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Starting a church Concert series


As many of you have been at various times, I was overwhelmed with the
wealth of advice and experience that this list afforded in response to
a single question. Here is a collection of wisdom concerning the
starting of a church concert series in a small community.

David Moore


Good luck in your first concert series. I'm glad to respond to your
queries, it's a daunting task that takes years to develop.
I'm curious about several specific things:

• How to choose musical offerings that the community will come hear
Judge your audience carefully, attend other events in your area, and
come up with a combination of 'light classics' in traditional venues
like guest choirs, the nearby university string department might have a
resident quartet, a good friend from college who is active as a
performer...keep it simple, but make the music a good cross-section,
not too much of one thing. I have found it valuable to vary the diet of
my audiences, going from heavy (Bach cantatas) to light (police and
firemen's bagpipe band the kids loved it) and different (a local
renaissance ensemble that performs in costume on period instruments).  
• How to fund it
Raise your money through a carefully selected group of individuals that
care about the arts first. Then, in the concerts either ask for
donations by passing the plate (something churches everywhere do with
varying success), or establish a donation table and ask for $5 or $10
depending on the projected cost of the event. In future seasons, form
'levels of support' and recruit members of the choir, or others, to
make contribution calls. It often takes 3 years for a series to begin
'paying its own way.'
• How to involve members of the community while maintaining a certain
level of musical performance
If you are aware of local musicians who are of good quality, use them.
They usually bring an audience with them. Otherwise, you may have to
take chances, and I've been sorely disappointed a couple times, with
unknowns...always ask for an audition tape or CD, and if they don't
have one you might wonder why. Hold them accountable. I would lean on
regional performers from nearby academic institutions who have an
interest in performing, because their quality is pretty high, and they
perform regularly for critical audiences.
• Sunday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening?
You have to answer this one. It's always a matter of what the culture
is doing on those days and times. Since you seem to have a pretty open
weekend, do what Buxtehude did in his abendmusick series at Lubeck. Set
it up for Sunday evening around 5:00 and establish your territory, but
be flexible, if you have a travelling choir that needs to perform on
Sunday a.m. or Friday, do it. Remember, your first year's audience is
just learning who you are, how you look, and whether they want to come
back. You have to remain optimistic that you will grow your audience,
but it will take more time than many of your supporters is willing to
grant they need encouragement that the audience will come. If you
build it...well, most of the time.
Other observations:
If you are starting one and don't have anything done yet, wait until
Go light your first season. Maybe 2-3 at most. Spend money on your
talent, not your programs. Get the word out through 'free' marketing
through PSA's at the local radio station (and since you're a church
they're always looking for more stuff to do for nonprofits). Use your
newspaper if they have an 'arts' section with a published calendar,
it's free publicity. Websites, mass mailings, phone campaigns, posters
in the grocery store...all these work, but don't expect a massive
turnout after a massive outlay of time and energy...they have to see
what you have, and if it's good the word will get around.
Find someone either in the church or the comunity who is good at
1) desktop publishing on a shoestring 2) cares about the arts. Get your
printed information out in late Summer. Put your first concert in late
September-October, people are just getting back from vacation and may
want to check it out. Invest in good PA equipment and a recording
system (maybe not this year). Take the 2-3 most enthusiastic people in
the church out to an expensive restaurant and talk to them about their
involvement in this project, get them jazzed, let them know they are a
vital part of your plans, put them to work or get them to support it
financially. Be an impressario, but keep perspective, your first
priority is music ministry, the concerts are outreach, aesthetic
wholeness, community involvement, not the beginning and end of your
job. Smile a lot, it helps people perceive you are confident, even when
you're not. It takes 2-3 years to get an audience, 3-5 to garner the
support you need, and 5-10 to solidify the series in the community's
life so you have a guaranteed 'next season.'
Visit our website to check out our Community Arts Series, now in its
2nd season. We're experiencing tremendous growth and audience curiosity
because of the variety, the quality, and the faith-based angle. Hope
this helps.
Terry Yount, DMA
Eastman School of Music
Director of Music, St. Paul's Presbyterian Church
Orlando, FL
Adjunct faculty Rollins College

