Monday, May 30, 2016

Choir committees and how to handle them 1: what is a committee for?

Many choirs have committees. These are usually made up of choir members and exist to help the choir run smoothly.


At least that’s the idea, but sometimes things can go wrong and your committee can become a hindrance. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your committee.

I thought this was going to be a short post when I started, but I’ve realised that there is quite a lot to say so I’m splitting the subject into three separate posts.

you don’t have to have a committee

Unless you particularly enjoy having a formal structure or you’re going after funding which requires a constitution, etc. there is no need to have a committee. Many choirs are run entirely by their musical directors (that’s what I do) or have informal teams to help with the running of the choir. See Does your choir need a constitution?

committees can take different forms

There’s the ‘usual’ kind of committee that a formal constitution requires: it has to have a certain minimum number of members and include ‘officers’ such as chair, treasurer and secretary. The committee members usually have a set term and new member are voted in at choir AGMs. The exact formal requirement depends on your particular constitution. Some constitutions are very loose and easy whilst others can be much more complex and formal. Go for the simplest that suits your circumstances.

You can also have a ‘committee’ which is not formal at all, but created to help support the running of the choir. I had one I called a ‘steering group’ (actually I decided to call it ERIC: “everyone’s really informal committee”) which helped when I handed over the choir to a new musical director. But it could be a loose gathering of choir members to help with something specific like the Christmas party or concert refreshments or researching new concert venues or helping with publicity.

how to form your committee?

If you are required to have a committee by your constitution, then that will dictate how you go about forming it. There will be elections from time to time and committee members will need to step down after a specified number of years. There will also usually be a gap before they can stand for re-election.

If you have an informal ‘committee’ then you need to think hard how it is formed.

If you ask for volunteers you might get the ‘usual suspects’, i.e. those people who are always first to step up and volunteer for things. They might not be the best candidates and also they might prevent other choir members who are a bit slower at coming forward but who might be really good in the role. See Ask not what your choir can do for you – ask what you can do for your choir

Another solution is for all choir members to take turns at being on the committee as part of their responsibility as a choir member. Maybe for just one year (although that can create problems of continuity).

Alternatively, your musical director (or a trusted small group of choir members) can select people to be on the committee. The danger in that is it is not democratic and can lead to power distortions within the choir.

make sure the committee knows its responsibilities

Whether it’s an informal group or a committee formally created through your constitution, there have to be clear guidelines about what responsibilities it has. It’s no good having a vague or unsaid understanding as that’s when things can go wrong!

One possible tricky area is the dividing line between artistic decisions made by your musical director and practical decisions made by your committee. Who decides repertoire? Choir costume? Concert venue? See Whose choir is it any way?

The other danger is when the committee is just not doing its job properly and leaving too much of the practical work to the creative team.

next week

Next week I’ll be writing part 2: when committees go bad. Then the following week I’ll finish with all the advantages of having a good committee. Stay tuned!

Do let me know if you have any particular questions regarding committees and I’ll see if I can answer them in this series of posts.

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Chris Rowbury



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