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Looking for Perspective on How to Organize Choir Work

I'm a choral director of a small amateur women's choir. I'm looking for some perspective on the way I organize the work of the choir as I sometimes find it overwhelming. I receive an honorarium, but it is an otherwise unpaid position which I do as a personal interest. Sometimes I feel I might need to delegate more, but this is always a challenge for me! We are about 20 voices, and sing at about 7 events per year, one of which is a concert with mostly the choir performing. I choose repertoire, and also do some arranging. My husband assists with accompaniments, and we have an accompanist who performs with us on some events when we can afford it. I create practice CD's for the choir, with each voice sung, which is a very laborious process - sometimes I think I should discontinue this but they are well used by the choir. I also handle publicity, and manage our av equipment. We do have a choral librarian, who looks after music, but I mainly do the copying (with permission of course) of music for pdf's we have purchased. I manage our website and Facebook page.
 
Any suggestions for this sometimes overloaded choral director who probably needs to delegate something somehow? I would really appreciate the perspective :)
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on August 19, 2013 11:48am
Even a small choir, especially if active, as yours seems to be, generates an amount of administration.
 
I would imagine that you need to sit with your group and discuss the situation.  It is really not feasible that you bear the full brunt of what has to be done - and I do not see that the honorarium has anything to do with this.  My suggestion is that you agree with your group various categories of responsibilities that need to be dealt with so as to keep the choir effective and interesting to all members.  Soem areas will particularly fall to you - e.g music matters.  I don't see how it could be otherwise.  But in other areas, there is no reason why the members should not organised themselves into work-groups to take the burden off your shoulders.  Whether this requires a formal organisation or can be don informally is a matter for the choir to decide for itself.  After your job, perhaps the next most important matter is finances.  Here care is usually the order of the day so that there can arise no unfortunate situation.  In my experience, small groups usually have at least two people (or three) to ensure that matters remain problem free.
 
Usually the members who are running the various categories of responsibilities would meet once a month at a metting that is properly recorded, to report how their areas are working - how well, what difficulties etc.  It would be usual for the choir master to attned this, and even, in some cases, to chair the meeting, although this is not necessary, and sometimes is best left to another.  In some cases the director may have a veto, although I think this is probably unnecessarily negative in approach.  Generally speaking, problems should be worked out by discussion and goodwill.
 
The only caveats are that the organising groups should not impinge on the prerogatives of the director, and should not over-manage the group.  A gently, but firm, approach on your part can help here.  Also there should be an annual reporting to the choir of how it has been managed through the year, and what is its financial position.
 
Hope this gives you some ideals.
 
 
David. 
on August 25, 2013 2:25pm

As artistic director of the choir it is your job to select the music, teach the choir the music, and direct the concerts. These are essentially creative endeavors. You need to offload all other jobs to a president or manager elected by the membership. What you really need is a board which will raise money, acquire music (chosen by you), arrange rehearsal and concert venues, and make, pursue, and achieve goals (benchmarks). Early benchmarks should be to have the funds to pay both you and an accompanist a low but appropriate salary, to acquire new members (with your input and assistance), to stop copying and begin to purchase music, to start paying the appropriate ASCAP fees, to have a webmaster other than you, to have someone in charge of your facebook account other than you, to advertise your concerts, to have an attractive and professional looking program/adbook for you concerts, to create structure and bylaws, and to determine where to go after you (plural) have achieved these goals.

 

Your president should be someone who is good at recognizing the potential of individuals in your choir to do these various tasks. I am the president of my choir but I actually don't do most of this stuff, though sometimes circumstances require me to act. My greatest skill is in recognizing chorus members who have the skill and dedication to fill these positions. Sometimes it requires a great deal of encouragement, egging on, and hand holding from me, but I would rather work harder at that than doing the underlying tasks. I told them when I was elected that I was not running to do all this stuff but to see to it that they did all these things. I spend most of my time fund raising (and being tenor section leader). I try to create the fine instrument, if you will, that the conductor plays.

