Don't Be a Sheep-Singer

I just learned the term “sheep-singing” which is what you call it when you’re in a chorus and you don’t ever practice but just show up and blindly follow others around.

Little did I know that I spent years in choruses as a sheep-singer. As a soprano, I always knew what to sing because we usually carry the melody. When in doubt, I sang the highest note. This carried me through high school choirs, the Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus and even the choir in Siena, Italy. (That's a story I’ll tell you another time.)

After I joined the Reed College Chorus a few weeks ago, the conductor sent us a blog post about how to practice. And there it was, that term “sheep singing.” I knew I had been one and I didn’t want to be one anymore. What makes things more complicated is that now I’m an alto and altos don’t usually sing the melody, they (yikes!) sing the harmony so I must practice outside of rehearsal. I will need to work hard to not just follow along.

I don’t want to be a sheep-singer in this chorus or in my life anymore. To help me reach that goal, I signed on for singing lessons so now I’m even learning to breathe. The lesson my teacher and the conductor keep repeating is that through practice and relaxation you get the best sound.

So here’s the secret formula to prevent sheep singing: practice, relax, practice, relax, practice, relax.

This feels so applicable to my writing and performing life. For example, I won’t get my next performance off the ground, if I just relax. But if I practice, which for me means: work on the script, get help, work on the script some more, get more help, then rehearse, then book a gig, then relax. And repeat.

It’s a constant state of pushing and then letting go. What it isn’t is being a sheep-singer, where you just show up and blindly follow along.

How are you being a sheep-singer in your life right now? Where could you really use some practice and relaxing? Maybe you’re writing a novel because that’s what writers do but you really want to try stand-up comedy? Sheep singers do not do their own thing. Do the stand up. Try it once at an open mike.

Or maybe you’re a painter who knows that what you really need to do is to spend the first hour of the day in the studio before anything else except making coffee and letting the dog out. Sheep-singers do not show up alone to work on what matters. They sleep late and hope that others will carry the weight.

Don’t be a sheep-singer. Dare to practice and relax so you can sing your own song.

Have a wonderful week. I’d love to hear what you’re going to do now instead of sheep singing. Comment below (or at if you received this post in your email.)


Photo by Sam Carter on Unsplash