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New Choral Consortium Explores Common Ground
by Christine Hoffman for Vocal Area Network
Posted September 26, 2003

Choral Consortium meeting 9/13/2003A recent insurance study finds that 71% of drivers sing while they are in the car. Chorus America reports that as many as 28.5 million people sing in about 250,000 choruses nationwide. According to Vocal Area Network's Choir Directory, there are about 150 choruses in the five boroughs of New York City alone. It would seem natural, then, that an initiative to raise the collective consciousness in the metropolitan area regarding organized singing would find fertile ground. On Saturday, September 13, 55 representatives of 37 of these New York City choruses met to begin to explore ways to work on areas of interest and concern faced by choral groups in the Big Apple.

A kernel of the new consortium, organized by Jack Daly Goodwin, Music Director of the New York Choral Society, was gathered over the summer to discuss the common problem faced by the large choruses upon the merger of Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic. Constituents quickly realized they had more diverse issues in common than the "Carnegie Hall Problem" and discussed the possibility of continuing a formal alliance of some kind. Goodwin then met with representatives from Chorus America, a service organization whose mission is "to strengthen choruses and increase appreciation of choral music so that more people are enriched by its beauty and power." The national organization pledged its support in helping to make the New York City group a strong presence, as it has been involved in similar efforts in Boston and in the San Francisco Bay area.

On the 13th, Goodwin opened the meeting with a brief history of choral cooperation in New York, beginning with "Interchorus," a group of large symphonic choirs who met sporadically and whose goal was to avoid overlapping repertoire and scheduling conflicts. He also cited various newspaper articles that reported recent trends toward cooperation over competition in industry, and suggested the importance of a similar shift among singing groups in New York.

This new, as-yet-unnamed group, by consensus, put marketing, audience development and diversification, and fundraising at the top of the list of topics to be discussed at its first gathering.

Bob Rainier, President of The Dessoff Choirs, moderated the discussion on audience development, including audience demographics and surveys, member sales quotas, data tracking, ticket prices and discounts, and educational outreach efforts among the choral organizations represented. A major theme of the discussion was how to reach the larger audience beyond friends and family, and how the consortium might approach the issue of changing the attitude of the New York City musical "establishment" towards choral singing.

A second discussion, led by Richard Pace, President of the Oratorio Society of New York, focused the group on topics related to fundraising. A major source of charitable giving to local choruses, just as in the discussion on ticket sales, was found to be the singing members themselves and their personal contacts. Speakers stressed the importance of knowing where singing members work and whether their employers sponsor matching grants; some companies match dues and some even match the value of time spent contributing to a non-profit organization. The wide range of funding strategies among members ranged from logo merchandise and bake sales to program advertising to planned-giving campaigns pitched to singing members by outside consultants. The GuideStar database (www.guidestar.org) was recommended as a registry of non-profits that can facilitate online giving.

Mark Junkert, Executive Director of The Collegiate Chorale, led the group in its third discussion, on marketing and the wider issues of community relations and perceptions. Speakers stressed outreach and educational efforts as a way to gain presence in the community and ensure a pipeline of singers and audience members for the future. Participants asked searching questions: As choral singers in an "opera town," how do we communicate the value of choral singing? How much do we ourselves value our participation? What makes choral performance a vital presence in some communities and not in others? This may be an area that benefits from the expertise of the national Chorus America organization and its various member surveys.

Before closing its first meeting, the group broke into three fairly arbitrary "affinity groups" based on chorus size, giving similar groups a chance to meet more individuals and identify issues pertinent to their own types of choruses. It is hoped that the affinity groups will meet on their own to develop specific agendas, reporting to the larger group at its next meeting, to be scheduled sometime in February or March.

Although listservs and other electronic tools will make communications among New York City choruses easier, there was wide agreement on the value of face-to-face contact among the leaders of all types of singing groups. Wherever the consortium finds its own voice, be it in small meeting rooms or city-wide choral festivals, those present enjoyed embarking on a new choral voyage.

Author's note: Evites to the first general meeting were issued in August using data from the Vocal Area Network Choir Directory, but the group is not meant to be overtly exclusive. If your group is a chorus in the five boroughs of New York City and you would like to be included in the consortium, please send the pertinent information, including the name, address and size of the chorus, with contact information for your artistic and/or administrative representative to Christine Hoffman at ch.hoffman@verizon.net.

Christine HoffmanChristine Hoffman is Music Adminstrator at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. This is her second article for Vocal Area Network.

Content Contact: Christine Hoffman.
Revision Date: January 16, 2003.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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