when i was hired as music director at my church, part of my contract
was to implement a concert series.   there was none in this area per
se.  st. andrew's episcopal church is a small historic church in
southern maryland with phenomenal acoustics.   a retired us army
colonel donated an organ to the church with the understanding that is
and the church would be used for more than just the sunday morning

that was where we began.   since i could run under the umbrella of the
church as far as tax and incorporation purposes, i was able to write
for grants from our local county arts council as well as the state arts
council.    i couldn't do a yearly projection the first year as the
state arts council required for their grant.   i just worked with the
county as they went on a 6 month application or 2 times a year.   i
contacted the us navy as we are a navy town.   at that point in time,
they were free (they aren't now) so i was able to get one of their
groups as well as a group from the us air force to come.   we live
close to dc which helped but they still travel and that would be a good
option.   since you are a church, the us air force no longer will do
that but the navy has several groups that will but now they too charge
a fee.   i recommend the sea chanters and the country current as they
are diverse.  you can't charge for tickets but you can set up donation
baskets inconspicuously and it more than covers your expense.

i also was able to get some fine local soloists as well as touring
college and high school choirs.   in all, i try to do a very diverse
program so that at some point in time, everyone finds something they
like.   the biggest concert that i have as far as attendance goes is
the christmas one surprisingly enough.   my own performing choir does
that and we have all christmas music and in the middle is included a
carol sing which everyone loves.   that way they become part of the
concert too.  this year, i have 4 soloists from the washington national
opera doing the program and then my group will do the carol sing and we
will all combine for the hallelujah chorus from the messiah.

my usual concert day is saturday evenings.   i ALWAYS follow up every
concert with a reception for the performers and audience.   it provides
a wonderful exchange with each group and they love it.   i vary the
food but the christmas concert is always wassail and mulled wine and
christmas cookies.   i have 2 people that work that for me and i pay
them $50 each to help and write that into my grants.   i have one
sunday afternoon concert (piano) so that the piano students in the area
can attend.   and also showcase local high schoolers in a sunday
evening concert at the end of the school year.

my funding other than grants are done by corporations and local
businesses as well as patrons of the arts.   i beat the pavement in the
summer to get sponsorship and do a lot of writing for that.   i always
include information about donations in my programs.

i started with 4 a year - one at christmas because there is so much
music and so little time, one in the middle of jan., mar. and then one
in the spring and early fall.   this year, we will move to more.   once
you begin and you get a good reputation, you will find groups will seek
you out.   and i always do a lot of pr with the audience.   if they
like you personally too, they will follow you.

but i also find that i work long hours for this because i: write the
grants: do the soliciting; do the publicity; write the newspaper
articles; contract with the artists; do the reception planning; bake
the bake goods for the reception; buy the food for the reception; feed
the soloists; do a lot of pr work; even do some of the performing; and
probably lots of other stuff i have just forgotten.  the actual day of
the performance wears me out because i also have to do the set up and
then get the church ready for services the next day.   while i do write
a salary for me into the grant application, it in no way reflects the
time and energy i expend doing this.

on the positive side, i have met some wonderful people who are my
audience.   and the artists have all expressed a desire to return and
do another program.   in fact, i often sponsor workshops during the
afternoon of the concerts and then give each young person a free ticket
to the concert that evening.   i feel promoting the arts is really
important and the future lies with our young artists.

the last thing is that i keep my tickets at a relatively inexpensive
price.   i know a lot of the older people don't have the disposable
income and i would hate to not make this available to them.   you can
price yourself out of the ball game.

any other questions, email away.   i think i have probably run into
more situations than i can remember but would be more than happy to
answer any questions.  our town is not that much bigger than yours.  
it is workable.




I started a concert series at a church in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.
Here are my answers to your questions.

How to choose musical offerings that the community will come hear
The best attendance I had was from the members of the church and
from those who always come to see the particular group performing. In
order to attract the community at large, you will probably need to
advertise, specifically targeting those with a special interest in the
music you are presenting (e.g., area churches, universities, etc.)

