Is It Primary Music Leader OR Primary Chorister?

Camille's Primary Ideas: Primary Music Leader or Primary Chorister

Have you ever wondered what the official name of this calling is?  Is it Primary Music Leader or Primary Chorister?  Are the names used interchangeably and does it even matter?  What’s the difference?

I received an email from a sweet sister who suggested I change some verbiage on my website.  The wording in question was “Primary Chorister.” I had an entire web page titled “New Choristers.” My website search criteria mentioned primary choristers as well.

The intention of the email was kind and in no way trying to be rude.  She was simply trying to inform me of my error.  An error of which I actually knew about and had contemplated changing but hadn’t yet.  And I had my reasons for keeping it as it was:

  • Personal preference (something like old dogs and new tricks!)
  • Faster to say (I like to think I’m efficient!)
  • Less to write (okay, maybe it’s more of a lazy thing!)
  • It looked better on my website’s main menu bar (I’m now vain…wow!)
  • EVERYONE* uses the word chorister (call me a lemming!)

*Okay, everyone except this sister ;).

After having my feelings slightly hurt (it’s always embarrassing to be called out on something), I came to the conclusion that she was right.  And I kindly told her so.  That’s always a humbling experience.  I knew I had room for improvement 

But before I set out to make changes, I was curious at this point.  So I started looking up definitions.  What IS the correct name for this calling?

Dictionary to the Rescue!

I first went to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary HERE.  It defines chorister as:

1a singer in a choir, specifically CHOIRBOY
2the leader of a church choir says pretty much the same thing HERE:


a singer in a choir.
a choirboy.
choir leader.

Okay, so with the 2nd and 3rd definitions, this calling still fits as a chorister.  But it’s a last definition which can be confusing when the main definition is a singer or participant in a choir.  Which makes sense – you belong to a chorus making you a chorister or better put, a chorus person.

The Church’s “Dictionary”

What is the”official” name of this calling?  I turned to the church’s new handbook (I like to think of it as the church’s dictionary!) section 12.2.4 HERE that states (and might I add, this is really informative!):

Under the direction of the Primary presidency, Primary music leaders and pianists have the following responsibilities:

They plan, teach, and direct the music for singing time, including songs that reinforce principles the children are learning in their classes and at home. A list of songs that reinforce these principles is found at These songs are also listed in Come, Follow Me—For Primary.

They help with music for the nursery class and other Primary classes as requested.

They may organize and direct a children’s choir as requested.

Members of the Primary presidency help the ward Primary music leaders and pianists understand how music contributes to Primary. The melodies, words, and messages of Primary songs can teach children the doctrines of the gospel and stay in their hearts throughout their lives.

Music in Primary should invite reverence, teach the gospel, and help children feel the influence of the Holy Ghost and the joy that comes through singing. While the children sing some songs, music leaders give them opportunities to move physically and stretch when needed.

The Children’s Songbook is the basic resource for music in Primary. Hymns from the hymnbook and songs from the Friend and Liahona are also appropriate. Occasionally children may sing patriotic or holiday songs that are suitable for Sunday and for the children’s ages. The use of any other music in Primary must be approved by the bishopric.

No where is this calling referred to as primary chorister – only music leader.  When and why did we start calling ourselves primary choristers anyway?  A long-time incorrect church tradition?  Was it ever officially primary chorister that was eventually updated to reflect primary music leader?

Music Leader Improvement

So I’m trying to do better!  Updating old posts and referring to myself as a primary music leader when asked about my calling.  I changed my “New Choristers” page to “New Music Leaders.”  I don’t like it as much but at least it’s correct.  Then I also updated a few backend website items.  If you’ve already found me it won’t matter to you at all!  If I know better, I should do better.  I’m not perfect and often fall short in my attempts but I’m still trying. 

At the same time, I never correct anyone who refers to this calling as primary chorister.  And I would like to ask other music leaders to extend that same courtesy to others.  It seems rude and unnecessary to correct.  No big deal.  Call it what you KNOW it to be.  My only intent in presenting this information is to inform and possibly save you from unnecessary chastisement for ever “saying it wrong.”