 

Good luck!

on August 27, 2013 11:05am
Hi Donovan,
 
I conduct a semi-professional chamber choir which I founded in 2006.  We have two concerts a calender year as well as gigs here and there, usually music requested from one of our concert cycles or a holiday program we have put together.  I, as you, get a very small stipend but enough to motivate me to keep at it!
 
It's all well and good to say your choir president should do this and that, or have a choir meeting but the *buck stops with you*---in other words, no matter what, you are responsible and it will reflect on you.
 
I use a calender ( I have a paper one just for my ensemble but you could use google calender or something on your computer or IPhone) to keep me organized.  I know a snail mailing and email blasts should go out about 1-2 weeks before my auditions start  I know another snail mailing and email blast should go out about one month before our concerts. I have help with the physicial part of the snail mailing, but do the email blasts myself. During the audition period, the music folders are put together for that particular concert cycle and I also incude a rehearsal CD which I've made during the down time between concert cycles.  I usually number the music myself and put together the handouts but have help putting together the folders. If I am going to deligate something, I also put who agreed to help on the calender so I know whom to contact when things need to get done.
 
We have 12 week concert rehearsal cycles and do not meet during the times we are not preparing for concerts  and that gives me time to get the rehearsal CDs together, order music and do PR.  For the PR, it helps to know when things are due for our internet and print news sources so I can put the dates of what is due when in my calender for each concert cycle.  During the *down* times, I am able to do the lion's share of the busy work so I may concentrate on music during the rehearsal cycles. And there is a LOT of work...it's a relief when rehearsals begin......we start our rehearsals for the fall concert cycle tonight, YIPPEE!
 
I am organized, organized, organzied but in order to get everything accomplished for each concert cycle, I need to be.  One of my singers has handled our Facebook page up to now but this summer, I took it over because he could not longer do it.  I got us a Twitter account as well.
 
*Like* us on Facebook: The Midwest Motet Society and follow us on Twitter: @MidwestMotet !
 
Running an ensemble is a lot of work, but I have found if I plan ahead, mark things on my MMS calender so I know what needs to be done when, it is much easier and I can actually relax......I spent about 6 weeks this summer working on my fall 2013 and spring 2014 music folders and will only have to take care of the mailings and PR for the next 10 months....it will seem like a vacation!
 
on August 29, 2013 5:31am
Thanks so much all for your advice, which I will take to heart! I really appreciate it. Just a quick note: we purchase music and do not photocopy without permission - many publishers now sell their works as pdf's which saves shipping, so that is what I was referring to re. the photocopying. I use Google calendar and have an awesome to-do list app which I find a real asset. We already have a Finance team, however I will begin looking at creating an AV crew to help with set-up at concert time so that I don't have to be responsible for that solely. I also get a choir member to draw up our contact list. I think as the year goes on I will look for opportunities to delegate informally - I honestly have a tendency to do it all when I don't always need to do so. Thanks again :)
on August 29, 2013 9:17am
Donovan, the hardest part is delegating. And most of the work takes place before a note is ever sung.  And once you can delegate tasks to people who can do the tasks and will do the tasks, it will be easier for you!  Our rehearsals started Tuesday and I almost feel I am a Lady of Leisure.......well, maybe not!
 
And I hear you about the copying---I bought digital copies of a piece because I thought it would save the shipping costs over the summer and it was awful and a mess and I will never do it again.
 
 
on September 26, 2013 5:04am
Donovan,
 
To avoid burning out our leaders, me included, my singers, in addition to passing an audition, are required to sign a contract that they will take on some administrative duty, task, committee, or board assignment. Our little ensemble has 18 singers, including a governing board of six members, and an advisory board of 17 non-members.
 
Below my signature, I have pasted the 147 different things someone can do to help us run the chorus effectively. Over 100 of these came from my two years directing the Houston Tidelanders in 2002 and 2003. We have 90 of these positions filled, so many people wear multiple hats.
 
I hope this helps.

TODD WILSON
Executive Director
Director of Music
Nashville Singers, Inc.
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