How to fund it
Our church was able to fund the cost of hiring the performance
groups; however, most of these groups while outstanding were not
professional ensembles, so the cost was generally low. We supplemented
the budget through freewill offerings at the performances.

How to involve members of the community while maintaining a certain
level of musical performance
I started with known quantities form the community, including
college choirs from my undergraduate and graduate schools, a community
brass band that I had previously heard, and a local swing band. You
might also consider including an organ recital using your own organist
(or yourself, if that is the case). I also included a male quintet from
our congregation; the church members turned up for performers they knew
intimately, and preparing for the concert brought up the level of that
ensemble immensely.

Sunday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening?
I mainly had the concerts on Sunday afternoon or evening, with
an occasional Saturday evening when the group could only do Saturdays.
However, the choice of time had as much to do with our church's other
programs and my schedule as a conductor and grad student as anything
else. I do advise against scheduling afternoon concerts during the
warmer months, as you may end up competing with a beautiful day when
people want to be outside.

If you have any other questions that you think I may be able to answer,
you can send me an email back with questions or requesting my phone


Adam Judd
Choir director
Ross School
East Hampton, NY

Be sure the church leadership buys into the concert series idea.
Inevitably, at some point the church will want to schedule a potluck or
something and won't be able to because you already have a concert
scheduled. If they perceive the concerts as a secular intrusion on
their space, it will cause problems. They have to agree from the start
that this series is serving the mission of the church itself.

Allen H Simon
Chair of Web Services
ChoralNet Inc.


Hi David,
Your situation sounds fairly similar to mine. I am in a town of
21,000, the church just built a new sanctuary with great musical
acoustics, and we are working on different concert series'. Some
thoughts that might help.

If you have a good organ, that is one easy area to start with. Our
organist started an organ series a few years ago and it is now almost
self supporting. Bringing in one artist is an inexpensive way to

Choral groups are always looking for good places to sing. You could
invite a choir in the fall and spring to give a concert. Of course,
keep the quality high.

If there are local groups that are of high quality, approach them.

One thing that you need to consider is the issue of ticket sales. For
most college groups that isn't an issue, but if a choir like St. Olaf
sang there, at least in my experience, they charge for entrance.
Anything at the professional level, especially ensembles, will probably
require tickets. You will know if your congregation is open to this

While having the church pay for the series is great, and is a wonderful
gesture to the community, since you just went through a major
renovation, people may not be able or willing to dip deeper into their
pockets. I refuse at this time to ask church members to fund a series
as we have a new sanctuary, new organ, and am looking at a new fine
arts wing. If anything, utilize your churches special programs, such
as Christmas and Easter seasons, as seed for the series.

Hope this helps,
Brian Breeding
1st Presbyterian Church, Kerrville, TX

Like many Presbyterian churches, change is slow. Our webpage is pretty
limited, as is the ability to be creative from a technological
viewpoint. I am including a personal webpage link that I set up for
folks here to see when all the arts activities occur. Called FPC First
Arts, I include not only concert series, such as Camerata San Antonio,
but all the music and arts offerings of the church. This creates a
more rounded offering.


I am the music director at a smallish church (200 members) that has a
music program outside of Portland, Oregon. We have a concert series
our accompanist started before I started there last year. I will
your questions to him, but here's a start:

. How to choose musical offerings that the community will come hear

I recommend going with "classics." There are a lot of people who try to
program stuff that no one has heard of, thinking they want to be
"different." Especially since there are no other offerings in your
don't do that. I did Mozart's Requiem last Spring, and we had a huge
turnout. Let's face it, people want to hear the classics.

. How to fund it

Our group funded it partially through the church budget and partially
through ticket sales. We also called in a lot of favors to get some of
performers to perform for free.

. How to involve members of the community while maintaining a certain
level of musical performance

We designed this series to be "kid friendly." There were activity
for the kids to work on, for example, on the concert called "Encounters
Beethoven," the sheet was all about Beethoven: puzzles, trivia,
etc. They would have to listen a little to get some of the answers,
but the
coloring could distract them.... It worked wonderfully.

