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Are we properly dead yet?

The last interactive posting on this Community was on 25th January.  That's three months ago.
I think we probably are past our last gasp.
Replies (17): Threaded | Chronological
on April 29, 2013 2:49pm
Hi Community Choirs
On Saturday, May 4 The 24 voices of the all volunteer adult community choir, THE CAROLYN EYNON SINGERS, perform in 2 Phoenix area venues;
The first venue is our past Governor Wallace's home in NE Scottsdale. Check the link on our website JAZZ IN THE KEY OF JOY for tickets. We are serving wines, and chef Michael McCall, my talented associate conductor, who was a professional cheff before he was an opera tenor, is creating all the cuisine.
We have a beautiful gardent tour before the refreshments at 4;30pm. It is 100 degrees here in Scottsdale, so wear a BIG SUN HAT!. We are so fortunate to have use of this beautiful, historical Az home. concert begins at 6;00pm. ALL TIX are $30 and fully tax deductible.
The same concert follows on Sat. May 11 at ORANGEWOOD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH at 7321 N 10th St. Phoenix at 7;00pm. We are recording our jazz cd during the concert; ALL TIX are $15 and children under 18 are free. Also performing with us is a jazz trio.
on April 29, 2013 3:22pm
Have a great time with your concert Carolyn!
20 km from here the snow ploughs are out.  So enjoy the heat! BTW I live in the sunny(?), warm (???) south of France.
on April 29, 2013 2:58pm
I hope not!
 Let me try to set the ball rolling again by asking how you define a 'community choir'.  Does it mean a choir without a religious or other affiliation, drawn from the community at large? Does it imply an unauditioned group? Can it be a children's choir ( presumably not one attached to a school or college)?  Does it suggest a lighter or less demanding repertoire? Are the members not expected to be able to read music?
i may be totally wrong with some of these assumptions - if so, please shoot me down!
on April 29, 2013 5:16pm
Gordon:  I would venture to say that a comnunity choir is the same in the US as it is in Canada: a community-based choral ensemble with no ostensible ties to a religious or educational institution which functions, usually, but not always, as a charitable organization deriving its operational funding from ticket sales, donations and grants, but not from said institutions. In other words, a stand-alone organization whose survival depends on its own fund-raising imagination and marketing linitiatives. Such community organizations functiion irrelevant of any age level or repertoire expectations. No matter what age or level of performance: good music is good music. Quality is to be found in many places and guises. 
Gary Fisher
Burlington Civic Chorale
Burlington, Onatario
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 29, 2013 6:49pm
Gary I believe your definition is right on.  We, the Embro Thistle Singers are a non-auditioned Community Choir of all ages and stages who meet every other week and perform for community groups when asked.  
Should we have a topic each week to mull over?  Who should start the ball rolling?  I write a blog for our choir each week that brings up various topics.  Maybe something like that would work.  I think the more we share ideas the stronger we all are. 
Any thoughts?
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 30, 2013 8:55am
Very good Idea, Kitty!
on April 29, 2013 8:13pm
I think part of the problem may be confusion as to where to look for or post discussion topics related to community choirs.  
Currently, there are a number of discussions happening in the Forums (under the "Forums" tab above, between "Announcements" and "Classifieds") that are specific to community choirs, including one discussion actually titled "Community Choir Quesitons." Active Forum discussion topics are listed in each day's ChoralNet Daily emailed to members who have signed up for it
The Daily does NOT include Community topics, however, which reinforces the concept that the Forums ("Fora"?) are the best places to discuss topics of interest to community choirs.
Community activity does appear on the Home page (at the bottom of the middle column), so those new to the site may spot Community activity there -- but I can't remember if it shows only those Communities in which one is a member, or ALL communities.  If it's only communities in which one is a member, then folks new to the site won't see ANY community activity unless they proactively explore the Communities tab.  The only way to be notified via email of new activity here is to specifically join the community and ask to be notified whenver new topics are posted, which is how I found out about this topic.
