Dear Miriam

I have always loved to sing and in September I decided to bite the bullet and join my local choir.

We are currently preparing for Christmas and I have really enjoyed the challenge of learning the songs and stretching my rusty vocal cords. However, I find that the other members are not very welcoming. To be honest, Miriam, it is very cliquey.

There was another girl who joined the same time as me, but she dropped out after a few weeks, so I’m the only “newbie” left as far as I can tell.

I’m a grown woman, so it might sound really silly, but I feel like the new girl at school most of the time. It’s fine when we are singing, but it’s the chat before and after where I feel I don’t fit in. I just sit there, pretending to look at my music or my phone. One night, I sat in a certain chair and was told that it was being kept for someone else. How was I to know that? I was mortified.

I really do love singing and am looking forward to the Christmas concerts, but the “politics” are really off-putting. What do you think I should do?

Alto, Leinster

Dear Alto

Thanks for your email. I’m sure it was a big step for you to join the choir. I know that some choirs have buddy systems where they team up new and old members at the beginning, as they appreciate how daunting it can be coming into a long-established group. Seeing as choirs depend on new blood to survive, it’s a real pity that more of an effort wasn’t made to make you feel wanted and welcome. I can imagine that it can be very uncomfortable and the incident over the chair was really not kind. You would hardly see it in playschool!

focus on what you are there to do, rather than on those around you

So, what to do? I suppose I’m really tempted to suggest that you start to look for another choir in your area that might be friendlier. But then, it would be a real pity if you missed the Christmas performances after putting in all the work to prepare. And, at the end of the day, if this is something that you enjoy, why should you feel pushed out or denied the chance to pursue your passion?

One way of looking at it is that you are there primarily to sing. If the other members are not friendly, that’s really a reflection on them and not on you. So, if you feel that the singing is worthwhile and that you wish to continue, focus on what you are there to do, rather than on those around you. It might help.

If it’s difficult to break the clique in the choir room, another option might be to see if there is a role on the committee in the lead up to the Christmas performances. While I don’t believe that the onus should be on you to have to make all the effort, it just might help break the ice by getting to know one or two people in that context. Hopefully there are actually some friendly people in your choir – somewhere!

I don’t know how you would feel about approaching the choir director or committee chair and explaining that while you really enjoy the music, you have found it hard? to get to know people as a new member (you don’t have to go into the details of the clique atmosphere if you are uncomfortable doing so). They might not be aware that there is a problem and might have their own ideas on how to address it.

All of that said, I don’t think that any hobby is really worth putting up with a toxic environment for. Whatever you decide to do, maybe stick with it until Christmas so that you do get to perform and reassess the situation then in the new year. Hopefully a bit of festive spirit will melt some of those choir ice queens. If not, maybe it’s time to take your talent somewhere it will be rightly appreciated.

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