Volunteer chorus members in a professional chorus- what`s it like?
November 21, 2016 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of joining (as a volunteer) a professional chorus that performs with the local symphony opera.

Their website states that the chorus is composed of 50 professional singers and 80 to 100 volunteer amateur singers.

I was wondering if anyone has experience with this and if so, how many practices per week do you attend? Is it fun to be a part of a professional chorus as a volunteer, or do you only get to sing the boring parts? Does the schedule work around a full time day job? anything else I should know?
posted by winterportage to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
In my experience, groups like this usually practice once a week for no more than two hours per rehearsal (with more rehearsal time required the week of the performance). Now, I've never been in a group that had both professional and volunteer singers, so I'm not sure how the choral sections would be divided in your group. Depending on what pieces the group is performing, however, it all could be fun. And if you're truly a volunteer, I'm sure the conductor would be flexible with your rehearsal time as it relates to your job.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:11 PM on November 21, 2016


Plan for ample practice time on your own. You may have to pay attention to, and practice, performance aspects you may not be used to, like the precise rate and shape of a cresendo or rubato, or the precise way to pronounce final 't' sounds, or the precise color of an 'a' vowel -- all this all the way through a song. This is in addition to potentially more difficult music.

Your chorus may be different, of course (I was in the ASO chorus with Robert Shaw in the 90s).
posted by amtho at 12:35 PM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm currently in a symphony chorus (not an opera chorus) in a medium-sized city. There are about 150 singers in the chorus; in the past there have been singers paid as "section leaders," but I think that we've moved away from that recently to an all-volunteer model. The fact that I'm not sure should tell you something about whether the volunteers and paid singers are treated differently.

Rehearsals are one evening a week for a couple of hours, and the time is used very efficiently. (The orchestra is unionized and gets overtime if the rehearsals run long, so the conducting staff is quite disciplined about keeping to the clock; this discipline extends to rehearsals where it's only the chorus.) As amtho says, expect a mixture of ensemble practice during rehearsals and assignments of things you'll need to work out during the week (e.g. "we've just spent twenty minutes figuring out this tricky counterpoint --- go through it on your own this week so that next week we start from where we are now").

Concert weeks can be stressful. We typically do three concerts in a series, Thursday/Friday/Saturday or Friday/Saturday/Sunday. During a concert week we'll typically have three rehearsals instead of one: a rehearsal with the orchestra conductor (who's a different person than the chorus conductor) and piano accompaniment, then a hash-it-out rehearsal with the orchestra, then a "dress" rehearsal with the orchestra. (The chorus and orchestra don't do the "dress" rehearsal in formalwear, but the opera may treat you differently.) All of this happens in the evenings because most of the chorus folks also work full-time, but six late evenings in a row can really wear on you. There are people in the chorus who use vacation time to relax their work schedules during concert weeks; since the concert schedules for the fall/spring season are typically announced nearly a year in advance, you get plenty of time to plan for decisions like this.

I've interacted with folks who have done this sort of thing in other cities and my experience seems typical. I 100% love doing it. Go for it.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:01 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've only ever sung with choruses on the "mostly volunteer with a few paid singers" model, but my impression of choruses with a higher percentage of paid singers is that none of the singers rely on the chorus for their sole source of income; it is expected that even the professional singers will have other jobs/gigs, and even non-musical "day jobs."

Actually I take that back; right now I guess I'm singing with a small chorus that is about 30 volunteers + 10 professionals, and we tour with a professional orchestra. I think if anything the professionals get stuck with the crappy parts of the music because, you know, they're getting paid. Working with union musicians is indeed great for breaks, but the chorus doesn't always get as many breaks as the orchestra and even the paid members may be on a stipend or honorarium system rather than the union hourly pay that orchestra members are probably getting.
posted by mskyle at 9:19 AM on November 22, 2016


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