I'd love to see this group becvome more active, as my primary choral interest is community choirs.  But I have to admit that when I need a quick answer to a question, I'm much more likely to post it on a Forum than I am to post it here, simply because more people will see it there.  We ran into this issue in the Composers of Choral Music community, too -- lack of visibility means lack of activity.
Just my $0.02.
Lana Mountford
Bellignham, WA
on April 30, 2013 8:54am
Apologies, Gordon.
I did reply to you last night to the effect that it was well past midnight, and I would need to get some rest with the understanding that I would respond this morning.  It seems that that posting got lost in cyber space.
I note, however, that there have been some very interesting responses already.  And I think it would be impossible to better what Gary has said:
“…a community choir is… a community-based choral ensemble with no ostensible ties to a religious or educational institution which functions, usually, but not always, as a charitable organization deriving its operational funding from ticket sales, donations and grants, but not from said institutions. In other words, a stand-alone organization whose survival depends on its own fund-raising imagination and marketing initiatives. Such community organizations function irrelevant of any age level or repertoire expectations. No matter what age or level of performance: good music is good music. Quality is to be found in many places and guises.” 
To which last sentence I add a fervent Amen!
Having such a great definition set out so succinctly by Gary leaves me free to talk more generally about that which I know best – my own choir.
I suppose it’s probably best to start with a broad definition of my understanding of what a community choir is:
A community choir is essentially a group of singers founded/based in a defined rural or urban area...  It may, or may not, draw in members from outside the core area - otherwise I'm with Gary all the way.
Some community choirs are small – mine (Le Choeur d’Alzonne) has about 25 members and is based in a small village near Carcassonne, France.  The core area has about 1,250 inhabitants.  This means that many members come from outside the area of Alzonne.  An interesting point is that about one third of the group are non-French.  However, the language of rehearsal and common exchange is French.  For those who have any difficulty in understanding, an English version is always available.
As I see it there are various kinds of community choirs: Mixed Voice, Female Voice, Male Voice, Unison, Young Adult's Voices, Children's Voices
An adult group can be SATB, TTBB, SSAA, Unison.
I don’t distinguish senior citizens as a sparticular type.  They are simply adults.
A children’s choir may be more likely to sing in unison, although there are those that sing in two parts. viz Treble (Soprano), Alto.  It is likely that there will be an accompaniment to the singers.  Depending on capabilities, three-parts may be possible.
Within a range of 50 km all kinds listed are to be found.
Auditioned vs. Non-Auditioned
Some groups set an audition as a condition of memberships.  Others do not.  My own group is non-auditioned.  However, I always inform a new member that admittance to membership is on the basis of a three month trial period.  This allows time to recognise any possible problem and to deal with it.  If it is insurmountable, then there is the possibility of asking the individual to step down.  This step is never lightly taken – only when all remedies have failed.  And the reason/s is/are always explained.  If it is an ordeal for the individual, it's far from easy  for the chef de choeur, even after quite a few decades.
We tend to give about six concerts in the year.  Two of these are fixtures, the Concert de Nöel and the Concert Fin d’Année – Christmas and End of Choral Year.  Usually we freeze for one and roast for the other as Languedoc churches have, at best, primitive heating, and absolutely no air conditioning.  Both of these concerts are given in Alzonne church.  Other concerts are likely to be spread around the Alzonne zone, although we do travel short journeys too.
Usually we manage to squeeze in the annual Téléthon, to which our contribution is a charity performance.  On occasion we have sung alone: or we have shared the platform with another choir or choirs.
Because most of our concerts take place in churches, tickets and entry fees (including off site sale of tickets) are not considered appropriate by the clergy.  Instead, after the concert our helpers invite the audience to contribute an unspecified amount to be placed inconvenient baskets at the exit.  This does not make us rich, but keeps our heads above water.  The collections can be quite generous – or not.
