Sunday, September 29, 2013

How to set up a choir if you’re not a choir leader PART 2

Last week, Angela Gracey wrote about the first two key stages of the five involved in setting up a choir: getting organised and having a plan.

choral conducting
photo by Joe Strupek

This week she looks at the remaining key stages: finances, finding someone to lead your choir and your first performance and beyond.

3. Finances - How will you pay for the running costs of your choir?

In the absence of a free room to rehearse in and a musical director who does not charge, your key costs will be:
  1. Room hire - a place to rehearse (unless you have a place for free).
  2. Choir Leader/ Musical Director (MD) fee.
  3. Public liability insurance (PLI) – unless your venue and / or your MD have PLI that cover you whilst you are in their company.
  4. Basic admin costs – printing word sheets, music, setting up a website, advertising flyers and posters to recruit singers.
Your primary, fixed costs are room hire and MD fees, so make sure you know how much these will be each week and work out how you can cover this and have extra income that will cover rehearsal sessions when you have ‘lean’ weeks.

Don’t forget that you also have to pay your MD for performances, so make sure you know how much your MD will charge and ensure that you are able to raise the funds to cover this.

The main income for any choir comes from the choir members / singers who pay a subscription each time you meet.  Work out how much each singer needs to pay each session to ensure that all costs are covered.

A word to the wise: your weekly subs are a very unreliable source of income as one week you could have 25 singers and the next you could have 10.  You need to be sure that you have a constant set income each rehearsal that will cover your key outgoings each time. If you do not get the income to pay for your outgoings then you will be personally left with the bill!

Ideally, you need to start with a small sum of money that will cover the costs of your first six choir rehearsals. In the absence of this financial buffer, ask your singers to commit to paying in advance for the first six sessions, but be aware that this will exclude singers who cannot afford to pay in advance; tread carefully on this issue as you do not want to lose singers because they can only pay one rehearsal at a time.

Funding – to apply for funding from arts organisations, local councils etc. you normally need to be a constituted community group, with a minimum of three committee members (chair person, secretary and treasurer) you also will need to have a bank account in the choir’s name. If you decided to be constituted, you will need a constitution (see last week’s post).

4. Musical Director

  • shared vision – you need a musical director who understands and shares your vision for the choir and who is willing to work with you to shape and follow this vision through.
  • relevant skills – your MD needs to be proficient enough in musical terms to know and teach the music and possess the skills and personality to keep people coming back for more. You don’t have to have someone who is fully trained and already running choirs.
  • good, honest team player – the MD needs to be able to work with the organiser and be able to communicate and be honest with you. Honesty and good communication skills are the bedrock of a good MD and organiser working partnership.
  • make a contract – and write it down!  This is more of a gentleman’s agreement rather  than a legally binding document, but you still need to set your agreed terms and  conditions of working together in writing so that both parties know what has been agreed.

    Make sure that you are both clear on the financial terms and conditions of  your partnership before you start working with a choir and ensure that you both  agree on how you will terminate your agreement with one another.  Make sure that  you abide by the terms of the contract and if for any reason something arises that  means you can’t meet any of these terms let your MD know as soon as possible.

    Agreements and contracts can usually be re-negotiated if both parties are open, honest and flexible.  Equally, if the MD is not keeping to their side of the agreement  make sure that you speak to them as soon as any niggles arise.  Do not allow  anything to fester or simmer for the longer you leave an issue unresolved the greater the issue becomes.

5.   Your debut performance and post-performance work

  • keep it short – aim at doing a 15 – 20 minute performances slot which will need about 6 – 8 songs (of varying length).   Work with your MD to choose the songs.
  • choose venue well – arrange a performance venue that will give you a good audience, as new choir members may well be lurking in your audience.
  • advertise widely – advertise your performance all over your locality as new choir members, possible funders and future performance invitations will be out there waiting for you to let them know that you exist.
  • pick a good pub! – after your performance make sure that you have a social gathering for your choir members and ask them for feedback on how they felt about the performance. Next ask how of them are committed to establishing a permanent choir and hopefully they will all say yes and then you have a regular choir member base. Once this happens you need to re-visit the finances and establish a discount rate for those members who will pay by monthly standing order or by cash in advance each month. This ensures that you will always have a regular income even if  members are away on some rehearsal nights. It also ensures commitment to the choir by individual members.
  • get MD feedback – sit down with your MD and ask them for feedback on the performance as well as on the first few months of their working with you and the choir.  Establish if the MD is happy to continue working with you and the choir and ask them for ideas for the next performance and also ask them to prepare.   

    If the MD wants to move on then you need to work on sourcing a new MD.
  • time to retire? – you need to take stock of how you feel about continuing on as the key mover  and shaker of the choir.  Look at how much time and energy you have you put into the voluntary role so far and assess if you can continue putting this much time and effort into it.   Setting the choir up and having people tell you that they want you to continue running it isn’t enough; you have to want to do it and be able to do it.  
  • sufficient finances? – have you got enough interest and funds to keep the choir running for another six months? 
  • in for the long haul – depending on your area (rural, semi rural, town or city based) your choir can take from 6 months to 3 years to gain a regular, reliable membership base. If those who attend all enjoy it and you can cover your financial outgoings then keep going.  Do not be put off by the large number of people who come once or twice and never come back again; this number is usually much larger than the number of people who stay as a choir member.

Don’t be afraid to ask other choirs in your area or further afield how they set up their choir and seek out a long established choir that is similar in ethos to the one you have established and ask them for advice and support if you need it.

Chris Rowbury’s website:

Chris Rowbury


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