What really matters most is that you help children love the gospel.  And our specific avenue of accomplishing that is through music.  What you and I call ourselves is really irrelevant in the end.  I’m a person who loves teaching the gospel to children through music!

What are your thoughts on this topic?  I’d love to hear!

If you liked this post, you might also like my post entitled Dealing with Criticism HERE.  I get called out again but this time I did not agree!

Dealing with Criticism

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9 thoughts on “Is It Primary Music Leader OR Primary Chorister?”

  1. I agree – sending an email telling someone their website (THEIR website) is wrong is totally unnecessary. Those of us reading know what you mean when you say chorister. Kudos to you for handling it well. Bloggers must have a thick skin. 🙂

  2. I could care less between the definitions for my calling, what I do love is the priceless opportunity to teach the gospel to our children, songs that may come back into their minds and hearts just when these messages will be needed to help them stay on the gospel path!

  3. You are wonderful! It’s always confused me too and like you I have tried to do better, but would never call anyone out. Yes there are teaching moments – like teaching the kids it’s hymn number not page number because sometimes you have more than one hymn on a page. But I can’t imagine ever correcting someone who says “page” instead. Thankfully you aren’t scarred from this experience and your testimony is strong enough to move forward. Your influence blesses tens of thousands (and more) of children and leaders every week. Bless your music leading heart! Lol

  4. I guess I learned something here, but does it really matter? I don’t think so – but what do I know?

    Love all your content and ideas! You’ve given me so much more confidence in my ability to execute this calling in a half decent wAy.

  5. Does it really matter? To me they are the same person, one who teaches music. That’s our calling is to teach the gospel through music. Call it what you want we all get it. Keep up the good work you are amazing and my first go to spot!

  6. I had a sweet elderly sister call me at work to gently inform me of my error on my husbands baptismal program of which it has taken 15 years to get him to this point in his conversion. So in good fashion I researched the distinction as well.
    A Music Chorister not only sings in the choir but also may lead music but sings as well. A Music Leader or Music Director has formal music education that allows them to arrange, write, direct and determine the arrangment of the choir members and the music itself.
    Based on these definitions, a chorister will lead and sing music at a baptism but a leader will direct a choir of which a congregation is not techniquely a formal choir but rather those using music to sing according to what is being led to bring the spirit into our meeting.
    Thank you so much for your blog!

    1. Hi Nicole!

      I really appreciate your comment! People can be so critical of something so unimportant in the grand scheme of things! I had a similar discussion with my mom about the definition of chorister and how a chorister can lead the music. It appears that both terms work with this music calling. But we decided that since the handbook references the calling as primary music leader, that tipped the scale. But really, in the long run it doesn’t matter :).


  7. A little late to the party to comment, but I’ll add it anyway :D. I was taught to be a chorister at a young age by an amazing Baptist musician. Like the choristers of The Tabernacle Choir, I was taught the proper techniques of singing, to blend my voice with those around me, to understand conducting, what to watch for in my conductor, how to read music and memorise it. This is all part and parcel of being a chorister. When a chorister leads, it is like the 1st violinist leading a group of string players. The 1st violinist plays with the ensemble, but they also conduct with their movements whilst playing (it take some skill!). This is the kind of conducting referred to as “leading a choir” in the dictionary entries. Have you ever watched choirs or ensembles of singers where the conductor/chorister/director stands stage right of the group (where a 1st violinist would sit)? They may conduct cut offs, dynamics and entries, but they are not always standing in front of the group. This is what it means to be a chorister. And yes, choristers are also those members who sing in the choir too. Other churches understand this but I’m not sure why we don’t.

    The difference between a Director and a Conductor – that needs a post on its own.

    1. Hi Di!

      Never too late to the party, I appreciate all insights! Thank you for clarifying the role of a chorister, especially with the dictionary definition that says “leading a choir.” I never quite understood what that meant. As for the difference between a director and a conductor … I’m now totally intrigued!


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