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What singer Retention rate should I expect in a children's choir?

As is so often the case, replies indicate the diversity of this list. I'll
try to summarize first, and then include fuller accounts of individual

Retention rates varied from somewhere around 50% to 80% or above. It
appears that established organizations, particularly with multiple choirs,
do best. An important factor is continuity of a director with a passion for
the music and the children,, with whom the singers form a bond. Another is
a "choir culture" built up over the years, where families relate closely to
the organization and there is an expectation that their children will stay
and continue to move up in the ranks, as it were. In addition to the
ubiquitous Choir Trip, one person suggested a variety of ways to make the
oldest members feel especially valued, thus always giving younger members a
status goal to work toward. (If listers would like to send me incentives
they have found helpful in building retention, I'd be happy to compile as a
separate listing.)

Here are individual replies:

The Kalamazoo Children's Chorus has three ensembles ranging from age 7
through 16. Our retention rate hovers around 87% annually. We believe it
is due in part to the opportunity for advancement to a "better" choir and
the structure we use for our formal concerts. The Preparatory Choir sings
in two major concerts each season: Holiday and Spring. The Concert and the
Touring choir sing in both of those events as well as our annual "Stage
Show". This concert is thematic in nature and designed by the staff. Small
ensembles, trios, duets and solos are selected as well as a number of choral
pieces. This concert is very different from what we do during the year. We
prepare and perform "legit' works, perform with the local Symphony and
record but we do not us popular or show music for those performances. So,
the kids love the stage show because it is so different. We often hear that
so and so is not coming back next year because of age, other commitments or
just plain tired of the program. However, after the stage show all the
choristers are so excited that they send in their hold my spot deposits
within the week of the concert. We plan the hold my spot deadline to
correspond with the stage show to maximize the return.
Another thing we do is travel. The Touring choir takes a major domestic
trip every other year and next summer we are planning a trip to South
Africa. This is a great motivator for singers in the Concert Choir hoping
to move up and for older singers in the Touring Choir whose school schedules
begin to pull them away from the ensemble.
Throughout the year we plan many social activities so that the kids have
a chance to get to know each other outside of the rehearsal. This forms
bonds that only exist in the organization and helps to keep our return rate
pretty high.
I wish you luck in your efforts to keep your kids. It is always a
challenge with sports, school, community theatre and family commitments to
keep them involved.
Fred Sang
Artistic Director
Kalamazoo Children's Chorus

I just moved to Oahu, but prior to the move I founded the Antelope
Valley Children's Choir in Lancaster, CA. The choir started w/ 27 singers
in 1995 and when I left in July 2002, we had just over 120 in five different
choir levels.
My experience was that for the littlest members (ages 4-7) I kept about
90%. Some families moved away, but most stayed for the whole year and
either came back or graduated into the next choir level.
The next age group (8-12 year olds) saw about 85% retention.
The killer was the Youth Chorale (13-17). I kept about 55%. The
pressures of high school, driving, dating, sports and other activities were
the main culprits.
My California colleagues have told me that my numbers are very high in
comparison to their choirs, but I'm very interested in your findings.
Wayne R. "Doc" Wilson
Music Department
Lutheran High School
1404 University Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96822
(808) 949-5302

I am the founder/conductor of a children's choir in a rural area about
40 miles north of Philadelphia. We have 3 choirs with about 110 singers
total. In our Concert Choir, the top level choir, we have typically a
30% turn over. Many leave when they head into high school (9th grade)
because of the demands of high school. It seems to me an intelligent
time to leave.
We also get our tuition up front, all paid by Nov. 1st. We too learned
the hard way on that one. We do have some kids stay until after the big
trip as well, but more often, kids come back from the trip NOT wanting to
Joy Hirokawa
Bel Canto Children's Chorus

