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Recruiting strategies

I am interested to know what you find to be the most helpful strategies for recruiting choral singers.  I am looking for a sort of "top 10" list--nothing too scientific.  I'm wondering if I've overlooked some important activity.
I teach at a small university with a young program.  When I started in 2009 most of our students (and the area HS students) didn't know we had a choir.  That is no longer a problem, but while the quality of the program has improved dramatically, the numbers are increasing more slowly than I had hoped.
I do what I feel are standard recruiting things: visiting the area high schools (most of which have strong, well supported music programs), regional touring, attending high school choral festivals, meeting with HS choral directors, directing a summer HS choral camp, involving our choir in on-campus events, attending events held by the admissions office, posting signs all over campus, etc.  I've asked my students what they think and they've come up empty.
Thanks for your help!
Replies (9): Threaded | Chronological
on January 4, 2012 8:10pm
It sounds like you are already doing great things already.  My experience is that it takes a few years for the momentum to start to kick in.  Is there any really well-supported department at your school that would be open to collaborations with the choir?  This could give you visibility. This past fall, a group from our political science honors program went to a conference in DC . They had room on their coach and the president of the college suggested that I bring a choir and do a concert of music related to the Civil War theme that was the topic of the conference.  Our college had a past relationship with National City Christian Church near the mall in DC and we were able to do the concert there. 
I could only take 16 singers due to restricted space, and I did not have a balanced SATB group. I had been wanting to start a women's choir but only had a few interested singers. I took the plunge and advertised that I would be starting a women's choir and that their first gig would be the DC performance. Instantly I had 20 women in the choir, with only one who had pitch-matching problems. In a school of 1200 where the choral program had been suffering, this was a good number. They were committed and engaged and the concert was very well received. That performance led to a lot more attention from college relations and alumni, so that we have been invited to do concerts at several other events this spring. I gave the group a respectable, serious title, and the students have taken their membership seriously.  After our first semester, several new students approached me about auditioning for next semester.  The male choral students are a bit jealous. I told them that when we have enough male singers,  I will be sure to find events in which they can also perform.  The males have begun recruiting their friends. 
One problem I face is competition with athletic teams  and with some science labs. Our rehearsals are held late afternoons, and there is no slot during the day that does not compete with major classes. After a lot of petitioning and complaining about this problem, the associate dean proposed to restructure the class schedule so that classes begin and end earlier in the day, so that choral rehearsals will not interfere with sports and labs.  He also addessed the faculty and emphasized that they should not require students to come to "mandatory" meetings outside of class during ensemble rehearsals.(This was causing attendance problems.)   
I have conmunicated with the athletic coaches, who have allowed some players to train individually on some days so that they can participate in ensembles. I have to be flexible about meets and games and check the master athletic schedule so that I schedule concerts around meets and games. The athletic coaches seem to be happy to have players who are involved in arts. 
Another thing I did was start a group voice course, 1 credit.   Several singers who were not in choir took that course and have told me they are planning on joining next semester. 
With all that you are doing to recruit, I was wondering what your teaching load is. I do not receive any teaching reduction for any of the outside concerts, clinics, or master classes that I do, and if I teach group voice,  it is above and beyond my regular load. How much teaching credit do you receive for ensemble conducting? (At my school it used to be none!) How many courses do you teach in addition to the ensembles you direct?
on January 4, 2012 8:57pm
Hi Dawn,
Thanks for your reply.  
Regarding teaching load-
Short version:  my position requires me to teach 3 courses per semester (the number of credits doesn't matter), any or all of which can be ensembles.  This past fall, however, I taught six courses and had four voice students.  I got "credit" for teaching three of the six courses.  The voice teaching is extra--I don't have to teach them, but I get additional pay for doing it.  
Long version:  I have found myself in sort of a convoluted situation.  I must have 10 students in any course that is to count toward my 3 + 3 teaching load.  I have a one-course dispensation per semester for research, otherwise it would be 4 + 4 (I work at a state university, so "publish or perish," but I have to justify the time each year).  Any course with fewer than 10 students either gets cancelled or I teach it as a guided study and receive no compensation, overload credit, etc.  Since I have only four voice majors in the program right now, that means a lot of extra teaching or else they won't graduate.  
I've always considered recruiting to be part of my job as a choral director.  To be honest, I'll be happier with more singers in my ensembles so I'm sort of selfishly-motivated.  I have never been involved in a music program that compensated professors for recruiting, so I never even considered getting release time (or even mileage, though I might ask now) for such a thing.
