“Conductors start getting good when everybody else retires.” Simon Rattle
Two weeks ago, I briefly introduced the history and design of the Chorus America report, Choral Conductors Today: An Updated Report, A Comparison of 2017 and 2005 Findings. Released on September 7, 2017, their report compared findings from their 2005 report to new data gathered from a 2017 survey, using virtually the same questions.
To refresh your memory; there were seven key findings in this latest Chorus America report. Last week, I blogged about the first three key findings; today we will speak of the last four.
4. Choruses are resilient, and many conductors are founders with long tenures.
The 2017 study, along with the 2005, show the choral ecosystem evolving over time due to several factors. Some respondents have led their choruses for long periods of time. Other choruses are experiencing a leadership transition while other respondents are forming new choruses. All these factors contribute to choral evolution.
Choruses led by respondents in 2005 had a median length of 23 years and in 2017, 31 years. Corresponding to the community arts awakening, 81 percent of responding choruses in 2005 were founded in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. In the 2017 survey, a significant number of choruses (45 percent) were founded in the 1990s, while volunteer religious choirs had the earliest founding dates (1948). Independent children’s choruses are the New Kids on the block, with an average founding date of 1998.
A majority of the choruses led by respondents to the 2017 survey are still led by their founders. The average length of tenure of respondents leading choruses which they founded is 11 years but for those leading volunteer and children’s choruses, it is 16 years.
Transitions are difficult for any arts organization, but for choruses, where conductors often define their mission, they are significant. Next to their founding, conductor succession is an important step in the life of a choral organization.
One in three of choruses led by 2017 respondents (28.5%) are being led by their founding music director, with a similar figure for the 2005 (34%) survey. So, about seven in ten choruses being led by respondents have gone through the transition process of succession at least one or more times. Strength of the choral music field is its ability to change leadership.
Since 2010, 2017 survey respondents report they have founded more than 135 new choruses. This is slightly lower than the 200 choruses founded by respondents in the 2005 survey. It is still a significant number, showing the health and vitality of the choral art in America.
5. Conductor education and training begins early and continues throughout the career.
Beginning early, choral conductors work hard and train extensively for their profession. Most (about half of respondents) began singing in choruses in elementary or middle school, with 82 percent singing in high school as well, and 88 percent in college. Only 5 percent did not sing in choruses before leaving college.
Respondents were asked in 2017 about specialization in their highest degree. 62 percent specialized in choral conducting, 24 percent in music education and 20 percent specialized in voice. Fewer than ten percent specialized in other related disciplines. Conductors who are full time educators are more likely to have specialized in choral conducting or voice.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents strongly agree their early education has continued to keep them prepared for their career as it evolves, with 29 percent moderately agreeing.
Conductors affiliated with professional organizations earn more and tend to be more satisfied with their career. The three most frequent responses for respondents were ACDA (90 percent), Chorus America (62 percent) and NAfME (31 percent) with about ten percent also members of other more specialized organizations. Conductors are often members of more than one professional music-related organization. Of the 523 respondents who were members of at least one organization, 86 were members of one. 195 were members of two, 153 of three, 85 of four and 46, five organizations!
A majority of respondents participate in workshops, classes, clinics and private study. In addition to artistic enrichment, conductors are also learning about more arts management topics.
6. Choral conductors maintain a multi-decade commitment to choral leadership.
Over half (59 percent) of respondents to this 2017 survey have been conducting over 20 years. And 41 percent set out to be choral conductors, with results similar to those respondents of the 2005 survey.
When asked if they intended to be in the field in five years, 89 percent of respondents (of all ages) to the 2005 survey thought they would, with 71 percent of those in 2017 believing so. As to being a conductor in ten years, in 2005, 71 percent thought they would remain conducting as compared to 55 percent in 2017.
7.Choral conductors are actively engaged in the arts in beyond choral music.
Choral conductors, not surprisingly, attend choral concerts in their own communities. But they also attend other cultural events such as orchestral concerts, opera, and theater and community arts festivals. They go to museums and attend sporting events, dance and popular music.
Respondents were asked to what charities they might have contributed to in 2015/16, specifically arts and culture. The estimated average charitable contribution was $4,800 to all causes and $2,600 to the arts. Conductors also support their own choruses, with 94 percent donating an average of 7 percent of their income.
Some interesting data, don’t you think? And what DO you think? Next Thursday, I’ll give my thoughts on what Chorus America’s “Choral Conductors Today: An Updated Report, A Comparison of 2017 and 2005 Findings” means to you and me here in the trenches. See you then!