Members do not pay any fees.  Their only financial contributions are
  • Euro 18 per annum for insurance
  • The cost of scores
The local authority (Mairie/Foyer – Mayor’s Office/Social Organisations) provides free the rehearsal venue, light, heat, and occasional receptions when we have other choirs visiting.  This represents a considerable cost that we do not have to shoulder.  However, although this may seem an ideal situation, it is, in fact, very restrictive and ties us down.  I am currently working with the choir’s committee to get a substantial grant to help in funding a visit to Verona (Italy) next year.  And already we are preparing our members for the great shock of paying contributions towards the shortfall between any grant and the actual cost.
 Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings and start at 20.00 exactly.
For warm-ups, where possible, we try to make use of something that will be coming up in the course of the evening.  This can also provide opportunities to get minds focused and ears into tune.
Sometimes when members arrive they find that voices are not in their accustomed places.  This demands more attention in terms of listening, balancing, blending and intonation.  On other occasions we play with tuning, working with a simple chord and ringing changes to produce a minor, or a discord, and then resolving it back to the original.  Or again, we may concentrate on where a tricky breathing point is causing a problem, or general breathing, making sure the shoulders remain in place and the phonation gets full support.  And, of course, voice placement.
This has to go at quite a rate as I don’t believe the warm-up should go on for any longer than about 7 minutes.  Being brisk about this also sharpens the choir’s responses.
Rehearsals finish ay 22.00 exactly.
Mostly the choir mainly sings a cappella.  Accompanists do not come cheap, and our structure is not really geared towards covering their costs, although we do use them from time to time.
Our repertoire includes
  • Catholic
  • Protestant
  • Orthodox
  • Carols & Christmas Music
  • A couple of Masses
Profane music is probably best indicated by composer:
Adolphe Adam
Thoinot Arbeau
Pierre Certon
Harold Darke
Dobri Hristov
Nicolaï Kedrov
R.V Williams
The choir includes in its repertoire many traditional songs in various languages.  Actually, they are quite polyglot and take languages in their stride:  Living in this corner of France, so close to Spain (Catalonia) most people will speak Spanish (Castilian) or Catalan as well as French.  And almost all learn English in school.  And the older people speak still the original language of these parts, Occitan, the language of the troubadours.
Some of the languages we use:
The choir has a very open attitude to new work, even when challenging – but I think they might draw the line at Chinese, or one of the languages with clicks.
Visiting Choirs
Over the past three summers the choir and the commune have hosted a visiting choirs.
In 2010 the superb Chicago Chorale under Dr. Bruce Tammen’s direction enthralled both our choir and a packed church
In 2011 The West Texas University gave a stunning performance as part of their European Tour.
And last year the small, but exceptional Fingal Chorale from Ireland gave their own programme and then joined with Le Choeur d’Alzonne to sing the Fauré Requiem.
To End
The above is a résumé of Le Choeur d’Alzonne’s activities.  There are probably many more things I should say, but this is already quite long.
How well to we match up to what other community choirs do is for you to say – and where do we fall short?
on April 30, 2013 10:39am
I like the way you've categorized the different aspects of community choirs ("Size," "Kind," etc.), with one "quibble."  I would separate out "senior citizens" choirs as another "Kind," for reasons I'll go into in another post.
However, I wanted to address your "To End" segment here.
I think each choir has to establish it's own "identity," which should reflect its particular "niche" within its community.  In other words, I'm not into comparing choirs in terms of accomplishments, and especially not to determine "rank," because each one will be, by definition, unique to its particular environment.  The "best" choirs are the ones who are fulfilling the needs of their singers and audience, regardless of size, location, funding, etc.
Only you can assess your choir's success -- does it meet the needs of the singers who participate? Are you drawing the audience you desire, in terms of size and demographics?  Are you financially where you need to be? If so, then what does it matter what a choir in Illinois or Singapore or Buenes Aires is doing?  In my opinion, "matching up" and "falling short" should matter only within the context of your specific circumstances.  Are you matching up or falling short of your own group's mission and objectives?  THAT's what matters.
