This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as What is it that you do exactly? in June 2007
Last week I was bemoaning the fact that we only get small, mainly elderly audiences at our choral concerts. I’m sure there is an audience out there for what we have to offer, we just need to get them into the venue.
Over the next four weeks I want to look at how we might attract bigger and better audiences to our concerts:
- identifying what your choir does
- describing what we do
- letting people know
- 20 ways to increase your concert audience
This week I’ll consider the need to identify what it is that your choir has to offer. In following posts I’ll look at how you can go about describing what it is that you do, and then how you can get that information out there.
As an example, I’ll start by considering what the choirs that I lead have to offer. What is it that my choirs do exactly? Sometimes it’s easier to say what we don’t do!
this is what we DON'T do ...
- we don’t sing classical music (well, actually, we do sing the occasional ‘classical’ song – like Plaisir d’amour – but the bulk of our repertoire is not the typical Western classical canon).
- we don’t sing pop songs (well, actually, I recently taught Elbow’s One day like this, and I have tried versions of U2 and the Beatles, but it doesn’t make up the bulk of our repertoire).
- we don’t sing folk songs (well, actually, we do sing some English folk songs, although not many – and usually the arrangements are a little unusual (check out our version of Searching for lambs) – and most of our foreign songs could be said to be “folk” or traditional).
- we are not a gospel choir (well, actually, we do sing quite a few gospel and spiritual numbers although we are not a church choir).
- we don’t sing close harmony or barbershop (I’m not even sure what “close harmony” means! But as soon as you use words like acappella – which simply means singing without instrumental accompaniment – people immediately assume we sing barbershop).
- we are not a religious choir (well, actually, we do sing many religious songs – who said the devil has all the best tunes! – but we are definitely a secular choir).
- we are not like the local choral society or parish singers (now that is true, especially in the sense that we don’t stand in neat rows identically dressed with books in our hands).
- we don’t do songs from the shows or easy listening music (that’s true too – mainly because I don’t like musicals!).
Basically, we don’t fit neatly into any boxes.
... and this is what we DO do
So what is it that we do do, and why is it important?
We sing unaccompanied songs in harmony. That is, we don’t involve musical instruments, and most of the time we’re not all singing the tune in unison.
We sing songs from all around the world (in the original foreign language), usually from cultures and traditions where there is a strong harmony tradition like Eastern Europe, New Zealand, USA, South Africa. That is why we hardly ever do songs from Asia or South America: they simply don’t have a harmony singing tradition (see Why don’t you sing songs from India?).
That’s also why we don’t often do British or Irish folk songs. Although there is a harmony singing tradition in this country, songs are often delicate and story-driven so don’t really work (in my opinion) with a large choir. Same with pop songs (see Why choirs shouldn’t sing pop songs).
no common points of reference
Now we know what we do, the trouble is it’s hard to explain it to potential audiences for our concerts.
I’ve tried many different ways over the years, but we still get audience members saying things like: “Oh, that’s what you do ! I really enjoyed it”. How come they were surprised? Hadn't we explained what we do before they came? We know by now that if we just get people along to our workshops or concerts that (usually) they really enjoy themselves. The hard bit is just getting them through the door.
Most people just don’t have the reference points for phrases like world music or acappella or unaccompanied harmony singing.
There was a time when we could refer to adverts on television. At one point Ladysmith Black Mambazo (male South African singers, sang with Paul Simon) were used to advertise Heinz baked beans, and the Bulgarian state women’s choir (made a famous CD called Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) were used on a car advert. But it’s not happened recently.
So for concerts we rely a lot on word of mouth and friends bringing people along. For workshops, I went through a period of designing several more populist, accessible workshops just to get people singing in harmony (e.g. ABBA, Beatles, gospel, Paul Simon). Having got people along and introduced them to the joys of harmony singing, I can then slip in the odd Balkan song without them noticing!
What would be the equivalent for concerts? Should we pander to our audience, or just do what we do and hope that attracts them?
what does your choir have to offer?
I’ve written about what my choir does and how it’s difficult to find reference points for describing it to the general public. But what does your choir do?
Before you can promote your choir and try to increase your audience, you will need to identify a clear type of thing that your choir offers. It’s what modern jargon calls a ‘unique selling point’. Identifying what it is that your choir has to offer an audience is the first step to selling it to them.
Next week I’ll look at how you can begin to describe what your choir does in a way that a potential audience can identify with.