I understand the frustration. After our first season in which our
choristershad an amazing array of experiences - singing with professional
orchestra and chorus, participation in premiere of commission for the
university wind orchestra, baritione and children's choir, performance of
African Sanctuswith professional chorus and composer David Fanshawe, and a
tour covering two states - we had kids and parents testifying to their life
changing experiences. Choir was soooooo wonderful! Out of 75 in the spring
we had less than half return. I was devastated. If that kind of a first
year didn't make them want to come back, we were in big trouble.
I talked with colleagues a little further down the road of choir
development who responded - Oh yeah. That happened to us for the first few
years. Wasn't until about year five that the majority of the choristers
returned in the fall.
The simple fact is that until there is a choir culture created in your
community of choir families, there is no expectation that participation will
last longer than a year. It's not until there is a critical mass of families
that begin proclaiming the benefits of the choir experience to new families
that this longer view begins to take hold. We are entering year four and I
think we will be at about 65 - 70 % retention after about 50% the first two
Hang in there.
Peter Robb, Artistic Director
Oregon Festival Choirs
P O Box 207
Eugene, OR 97440
541-465-4990 fax

I founded a children's/youth community choir in Tasmania, Australia 15
months ago. We rehearse on Saturday afternoons for about 4 hours, and
therefore the kids have to be reasonably committed to want to give up part
of their weekend. We started with about 40 kids and currently have 70. We
have lost 10 over the 15 months but gained 30. All those who have left have
done so because of family pressure or because they have moved away from the
Rosemary Amos
Musical Director
Legato (Tasmania, Australia)

Our community is very child minded and has many activities for children.
Many children commit for one season as stipulated by our contract and annual
tuition of $70.00, but about 40% return letters of intent to return from the
previous. There is a great deal of turnover especially between grades 5 and
6 in our community due to the change from elementary school to middle
Cecil Shoemaker, music director
Bach Chorale Children's Choir/Youth Chorus
email: ces12357(a)
schoolemail: ceshoemaker(a)
schoolvmail: 765-772-4750 x1339

I learned some _youth_ choir retention ideas this summer from a youth
choir colleague (Tim Mann, Birmingham, Ala.), some of which I am trying out
with our youth choir. Tim suggests doing everything possible to celebrate
the high school seniors: special folders, special place for their folders,
they are first to leave each rehearsal while others wait; on a trip they are
first on the bus, first off, they get first selection of their own bus seat.
Once each choir tour, while the younger singers are eating fast food, the
seniors are treated to dinner at a nice restaurant. There is a special
banquet at the end of the year just for the seniors. You get the drift. They
are made to feel so special that the younger singers, who may have been
observing this special treatment for several years, want their turn to be
special. They will (hopefully) stick with youth choir until they get their
special "high school senior" status. I did an interview with Tim that is
published in the current (Sept. 2002) issue of YouthCue, a youth choir
newsletter ( Several other choir-building ideas are
presented in the interview.
As for your question on _children's_ choirs, I'm now working on ways to
modifying the general idea above to make my oldest grade in the children's
choir have lots of special honors and privileges (in my case, 5th graders).
They have special responsibilities (they take the attendance on our wall
chart, they are frequently assigned "special" music parts, like descants, or
harmony parts); they have a special part in our Palm Sunday processional;
they get special consideration for solos (and the choir is aware of the
special consideration); those 5th graders who successfully complete our hymn
memorization program for the 3rd consecutive year get an engraved trophy, a
framed certificate, and their name permanently engraved on our
"Hymns-for-a-Lifetime" plaque mounted on the wall in the choir room. Again,
I try to make it so special for the fifth graders that the younger singers
who observe this for two years want their turn, and will (hopefully) remain
in the choir to enjoy the rewards of being a fifth grader.
Ken Wilson, Minister of Music
Knollwood Baptist Church
330 Knollwood St.
Winston-Salem, NC 27104

I have seen an average of 21% attrition, mostly at the lower levels, and
often immediately after audtions. So this is an annual rate that includes
all sorts of reasons for leaving. As the boys move through the program,
they become more emotionally attached and committed. Our expectations for
them increase accordingly.
Joyce Keil
Artistic Director
Home address: 729 Sequoia Ave.
San Mateo, CA 94403
Fax: 650-570-6233
email: jkeil(a)

Thanks to all of you for your information and helpful comments.
David McCormick