choir retention?
October 4, 2011 7:39 PM   Subscribe

How do I go about getting new members for my choir, or enticing the existing or previous ones to come back this year?

So, as some of you might remember, I run a choir. Things have been good, we did our first performance outside of our city last summer, and are planning another mini-tour to Nipissing this winter. But we're now a month into the season, and I am getting lacklustre turnouts to rehearsals. Quite frankly, it's starting to freak me out - we have commitments to meet, and I'm frightened that we won't have the performing forces to meet them.

For those of you who run clubs, associations and community groups, how do you increase membership and encourage existing members to stick around? I admit, the mandate of the choir is somewhat niche, so I'm never going to see enormous numbers, but surely there is a way to encourage retention?
posted by LN to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total)
Are you singing repertoire that's interesting?? Are the members not caring too much about British/Celtic music anymore? I'm not a singer, but rehearsing incredibly boring stuff gets me to stop caring about or showing up to rehearsals pretty quickly.

I've always imagined choir recruitment to be easier than for women's ice hockey. You guys are pretty visible and audible in performance. Why not do some funky/musically interesting arrangements in public places to get new members? Maybe steer away from Celtic-y stuff, which to me seems extremely narrow (though feel free to correct me) and would appeal to a very small population of people to start with...
posted by astapasta24 at 8:17 PM on October 4, 2011

I sort of run a Playgroup and have a similar issue. Feedback we got was that yes, people were coming primarily for that activity...BUT that friendships and community were what was keeping them
coming/not coming back.
posted by taff at 9:47 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did you introduce new music? Do they like it? Find out how much.

If it's a bit difficult to fall in love with until it comes together, make sure you provide access to a good, inspiring recorded version.
posted by desuetude at 10:47 PM on October 4, 2011

These are just suggestions which you may have already tried, so accept my apologies in advance.

There could be several things going on here. Singers participate in a choir when the social interaction inside it is more fun than the social interaction outside. The most successful choirs I've seen have a membership of about 30-50, which gives everybody a chance to meet someone they like, and that they look forward to seeing at the next rehearsal. Are you having any social events outside the singing that might give people a chance to know one another on different level? Even wine and beer at the local pizza place might start the ball rolling?

Again, as astapasta24 says, is the repertoire not challenging them any more? They may be cutting rehearsals because they secretly believe they know the stuff already and they can wing it on the night. The joke about choirs is that you always get a dozen people at rehearsal: it just isn't the same dozen each time. You may have to get more adventurous, and aim for a broader audience.

If that doesn't work, you may have to bite the bullet and cut choir size down to just the dedicated. Even a quartet can be a lot more satisfying if everyone shares the same interests.
posted by alonsoquijano at 10:53 PM on October 4, 2011

What about the rehearsal times and locations: are they convienent or do they conflict with other stuff in the members' lives?
posted by easily confused at 2:49 AM on October 5, 2011

You could call your former members who haven't shown up this year, let them know they were an important part of the group's success last year, and ask them if they can participate again this year. In my experience most people are a lot more likely to respond to an individual invite rather than an email blast or whatnot.

Ask for feedback. Let them know this is important to you and you really want to see it work, and ask what they think might help.

Do the current group members understand what's at stake?
posted by bunderful at 4:32 AM on October 5, 2011

I don't know how it works in general, but here's my personal experience with choirs:

Reasons I have stayed with choirs:
  • Great people who I enjoy spending time with
  • Related: groups that rehearse near a convenient bar/eatery and have a cohort that goes out after the rehearsal
  • Challenging-but-not-impossible repertoire
  • Music that I haven't sung before
  • Music that I've sung before and love
  • Related to both of the above: Benjamin Britten (seriously, if I am thinking of quitting a choir, all the conductor has to do is declare an all-Britten season and I am IN)
  • Conductors with a clear point of view (and if they're clever, funny, gorgeous, and/or sweet, even better)
Reasons I have left (or considered leaving) choirs:
  • Rehearsals that run over (ugh, if we need to rehearse until 10, let's just say that rehearsal goes until 10, geez)
  • Related: lack of respect from the conductor to the choristers
  • Repertoire that is outside of the abilities of the choir
  • Standards of the choir are not up to my own standards
  • Excessively long rehearsal times for a single concert
  • Not feeling like I fit in other choir members (e.g. being the lone adult in a group of mostly college students; being the lone 20/30-something in a group of mostly retirees; being one of only two or three new members in an established 120-voice choir)
Reasons I know of that people have left or threatened to leave choirs I've run:
  • Time commitment
  • Bored with the repertoire