That said, knowing what other similar groups are doing in terms of repertoire, management, organization, fundraising, etc. IS useful, not for comparison purposes ("gosh, they're doing so much more than we are! we must be doing something really wrong here!"), but to get new ideas for my own groups. ("gosh, what a cool idea! I wonder if that would work here?")
I'm looking forward to reading about what other groups are doing, but I would just caution against atempting any sort of qualitative comparison given each choir's unique character and environment.
Lana Mountford
Bellignham, WA  USA
on April 30, 2013 11:47am
Hello Lana.
Thank you for your response.
Yes, of course, all choirs should be free to follow their own star, meet their own goals - and there is no right or wrong that anyone else can attribute in this area.  It is, as you point out, a matter for each choir to assess itself.  Really, what I was trying to do was to come to a close quickly.  I should have thought it through more thoroughly, but I was pressed for time just then.  What I hoped was that other directors would tell us how they and their choirs operate - are there things they do that might be useful to others to learn about.  You have put so clearly where the benefits of this thread lie.
on April 30, 2013 12:58pm
I'm actually involved in two community choirs at the moment, one as an assistant director/compser in residence, and the other as musical director.  I want to talk about the latter first.
I like David's categories as a way of organizing my own thoughts, so I'll use that.
GoldenTones Vocal Ensemble, Seattle, WA
SIZE:  I have around 25 singers on a good day; usually 18-20 at each rehearsal.
KIND:  This is a seniors choir.  The MINIMUM age is 64.  My current oldest singer is a tenor who is 98 (I had a 104-yr-old last year, but her health has deteriorated so she had to drop out).  I'd say the average age is probably around 85-87 or so.  Most are in their late-80s; a few in their 90s; a few in the 70s.  My youngest singer is 66.
AUDITIONED/NON-AUDITIONED:  Non-auditioned, although the activities directors I work with help "screen" participants for cognitive issues, and some physical issues that might make the activity not a good fit.  I start from a philosophy of "if you can talk, you can sing."  Many of my singers were at one time active in their church choirs, some in community choirs, until they were told they were "too old" to sing any more.  Several have never sung in a choir before.  Most can read music; some cannot.  A few have trouble matching pitch; I work one-on-one with those until we fix the issue.  We're now in our 5th season.
CONCERTS: We do two concerts per season: a holiday/Christmas/winter concert, and a late spring concert.  We're well into rehearsals at the moment for our June concert.
FINANCIAL/FUNDING:  I do this totally on a volunteer basis.  My accompanist is also a volunteer.  He happens to be the director of the aforementioned "other" choir in which I'm involved (as assistant director), and this group is part of that organization for 501c3 purposes (tax exempt).  I write nearly all the music for them (more about this under repertoire).  The host facility has some money in their budget for this, so if we need to purchase music, they can usually cover it.  Members pay no dues, we sell no tickets.  We do accept donations, and get some each concert. The rehearsal space, piano, etc. are all furnished by our hosting facility.
REHEARSALS:  Our rehearsal occurs just after the regular daily hour-long "exercise class," and almost all of my singers participate in that.  We do vocal warm-ups suitable to the age/range of these singers for about 10 minutes.  The rest of the hour-long rehearsal is spent working on repertoire for the upcoming concert.  I have them arranged by part, and they sing seated, since many cannot stand without walkers.  We work on proper breathing and support.  Most of what I learned as an undergrad in vocal pedagogy had to be thrown out the window, as most of it just doens't work with this group.  I've worked with a voice pathologist and a pulmonary specialist to come up with exercises to address some of the issues they face, and we've seen/felt an improvement in their overall sound.
