

I’ve been a little quiet over here lately, but it’s not for lack of things to say or write about! 

The end of the school/church year is always busy (am I right?!), and this year was no exception (read more about what I've been up to lately below).

I’ve also been hard at work on a few big projects and am right in the middle of planning ahead for some exciting things for the fall.

Today, instead of keeping you all in suspense, I thought I’d give you a behind-the-scenes look at exactly what I’m working on this summer.


How to Direct a Handbell Rehearsal

How to Direct a Handbell Rehearsal

Let’s say you just inherited your church’s handbell choir. You’ve subbed in handbell choirs a few times before and know the basic ringing technique (damping and that all-important snap in the wrist). Maybe you have some conducting experience, too. And the members of this particular handbell choir have been playing together for a long time.

I mean, the bell choir probably runs itself at this point. How hard can it be?

The truth is, it’s not that hard, but it is different from directing a vocal choir or even an instrumental group. Handbell music notation is different (and more complex), there’s often a greater emphasis on rhythm and counting, and the ins and outs of assigning bells and keeping track of parts from piece to piece adds another layer of preparation and planning to your plate as director.

Not to worry, though. Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about directing handbell choirs and my process for running a rehearsal. Enjoy!

How I Use Time-Blocking to Structure My Work Day

How I Use Time-Blocking to Structure My Work Day

Whether you work part-time or full-time, one job or four, in an office or at home, creating a structure for your work day is important to your productivity, creativity, and ultimately, how you feel about your work.

And for those of you who work for yourself and work from home (at least part of the time), boundaries become a necessary part of structuring your day.

Are you prone to burnout? 
Do you work until late at night, on the weekends, and even on vacation?
Do you struggle to follow-through on certain projects?
Do you lose motivation easily?

Setting a few boundaries, blocking your time, and figuring out what time of day you do your best work can help set you up for success each and every day.

Today, I’m walking you through my own process for structuring my work days.

Like many of you, I wear many hats during the week: church musician, worship planner, piano teacher, blogger, small business owner. Sometimes, it feels like I’m just keeping the plates spinning, not necessarily making any progress (how many of you can relate to that?).  

But, with the help of time-blocking and being intentional about how I use my working hours, I’m beginning to reap the rewards of a more focused, productive work-week.

How to Choose Music for Your Choir: An Inside Look at My Process

How to Choose Music for Your Choir: An Inside Look at My Process

It's that time of the year again - the time when choir directors everywhere begin choosing music for next year!

From conferences to reading sessions to the seasonal reading packets in your mailbox, the stack of anthems, catalogs, and listening CDs on your desk at any given time can get overwhelming.

Where to begin? Is there a method to this madness?

As a quintessential Type A individual, I believe there is a method for every madness, anthem selection included! Today, I'm sharing an inside look at my process - my selection criteria, the things I take into consideration, and questions I ask myself along the way.

Whether you're choosing music for an adult choir, youth choir, or children's choir, I hope you find this insight useful and beneficial to your ministry.

Let's get started

10 Secrets for Running a Successful Choir Rehearsal

10 Secrets for Running a Successful Choir Rehearsal

Success? Rehearsal? Have you met my choir?! 

I know, I know. Choir members can be chatty and they don't always show up on time and sometimes it feels like you stand up in front of them and say the same. things. every. week.

I get it.

But success doesn't mean everything will be perfect. It doesn't mean setting unrealistic expectations for your group or holding them to unfair standards. Success is simply the "sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out" (Robert Collier).

And it starts with you.

Jim Rohn wisely said, "Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better" (source). What can you do today that will set you up for success in rehearsal this week? What can you do in rehearsal that will set your choir up for success?

Here are a few helpful tips and strategies for running a successful rehearsal, this and every week:

How to Plan a Productive Choir Rehearsal

How to Plan a Productive Choir Rehearsal

Like most church choirs, you probably have a mid-week rehearsal. This is a great time to prepare music for Sunday and the next few weeks. Please do not spend an entire rehearsal on Sunday's anthem! Plan your time carefully, use it wisely in rehearsal, and everyone will leave happy and encouraged. A successful, productive choir rehearsal takes proper preparation, careful planning, good time management skills, and attention to detail. I recommend dividing your rehearsal time into five components:

Music for Sunday
Other Anthems

Plan each category carefully the day of (or one day before) your rehearsal. Remember:

"Success in the choral rehearsal is a direct result of thorough planning." (source)

How to Keep Momentum in Your Choir After Easter

How to Keep Momentum in Your Choir After Easter

It happens in most church choirs: People join at the beginning of the year, eager to be part of the exciting cantata you have planned for Christmas. In January, some will happily take their seat in the pew until next September, while others stay and join the "regular choir," with the glimmer of Easter on the horizon. But, after Easter? Well, we all know what tends to happen after Easter.

Attendance gradually declines, the people who joined for the cantata zip out for an extended summer hiatus, and you're left with the faithful of the faithful, the die-hards, holding on until that last Sunday of the program year.

How do you keep choir members engaged (and present) through the end of the program year? What can you do to get people excited about choir after the allure of Christmas and Easter? 

Here are a few ideas:

Top 10 Posts of 2015

Top 10 Posts of 2015

I tend to do a lot of reflecting at this time of year. What did we do this year? How did we grow or change? What worked well? What didn't work? How did I do on my goals? What do I want to make happen in 2016?

With that comes an honest look at my blog and website and finding out what really resonated with all of you. I review search terms, blog topics, and popular pins on Pinterest, and look back on the most popular posts. I brainstorm content and themes for the coming year, start researching helpful resources, and outline a preliminary editorial calendar.

Last year, for the first time, I did a little round-up of the most-read posts in 2014 (read it here). Today, I'm continuing the tradition by featuring the top 10 posts from 2015. Enjoy!

Debunking the Myth of the Ideal Day

Debunking the Myth of the Ideal Day

We talk a lot about our ideal day as if it was a dream world we sometimes like to escape to where there are no alarms, the sun is always shining, you have time to sip your coffee and read in the morning, and you seem to float through the day without cares or obligations or stress.

Sounds too good to be true, right? But really, what makes a day ideal instead of just ordinary?

My answer would probably be time: Time to do the things I want to do, time for things I enjoy, and time to spend with people I love. Feeling like I have time helps me feel more relaxed and rested, it helps me feel in control. And having space in my day makes me feel better about what I do. I'm more engaged and focused and inspired and driven. It all comes back to time management, doesn't it? We all have the same 24 hours in a day - it's all about how we choose to spend it.