6 lessons from the choir

Sydney Opera House

I have been a chorister in Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for 17 years –  about as long as I have been working in social and market research.  It recently occurred to me that the way I operate my consulting business has been heavily influenced by my experience in this choir. The important thing here is that Sydney Philharmonia is not just any choir.  It is arguably the best choir of its type in Australia.  There is a formal audition process to be accepted, a re-audition process every two years to hold our place, and great demands placed on us in terms of our musicianship and performance standards.  We perform regularly with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Sydney Opera House. We were the choir chosen to sing in the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.  We have found a regular place within Sydney Festival and we have toured interstate and overseas.

Allow me to outline how my experience as a chorister has shaped how I work in my business.

Performing to high professional standards

As members of Sydney Philharmonia, we are expected to work at a high professional standard. We aim to be the best in the business in terms of how we sing as an ensemble. We must adhere to professional protocol relating to our behaviour in rehearsals, as well as off-stage and on-stage at performance venues.  Similarly, I take the professional standards of my consultancy work as seriously.  I adhere to the protocols outlined by the Australian Market and Social Research Society, (AMSRS) as well as Australasian Evaluation Society (AES).  These standards include protocols about we treat survey respondents, our communication with clients and how we work together as consultants. I value these standards highly and expect others I work with to do the same.


To be late for choir rehearsals is not an option.  For Sydney Philharmonia rehearsals to run smoothly the organisation relies on the punctuality of up to 100 choristers with their own lives and other  responsibilities.  To be late for rehearsals can mean being prohibited from singing in a concert.  Consequently, after 17 years of this regime, it is perhaps no surprise why I just cannot be late for work meetings!  I value other people’s time and hope others also value mine.


As choristers we make a number of ongoing commitments to the organisation. We agree to learn our music.  We commit to rehearsing once or twice a week on a regular basis. Then, in a production week, (approximately every two or three months), we rehearse every night of the week with some weekend calls.  We all have other commitments in our lives to juggle in order to be able to do this.  I transfer this work ethic into my consultancy business.  I keep commitments made to clients and team members, I dedicate myself to achieving intended tasks and I’m committed to my business for the long term.

Project management

Much of our choir repertoire is challenging.  Some of it is very hard.  Our rehearsals are highly structured and planned by our Music Director, who focuses on individual sections of the music and breaks them down so we can drill them, finesse them and iron out problems.  Then, individual sections are sung through in the context of the overall piece.  This is akin to good project management as a consultant.  Good project management involves designing a project plan (like a rehearsal plan), identifying specific tasks, and devising a plan of action and timeline to ensure these tasks are carried out within the context of achieving an overall project outcome.

Story telling

Ultimately, a performance of a choral work is the communication of a story.  When every chorister is paying great attention to detail, following the lead of the conductor and performing with passion and conviction, the audience experiences a powerful narrative. This has been a valuable influence in my consulting work.  In most cases my main deliverable is a report.  The value of my reports lies in the strength of my story telling.  I take the reader on a journey and use details such as data and other findings to embellish and support the story.

The show must go on

No matter how well prepared we feel as performers, the venues, orchestra and soloists have been booked and the show will go ahead.  We work towards the deadline of our performance date and there is no negotiation.  As a consultant I honour the commitment I make to deadlines and deliverables.  It is natural to feel a piece of work can be continually improved if deadlines are extended, but I have come to perceive deadlines akin to performance dates.  The show must go on, that report must be submitted and the next task is waiting for attention in the wing on stage left.

Perhaps this all sounds like I have no fun at all in my work and in my choir.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  I love my job as a chorister and I love my work as a consultant.  In fact, approaching both of these vocations with high expectations enhances the level of satisfaction and enjoyment.  Hopefully that also means that Sydney Philharmonia audiences and NSF clients are equally enjoying the harmony of the outcomes.

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