Hope this helps,
on January 5, 2012 12:09am
Thanks for describing your situation. It's interesting to learn how various schools deal with under-enrolled courses. My overload situation is also the result of covering courses that voice majors need in order to graduate. Independent study is not counted in our course load either. But my school is quite flexible when it comes to new course development. For example, I taught a German diction course in which I allowed non-singers to enroll. We worked only with German lied texts, but the non-singers read the texts rather than sang them, and everyone did IPA transcriptions. At the end of the semester we had a poetry reading - lieder performance. The voice majors sang, and the non singers did dramatic readings of poems like "Erlkoenig." It actually worked quite well and also helped some of the non-music majors get to know me.  I gained a choral singer from that class as well. 
on January 4, 2012 11:22pm
Hi Cory, and Dawn, for that matter -
I'm in a similar situation.  I just started this semester at a small liberal arts college with no music department and very little student choral involvement.  For the first time the chorus is meeting during the day, and I have 23 students which is a great start.  I found my first success was simply an email to the student body announcing my arrival.  The second best thing that I did was sing on campus: once at a campus peace event, and the other was the national anthem at a high profile men's basketball game.  The president of the college, trustees, professors, students, and alumni.  I got lots of feedback saying they had no idea we had a choir and they sound fantastic.  It's the shortest gig on earth with (possibly) the largest audience all year.  I've also made a good friend in our campus liturgical music director - who knows all of the people that I don't!  We're already planning some collaborative events for next year that will get us to sing at the chapel - by far the best acoustical environment on campus.  Next year I'd like to do more of what you are doing now in terms of high school recruiting, but I figure starting on campus is the first step.  The students have asked to make a chorus t-shirt also, which is a great idea!
I teach on a 3+3 right now on my tenure track.  Chorus counts (in fact, by special arrangement it counts as a 3-credit student course, over the whole year) as a full class in my teaching load.  I also teach a voice class you'd be interested in.  It has 8 students, meets twice a week together, and incorporates private coaching as part of the course requirement.  For next year I'm trying to create an upper-level version so that there is a trajectory for those who want to take it more than once.  Then my other course right now bounces around.  I music directed our show this Fall, and am teaching an American music course now - another way to get into contact with the rest of campus!
Recruiting in general is great for numbers, and does count towards tenure/promotion - just as teaching and service - not research!  But scholarly program notes etc. might, depending on your institution.  Your outside concerts, clinics, and master classes should count as scholarly artistic activity as well.  It may be time to visit the NCCO website and read the national standards for tenure and promotion and start talking to your department before you have to put a portfolio together!!
Looking forward to reading more - best wishes,
on January 5, 2012 12:11am
Thanks for the NCCO tip. It's very helpful, and I think my tenure and promotion committee will be very receptive to those guidelines. 
on January 5, 2012 2:33pm
I continue to appreciate the input.
I have read the NCCO tenure and promotion guidelines, but institutions set their own.  In my particular situation I imagine one article would count for more than all my creative activity put together.  Administrators like recruiting (at least here), so that will count for something as long as my ensemble numbers actually go up significantly.
on January 16, 2012 4:02pm
Hello! I am currently a member of the Missouri State University Concert Chorale, and our biggest recruiting tool is our winter tour. Every year, the Chorale alternates touring the area high schools of St. Louis, followed by Kansas City. Though it may sound strenuous, we manage to squeeze in 17 to 18 concerts in 5 days of touring. Each evening we have a concert at a local church that has a good acoustic setting for a choral ensemble. It may sound rough, but our director has made it through more than any of the rest of us, and he is 81 years old!

The biggest thing, I'd say, is to get your choir out there, and make high schoolers aware that they don't need to major in music to participate in it. Let them see your choir and give them a question session if they would like. That is how Concert Chorale gets its numbers every year, and how Dr. Webb continues to strive for perfection!
on June 6, 2012 7:41am
Hi Cory and Everyone: 
Looks like there's lots of fine recruiting going on there.  I'm just dropping by to say two words, "social media."  My choirs have a good page on the school website, they maintain a facebook presence, and---probably most importantly--we have a youtube presence.  Prospective students like to check out the group and when they hear music they love (I have Whitacre, Spirituals, Brahms, and a recent ACDA set on our youtube channel) it generates interest. 
Also, if you don't have one, I suggest you get a student ACDA chapter on campus.  They help with all sorts of events that generate buzz and help with recruiting-
All the best, 
on October 13, 2012 4:13pm
Hi Cory,
Have you thought about running your own choral festival during the year and inviting high schools around the state to participate?  I am in a similar situation as you, directing choirs at a smaller university.  We do an annual choral festival every year.  I send invites to all high school choir directors in ND.  Historically, 40 - 60 high school choral students participate.  Since I started two years ago, I cut the the registration fee in half, offered to work further with directors within their budgets, and removed the 11th/12th grade requirement so 9-12 grade choral students can participate.  My first year, participation spiked to over 70, and about the same last year. This year I started a "feature choir" element, auditioning choirs around the state - and some I simply selected because I am aware of their quality - to perform on their own during the festival.  We have five featured high school choirs coming to participate in the event, as well as 8 other high school directors bringing a good handful of students.  The feature choir element has increased our festival participation to a walloping 250 + high school students!  Two solid days of pure musical enjoyment, activities, and face time with an army of prospective students! This is going to be huge for my program in coming years and I could not be more excited.
I second the comment about social media! 
You may consider having a secondary choral festival in the off semester, in which you invite all the local singing groups to participate, including elementary/children's choirs, junior high/middle school choirs, high school, community groups, and any professional/semi-professional groups in town.  They don't even have to necessarily be choral groups - jazz, barbershop, pop, etc..  The kicker, as in the festival above which I forgot to mention, is that you direct the mass chorus on a couple pieces.  Make it one hell of an experience, build it every year, and the local singing youth from childhood through their high school experience will have your leadership and your facility in the forefront of their mind when they think about post-high school singing.
I hope this might be of help.  Best wishes to you Cory.  You're doing great things!
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