Sunday, May 27, 2012

Beginners choir or established choir: time to re-evaluate?

When I started my first ever choir, WorldSong, it was an open-access beginner’s choir and anyone who wanted to sing could join.

practice jan 05 4

Over time, as people stuck with the choir, the singing and the singers got better. We weren’t really a beginner’s choir any more. But beginners still wanted to join!

in the beginning ...

I started a small women’s ensemble on a self-selecting basis: if you could hold a part on your own, then you could join. We kept the numbers at around 12 and worked together for some years. Inevitably singers left, so there came a time when we needed to take on some new recruits. I decided to audition.

However, there were complaints from within the ranks! We originally came together on a self-selecting basis, how can we now have the audacity to audition people? It didn’t seem fair, and besides, it meant that we were somehow ‘better’ than other people.

The fact is, the longer a group of singers stays together the better it becomes: singing, performing, learning, working together, and so on. The group leader will also get better at conducting, teaching, arranging and so on.

beginners groups are a bad business model!

There are lots of groups around these days called things like “Singing for the terrified” or “Singing for fun”. These attract people who lack experience and confidence, but who want to give singing a try.

Over time, confidence and singing ability grow and there usually comes a point when singers look for more challenges. They are no longer terrified, so they leave the group.

That means that such groups will always have a high turnover. If you run such a group, one measure of your success is when people leave. Not a very good business model!

But sometimes the singers in these groups develop at the same pace and want to stay together. But they are no longer a beginner’s group, so what happens if someone wants to join?

Maybe you can split and the original group becomes the ‘intermediate’ group and you start a new ‘beginners’ group.

recruiting for an improving choir

The same thing happens in a big choir. When you first start out you might be a beginners and/ or non-performing choir, but over time you will get better. What happens when you need to take on new recruits?

You’re not recruiting to a beginner’s choir any longer and you have to be aware of that. The bar has been set higher so you’ll have to be more selective, maybe even audition (even though the choir was originally open-access).

And this doesn’t just apply to performing choirs. Even if you never perform, the repertoire you learn will have become more complex, singers will pick things up quicker, there will be greater sensitivity between singers, people will understand things like harmony at a deeper level. If beginners walk into this, then they will flounder or be disruptive.

can you keep moving the goal posts?

Now you’re an intermediate, or even advanced choir, where do all the beginners go?

When you first started out, your choir was maybe the go-to place in your area for people to start out singing. But where will those people go now?

One option is to start another group which will act as a feeder choir for  your more advanced choir. You can work with this beginners group until you feel they are up to speed enough to join the main group.

The trouble with this model though is that, in the meantime, your main choir have developed even more skills and the beginners will never catch them up!

Perhaps the solution is to trust that someone will always be starting up a new choir in the area as they try out their fledgling choir leading skills.

what’s your solution?

Have you noticed the improvements and skills development in your own choir? If it’s been running a long time, do you realise that it’s changed it's nature? Has that been acknowledged?

How do you recruit new members? Have your recruitment criteria changed over the years? How do you deal with ‘beginner’ singers who want to join?

Do leave a comment. I’d love to learn from you experiences.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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