Running a Choir nowadays is a bit like running a small business. The overall format of most choirs may not have changed over the years. However, the ways in which choirs now communicate with their audiences and their members has changed dramatically.
The Structure of a Choir
There is no fixed structure for a choir, but the vast majority still use the traditional method of a Music Team, a Committee and a bunch of Choristers. In the majority of cases, the music team are paid (usually by subscriptions from the members) and the committee is made up of volunteers. A typical choir committee will consist of a Chairman (who keeps everyone in order), a Treasurer (who deals with the money) and a Secretary (who does all the work). Some choirs will then have representatives from each vocal section. Additionally there will most likely be people in charge of publicity, concerts, uniform and music copies.
When all’s said and done, the organisation and management of a choir can potentially get quite complex. Unlike a business which has shareholders, a choir is run more like a partnership or perhaps a co-operative. The choir is in effect owned by the members. I know lots of Musical Directors would like to think they are in charge and ‘own’ the choir. But the reality is that no one does. A choir only exists as long as it has members. Music Teams come and go, Committees come and go. So, for that matter, do members. But so long as a few people are singing under the banner of XYC Choir then it will continue to exist in some form.
Different ways of running a choir
Speaking from my personal experience, I am currently musical director for 3 different choirs. At the time of writing (2020) I am currently ‘in charge’ of Cirencester Male Voice Choir, Blue Notes female Jazz Group and The BlueBelles Female A Capella Octet. Aside of being very different choirs (the most obvious being 1 is full of men and the others are full of women) they are all structured very differently.
My Male Voice Choir in Cirencester is structured in the traditional manner. We have a President, who originally formed the choir in 2009 and a Patron (Lord Bathurst) who helps us out with uniforms and so forth. The Committee has all the usual suspects on it. There is a Chairman who takes charge on a day to day basis, a Treasurer who deals with the money, a Secretary who keeps things organised, and a Concert Secretary who deals with the bookings. Alongside these people we have a representative from each voice section (Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Baritone and Bass) who makes sure people turn up to rehearsals and bullies them into learning their music.
For my part, I am the MD which is just one half of the music team and I have the support of an amazing pianist Anne-Marie Humphries, who joined us in January 2020. This setup works very well because it means I am largely free to run the music without having to worry about any of the admin or dealing with concerts. That said, I have recently ‘bullied’ my way onto the committee – apparently this was against the constitution. Mostly this was for practical reasons though. A constitution is all well and good but ultimately it needs to work for the choir.
With all of us involved, everything which happens at Cirencester MVC is a real team effort. I am always eternally grateful to the committee for the support they give in keeping the choir on the rails. There is even someone who’s job it is to ensure the men are ‘suitably trousered’. Fortunately I wasn’t given this role – and I didn’t like to ask too many questions!
My Female Jazz Group Blue Notes is made up of 12 ladies from South Cerney in Gloucestershire. My job, again as the Musical Director is to be in charge of the music. I direct the group from the Piano, so I’m essentially the pianist as well. But I love that, as it means I am part of the music making too. Like Cirencester MVC I was technically appointed to the role. Blue Notes existed for a good few years before I came along. IN theory there is a sort of committee – well there’s a treasurer anyway and two people who were part of the group that appointed me.
But Blue Notes doesn’t really work like that. I was actually told at my ‘interview’ that “we want someone who can take charge and tell us what to do”. Now there’s a formidable concept for you – one bloke in charge of 12 ladies. But it isn’t really like that. Obviously it’s always easier to manage small groups. I don’t like to think of myself as being in charge, but I am happy to step up and keep the group organised. Pretty much everything we do is decided as a whole group – nowadays most of our discussions are via a WhatsApp group which works quite well.
Of all my choirs, The BlueBelles is the only one which I formed from nothing. This choir is the smallest with just 8 ladies. They sing A Capella in 4 parts (SSAA). My role here is a combination of musical director and keeping them focussed. They’re a fab bunch of ladies but given the chance will open a bottle of wine before we are more than 30 minutes into a rehearsal! Here there is no concept of any sort of committee, although it is sometimes uncertain who is in charge! As with most small choirs, we tend to organise everything by group chat and agreement. Ultimately the biggest challenge with smaller groups is that we need pretty much 100% attendance in order to do any performances.
Choir Communication & Social Media
Two of my choirs talk to each other via WhatsApp and the men have a group email system for sending messages to either the committee, the music team or the members. Internal choir communication is one thing, but nowadays what matters is how you engage with the outside world. Yes, that’s right, social media. From what I can tell, most choirs nowadays are on Twitter and Facebook. For a while now I have engaged with Choral Hour. The BlueBelles particularly are very active on Twitter and have thousands of followers. It’s one of the altos who looks after that for us! Blue Notes too have taken to twitter – they have a Second Soprano in charge of flirting online for us!
The Men too are engaging with Social media (almost dragged into the 21st Century). For this I have a little involvement and tend to assist with their Facebook and Twitter content. It can take a bit of time, but by using social media you can engage with a much wider audience. In fact posters are almost a thing of the past nowadays.
How does your choir get on using Social Media? I’m always keen to understand how choirs attract new members to join them as well as new audiences for their concerts.