REPERTOIRE:  We sing mostly 2-part music.  I tried using already-published 2-part works, but almost without exception they were written for children, and really didn't work for my group.  Also, given the vocal ranges of most of my singers, the tessitura of these SA works was too high.  So, I've been writing my own arrangements of most of our repertoire -- staying within copyright restrictions -- and that seems to work best.  i've also had to develop a "system" for printing the music.  Even my readers have trouble following a vocal score showing both vocal parts and accompaniment, so I print out separate scores for each vocal part showing ONLY the vocal line for that particular part.  I have a complete score as does the accompanist.  
Our repertoire consistes of both sacred and secular works.  We've sung in English, Latin, Hebrew, and Spanish so far.  Our upcoming concert is based on American folk music, so it will all be in English (Stephen Foster, early 20th C material, etc.).  Since we don't do 3- or 4-part music, we haven't delved into the "classic" vocal repertoire.  And I don't really have any "true" sopranos in the group, nor any "true" basses.  Most of these singers have a range of less than an octave; a few might be able to sing a tenth.
VISITING CHOIRS:  None so far.  We're the only group of our kind that I'm aware of in our area.  Our members do attend the "other" choir's performances, and some of those singers attend GoldenTones performances as audience members.  Meanwhile, we've been invited to sing at other "seniors" facilities.
TO END:  I do this because I love it.  I'm no spring chicken myself, and my hope is that I can continue to sing until I no longer breathe (and with stage 3 emphysema, that day is approaching faster than I would like ... ).  Unless there are groups like this available, that won't happen.
Seniors choirs like mine are different: the vocal ranges are limited, stamina is limited, cognitive abilities are a mixed bag, many have been told they "can't sing," and there are vocal issues that have to be addressed and accommodated if this is going to work.  A seniors choir like ours will likely never sound like the "usual" community choir -- but it CAN produce a sound that is expressive and engaging.  That's the mission of GoldenTones, and so far, our audience seems to think it's working.
My biggest concerns:  REPERTOIRE REPERTOIRE REPERTOIRE.  I'm OK writing for my group, but it does take a LOT of time.  No publisher seems to want to get into this market (somewhat limited, I know), and even if they did, each group is different.
So that's my group -- one of them, anyway.  Might write about the other one later.
Lana Mountford
Bellignham, WA
(Director, GoldenTones Vocal Ensemble, Seattle, WA)
on April 30, 2013 2:42pm
Well, first of all, David, it would seem that this community is not dead - perhaps you have given it the kiss of life!
And thanks, Gary, for your illuminating definition of a 'community choir'.  
I conduct a chamber choir, run on similar lines (and of a similar size) to yours, David. There is also another larger choir in the area with a similar name to ours, except that ours is called a chamber choir, whereas the other one is called a community choir!   However, I think by your definition both choirs are community choirs.
Most members of the chamber choir have sung with other groups, and are quite good sight readers. A number of them are current or former members of one of the big symphony choruses in Birmingham.  Our repertoire is also very varied, and we generally include some lighter pieces in our concerts, though I generally try to avoid 'songs from the shows'.  Members of the choir pay a small termly subscription, to cover hire of our rehearsal venue, which is a local primary school, and purchase of music, etc. There are no paid positions in the choir: our accompanists are drawn from the choir (pianist and organist) and I do it for love, of course!  
Nearly all the concerts we give are in aid of charitable causes, and we have special links with a number of local charities.  As I compose a bit of music, I often 'try it out' on the chamber choir, and they don't seem to mind too much!
Choice of repertoire is ultimately down to me (I think), but there is a 'committee' who frequently lean on me - either because I'm not doing enough 'light' music or I'm including something they don't like (there are some very strong-minded people on the committee!). They also insist that I should audition new members, which I'm not very keen on. Usually one can tell after a short trial period whether someone will fit in or not.  
