Ten Things Every Small Chorus Needs to Know
By Adam Scott
In many ways, our smaller chapters are representative of the greater BHS. Most local chapters give to their communities without pomp or fanfare, and they skate under the social media wire. These chapters are present at local events, donate time and money to their local schools and other organizations, and love to sing. In a smaller chorus, the baritone section leader may also be the assistant director and VP of marketing. Following are a few things to keep in mind if you belong to a smaller chapter.
- Plan. This may seem obvious, but I have found many choruses either do not plan at all, do not plan effectively, or do not look at their goals once they are written down. An effective chorus uses measurable, definable goals that have checkpoints that can be tracked along the way. If your chorus has just executed its annual show, for example, does your board conduct a post-mortem and ascertain whether the chorus met its musical, marketing, and monetary goals?
- Align ideologies. Make sure the ideologies of your board and your chorus director align. If one part of the chapter says, "We want to achieve high scores at contest," and another believes, "We just want to sing for the community," chapter friction is inevitable. A board that fights with its music director or music team can cause stress in your chorus or, at its worst, divide your chorus in two.
- Select the right music. In selecting appropriate music, if your section leaders can sing it and get around 80% on a first run, odds are it will suit your chorus well. If your section leaders and other music leadership struggle, it's a red flag that your membership will as well. If the director can't sing all four parts (even in another octave), the director can't expect the baritones to remember the tricky intervals either. Many choruses fall into the trap of singing a song they heard an international caliber quartet/chorus tackle. Keep in mind that many times those songs are specifically arranged for those groups. It may sound great on the Vocal Spectrum CD, but it is better to nail an easier song than to survive a difficult song.
- Pace your rehearsals. Run your rehearsal like you would a performance. You wouldn't sing a show full of ballads. (I hope.) The same guideline goes with rehearsals. Vary tempos, songs with demanding range or emotional involvement, and pace your rehearsal. It will spread your energy around and give you some breathing room. Making each rehearsal a musical experience not to be missed ensures that singers won't show up late and may even stay long after rehearsal to sing tags.
- Don't try to do too much. Spread your leadership around, especially if you're the director or chapter president. Burnout occurs when one person tries to do too much. Know your limitations and don't run on empty. Know the limits of the chorus as a whole. You may be asked to sing in a hundred places each year. Though it may be fun to sing at the fairgrounds, the church potluck, the Memorial Day service, Singing Valentines, and a hundred other worthy and noble places, if your chorus accepts everything that comes its way, even the most committed members may find they just can't do it anymore and flame out. If the chorus follows its goals, your board and music teams will know how much the chorus can handle.
- Get local. Sing for your city council or chamber of commerce. Connect your chorus to the local community. Networking can get you unexpected rewards. Many choruses receive an annual arts grant. If there's a celebration, your mayor should think of you when deciding on a great group to sing the National Anthem. Don't be the best-kept secret in your town. It's not just about PR- it's about personal connections.
- Follow your strengths. Sing the types of literature you are passionate about. For example, if your community is very patriotic, appeal to that side. If you thrive on community engagement, follow those strengths. The Algona, Iowa chapter does dozens of church gigs every year. The St. George, Utah chapter is a staple at the annual Memorial Day, Temple Lighting Ceremony and a number of other civic events. The Boise, Idaho chapter has one of the largest youth events in the country. All these chapters are passionate about their type of community involvement.
- Get a coach. Even the very best choruses get coaching. Is your chorus coachable? Does it have a coach or perhaps a few coaches that visit regularly? The Society is fortunate to have many talented district officers, certified judges, and freelance coaches in every district and affiliate organization. In fact, many districts set aside funds for chapters to be coached. Under the "Compellingly Attractive Chapter Meetings" model, each chapter can benefit from having internal coaches. Also, don't overlook coaches for non-performance needs. Some chapters need organizational coaching. Harmony U recently established the Leadership College, because leadership is a skill that needs to be learned just as surely as tuning or vocal techniques.
- Train and develop a musical leadership. Make sure your chapter is fostering educational opportunities. You'd be surprised how many choruses have a director who never intended to be the director. Smaller chapters can be especially susceptible to this. If your director moves, quits, or retires, do you have a plan? I have visited chapters where the new director is in the position because he was a great chapter president, or because he was the only charter member in the chorus, or because he was the best singer.
Foster assistant director(s) and future section leaders. Take time for quartets each week. The BHS hosts numerous programs such as Harmony University, CDWI, and even online musicianship training.
- Foster an environment of openness and inclusiveness. Is your chapter welcoming? Can anyone visit? Are you easy to locate? If you had a guest walk through your door, how long would it take for someone in your chapter to greet them, offer a handshake, and give them a guest book? Although these steps seem obvious to some, an open and happy chapter is a guest-friendly chapter. Is your leadership open to trying new ideas? Can it accept criticism? Does your board listen to the concerns of the general membership?
Many of our smaller chapters provide a fulfilling experience for their members, musically, socially, and in their desire to give back to the community. No chapter is perfect, and even the best-run chapters can always find areas for improvement. However, you will find that all successful chapters (whatever their size) are successful because they planned to be successful. I hope these 10 tips can inspire some discussion and planning that can help your chapter provide a better experience for its current and future members!