Building support or a community outreach program
Date: July 10, 2014
Our large community chorus is based in the affluent suburbs of a major city. A few years ago, we began collaborating with a consortium of small parochial middle schools in an under-served and economically-stressed area to help them develop their choral programs. Members of our chorus participate in the students' once-weekly joint chorus rehearsals, and join them twice a year for a Saturday workshop. We sing for the kids pieces that we are working on, and they sing their pieces for us. Kids and adults advise each other, work togther in sectionals, share a lunch, and perform for the kids' parents when they come to pick up their children. In May, the students participate in a diocese-wide arts event, and members of our chorus perform with them.
These are less-advantaged, mostly minority students whose schools struggle to give them a rich musical experience. Their teachers do a great job; but we think we help the kids by validating their efforts, providing them with an audience of interested adults (who aren't their parents!), and modeling the value of life-long singing. Over the years, we have watched kids stay with choral music and mature as singers and people. Yet, we have some concerns about the program, and we would love to have some advice from the ChoralNet community:
1. Our collaboration has not gained enough traction among our chorus members, from whom we get only about 10-15% participation--and the same people all the time. The reasons for this are probably many (the social/cultural gulf; concerns about safety in the neighborhood; conflicts with work schedules and weekend plans). How can we energize our singers so that we get more folks at the shared rehearsals, and a greater range of participants?
2. We would like to take the step of bringing the partnership kids out of their community so that they can observe us sing in our "natural habitat" and participate with us. Any advice about how best to design these sorts of experiences?
3. Our board has charged us to come up with a plan for evaluating the program. This is for the purpose of assessing its viability, determining its strengths, and possibly applying those lessons in relationships with additional schools.
If you have experience with comparable programs, we would love to hear your wise counsel.