Our  main expenses are hiring our rehearsal hall, insurance and music purchase. A lot of our repertoire is drawn from choral collections, such as 'Madrigals and Partsongs', 'European Sacred Music', 'Encores for Choirs' and 'In the Mood'. These are all Oxford publications - I happen to get a good discount from OUP as they've published a couple of my choral pieces.
on April 30, 2013 2:47pm
I'm having some difficulty doing this on an iPod, and had to click on 'send' before the whole thing disappeared.  However, I think I've been rabbiting on enough for now, and I look forward to hearing about other people's experiences with community choirs!
Birmingham UK 
on April 30, 2013 12:36pm
Hi all - I have been following this thread dilligently and just wanted to add that while my treble boys choir IS a community choir . . . it is more of a childrens [boys] choir.  I wonder if there are other such groups like mine - I know there are!  I subscribe to this forum because we are community based, but my interaction is more with the Boy Choir and Childrens Choir forum.
Really nice to hear how you all are handling your choirs!
Best regards from very hot Texas ~
on May 1, 2013 3:36am
Thank you Lana for sharing so much.
I understand your position on seniors, and I think we were approaching the same position, but with a different usage of words.  My intention was to avoid seniors being relegated to a shelf all on their own, outside the choral mainstream.  I believe that they are just as capable of fulfilling (and being fulfilled) by the choral ideal as any.  In every senior (that includes me, BTW, since I have passed my 70th birthday) there is still youth in heart and mind - OK perhaps not in my knees when climbing the stairs  :-) .  We are not for setting aside!  The validity of what seniors do is chorally  unassailable.  And I am full of admiration for your work in ensuring that the joy of choral singing is being provided for your group.  Well done!  It's not easy to direct and compose, and do all the other daily chores as well.  I sometimes wonder if that is the reason I am often at the computer at 2 am.
I am cheering you and your seniors on, and wishing you < Bon Courage>, as we say here.
on May 1, 2013 2:40pm
Thanks, David -- I see where you're coming from.  I've read a number of journal articles on the subject of "mature singers," and most have dealt with how to "hide" the senior singer in your choir, how to make their voices less obvious, or how to delicately discourage them from singing or redirecting their "talents" away from the choir.  Or they discuss the solo singer, one who wants to continue to sing at a very high level, someone who has already had extensive professional training and perhaps had a professional career as a singer.  There has been very little that I've been able to locate on the subject of the average everyday run-of-the-mill choral singer who simply wants to continue making music.
I fully respect directors' choices as to the sounds they want for their groups, and I understand that singers sometimes will need to "move on."  But where are they supposed to "move on" TO?  My goal is to provide more options: choirs in which their voices and physical challenges aren't so much of a problem, and they can continue to make good music.  Many of my new members come to me totally demoralized after being told they "can't sing anymore."  It usually takes at least one concert before they finally become convinced that perhaps their "retirement" from choral singing was a bit premature. It doesn't hurt that we do have a lot of fun in our rehearsals, even though we're all serious about performing good programs well.
I'd love to connect with others who are trying to do this, if for no other reason than to exchange ideas for repertoire, vocal warm-ups, working with outside experts, dealing with physical limitations, etc.  I often feel that I'm "making this up as I go along," experimenting until I find something that works (e.g., blowing up balloons to help with breath management).  
Please, if anyone else is working with seniors choirs, or has been toying with the idea of doing this, contact me via choralnet.  I'm totally willing to share at no charge the arrangements I've written for these folks if you think it will help your group, or help you get started.  I have a slightly selfish reason for this: I want to sing in a group like this myself.  The more of them out there, the better chance I'll have of finding one when the time comes.
Lana Mountford
Bellingham, WA
on May 1, 2013 7:34am
It is so heartening to hear from people who have choirs with membership ranging from young people to seniors and all in between and combined.  There just are no barriers that hold people back including, it seems, serious illness.  The music and song brings us on through.  It is a treat to hear from everyone.  May it continue.  I shall do my best to share any ideas or thoughts that come my way and I hope many others will to do the same.  
Thanks for jogging us into awareness.  Let the discussions roll on.
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