That gave it more of a "community" feel, but the performers were
professionals (with a few exceptions).

. Sunday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening?

We had it on Saturday evenings, and then the church would still be "set
at the service the next morning. For example, for one of the concerts,
rented a really nice piano (Busendorfer? I'm not a piano person, so
I'm not
sure if that's what it's called, but something like that), and then we
played it the next morning for church. Wow!

I can tell you one thing for sure: you'll need a LOT of support. The
majority of the church needs to support it, including the leadership,
you'll need lots of volunteers. We have a committee of about 10 people
help with ticket sales, reception, set-up, etc.

But if you got it, go for it! Good luck. And it's refreshing to hear
good music is growing in some places rather than shrinking!


Dear David:

My church, St. Mary's Episcopal Church in the Highlands, Cold
Spring, NY, has opened its doors to the Doansburg Chamber Ensemble
for several years. I plan to attend their concert at the church
Saturday night, 4 Sep. Although as an organist I do not often
attend Saturday night concerts, it may be the right time for the
rest of the audience.

In my previous position, I worked at the Post Chapel, West
Point, for the US Government; all concerts in the chapel had to be
free to the public. Many musicians came to play for the joy of
making music; others used a barter system.. If you play for my
recital, I shall play for you at your church.

Pat Maimone
St. Mary's in the Highlands
Cold Spring, NY 10516

Hi David,

I have been involved for many years with a concert series at our church
in New Britain CT. (The Music Series at South Church) We are entering
32nd season. The concert series was started 32 years ago by the
minister of music, who is still in that position; he has been a huge
influence in
its success. Other contributors to its success:
- We have, over the years, presented some "big names" - Anonymous 4,
Rutter and Cambridge Singers, Kings Singers, Marion McPartland, etc.
season does not involve a "big name", but we do intersperse them and
get big
crowds for those special events.
- Use your space for its best use. We have a great organ and a space
resonates well for singing; therefore, we present a lot of great
organists and
choirs. Chamber Music and solo piano works well also.
- Funding: we are fortunate to have grants and individual donors
that make
up a large portion of our budget, which is approx. $65K. Grants, about
of that income, donors, 25-30%, rest is concert income. Most of our
are by donation only, big events are ticketed. Our expenses are about
thirds between artists fees, administrative salaries (PT managing
director) and
production costs (mailings, brochures, programs, etc.)
- We have a volunteer steering committee that supports the work of the
series, providing concert logistics help (ushers, green room, ticket or
CD sales,
etc) and also contributing their ideas about future concerts and
artists to
present. Smart musicians or music-friendly people are invaluable on
committee. They believe in the mission of presenting excellent music
to the
- Community involvement: Present excellent music. If there are
local musicians, present them. Don't settle. There are artists out
there that
are thirsty to have a performance venue and will come relatively
inexpensively. We are between Boston and New York and sometimes can
fit a gap in
someone's schedule and they're willing to give us a price break. We
also negotiate
using "we are a nonprofit arts org in an urban environment and seat 600
max" and often artists will negotiate their fees down.

We have an interesting side series right now called "Second Sundays" -
for 5
or 6 months, each Second Sunday of the month is a 30 minute recital,
church, followed by a brunch (presented by the steering committee -
soup and
salad). We present local musicians, who are maybe not yet of quality
or notoriety
for a full length feature presentation, but with (usually) a connection
the church community; this has been very popular and a great builder of
"vibes" with the church and the Music Series.

Most of our concerts are on Sunday afternoons at 4:00.

There's so much more I could tell! but I thought these points might
you. Good luck!

on May 20, 2007 10:00pm
I am wanting to start a concert series at my church as well. How did you contact your performers? Letter? Phone call? If so, how did you word your invitation? That is where I am having problems right now.
on September 20, 2007 10:00pm
Great ideas. I am starting small this year with possibly two performances- (one sacred music concert with a few soloists, and a evening prayer by an excellent children's choir) this year and then a few more in the summer. There are a number of youngsters I have taught who now have small pop music groups. I hope to contact them for my summer series.