“The real art of conducting consists in transitions.” Gustav Mahler
We are all back—or just about back—to work this fall; time to do what we do. And just what is it that we do? Chorus America has released their latest report which may help us actually understand what we do, how we do it and why we do it.
Last Thursday, Chorus America released their report, Choral Conductors Today: An Updated Report, A Comparison of 2017 and 2005 Findings. Most of their findings won’t be a surprise to any of us working in the choral field. I thought it would be interesting to spend the rest of the month of September blogging about what this mean to us, choral conductors in the trenches, and what it means to our profession. And in full disclosure, I participated in the 2017 survey (I might have also participated in the 2005 survey—I can’t remember!) from which this report is based.
Let me first briefly introduce the history and design of their study; Chorus America has always been interested in how choruses, and their leaders, work. As such, in 2005 Chorus America published Choral Conductors Today: A Profile, a report based on a survey of conductors, with the intention to better understand and explain choral conductors’ responsibilities and challenges. Its purpose was to provide choral leaders with current field data rather than just anecdotes to guide their decision-making. It was hoped, armed with more information and data, choral conductors could be proactive rather than reactive when confronted with challenges. We are now in the midst of the second decade of a new century, and again Chorus America desired to understand what has changed since that first survey in 2005 and what has remained the same.
For the 2017 report it was decided to use the same approach as used in 2005; gathering data by using a virtually identical questionnaire. The respondent numbers were similar (621 in 2017 and 684 in 2005) and this report has the additional insight of comparing responses in the first decade of the century to the second. In both 2005 and 2017, leaders of many types of choruses were represented, since most respondents tend to lead more than one, and often more than one kind, chorus. This report is not the “be all” and “end all” for every conductor or even every choral organization. It is hoped the knowledge gained from this report will help strengthen the choral community and enhance choral music’s already positive image.
Chorus America feels there are four ways this report will be useful to us. I have condensed them here:
- Conductors can learn more about their profession and can compare themselves to others.
- Chorus management and administrators who set policies can see what combination of roles choral leaders play in other organizations.
- Music educators can use these results to help guide future conductors on their career path.
- Other arts organizations (leaders, advocates and researchers) can use this report to compare to their own fields.
There were seven key findings in Chorus America’s report which I plan to elaborate on in the following weeks:
- Choral conductors create careers directing multiple choruses.
- Choral conducting remains a very satisfying profession
- Conductors perform a range of roles and responsibilities for their choruses.
- Choruses are resilient, and many conductors are founders with long tenures
- Choral conductors maintain a multi-decade commitment to choral leadership
- Conductor education and training begin early and continue throughout the career.
- Choral conductors are actively engaged in the arts in beyond choral music.
As to be expected, there have been changes to our profession in the twelve years since the first Chorus America report. Some of those differences seem to be more intense work with fewer choruses, real income has decreased, the choral ecosystem is still healthy with new choruses forming and existing ones showing endurance and differences in the experiences of female and male conductors have persisted.
What does all this mean for us, those in the trenches, directing choruses, creating a life and career doing something we love? Chorus America’s data may confirm what we already know and give us insight, not only in our present situations, but to our future ones. We should take heart in that we are not so different from our colleagues and know we are truly in this together. It helps to understand who we are so we are able to be the best we can be.
Next week we’ll delve in to the first four key findings of Chorus America’s report. See you then!