posted by mskyle at 6:12 AM on October 5, 2011

I sang with a long-established choir for one season a few years ago. I mainly enjoyed it, but I didn't stay with it for a second season. These are some of the reasons why:

1. The time commitment was too large. I joked that it wasn't a choir, it was a lifestyle. I was expected to serve on a committee, participate in fundraisers, attend weekend intensive rehearsals as well as the regular weekly rehearsals, and be a part of sub-groups of the choir that sang at various community events. It was just too much for me, given my other time commitments. A friend who sings in a different choir was astonished at the amount of time, energy, and money that was expected of me.

2. Not one person attempted to befriend me during my season on the choir. Some of these women had been singing together for 20 years, and although much lip service was paid to wanting to expand the choir, no one reached out to me, and when I attempted to join in conversations before and after rehearsal or during breaks, I was, not exactly rebuffed, but let's say not encouraged. I enjoyed the singing very much, but being in the choir was not a pleasant social experience for me.

3. The next season's repertoire was too difficult for me. This might just mean that I was out of my league, but it didn't seem in keeping with the philosophy of the choir, which allowed any woman to join without auditions. I knew from a few long-term members who were old acquaintances that there had been tension in the chorus under the new director, who wanted to push for higher standards of musicianship, which had led some long-time members to leave because they didn't care to work that hard. In my case, it was off-putting to me as someone who was trying to get back into choral singing for the first time since high school.
posted by not that girl at 10:23 AM on October 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, everyone. While I'm not sure some of the suggestions match what I have been hearing from choir members, there are others that are definitely food for thought.

To speak to specific points:
Boredom with repertoire - it is true that the first two performances are primarily rehashes of stuff we've done before, this is the nature of the two concerts. One is an invitation to reprise a performance we did in the summer, the other is a full concert in November, for which I know we don't have time to work up a full new programme.

Skiving off - very likely, considering the first performance is a repeat of one done before.

Branching out from existing repertoire - I have tried this in the past, to be confronted with "buh?" reactions from choir members, followed by "I thought this was a Celtic Choir?". Point is taken, though, as I could certainly branch out within the Celtic genre.

Friendly - Oh yes. We are definitely a silly bunch, with much laughter and camaraderie. We don't do much socializing after choir, though (we wrap up at 9 pm, and some people have a long drive). It's definitely something we could do more.

Repertoire too difficult - point taken. We do a lot of songs in celtic languages, and Lord knows those languages can be incredibly intimidating. I have been trying to mitigate this, but I may need to do more.

Time commitment - I ask 2 hours a week, plus the time for the concerts. I handle the administrative things, so no-one is asked to make the choir a "lifestyle". I do, however, expect people to have reviewed their music (I make mp3s of the parts) before coming to choir.

New music - If I had my druthers, I would have a fresh batch of choir music each year. However, the choir is an unauditioned community choir, so I try to strike the balance between new, fun and challenging repertoire and old favourites. Some of the stuff I introduce doesn't go over well, those pieces get yanked from the rotation.

Time conflicts - this seems to be a primary issue. People fall ill, get pregnant, move away, end up on a shift that conflicts with choir, all those things. I try not to get worked up about it, as I know that life happens. But it seems to go in waves, many people's lives changing at once.

Standards not meeting personal standards - this one is a conundrum. The choir isn't up to my standards, either. But unless people are willing to come back to polish stuff they've learned, we can't get better! Therein lies one of my standing struggles.

Thanks for all your thoughts!
posted by LN at 3:50 PM on October 5, 2011

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