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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Young Conductor VIII - gaining experience 3

More about starting your own group to gain experience (since we learn by doing!):

First, I would check out Chorus America. It's an organization dedicated to the independent chorus--one that has its own board, leadership, etc., rather than being attached to an institution (church, school, etc.). They publish a Chorus Leadership Guide, which gives you an enormous amount of information about the details of starting and running an organization. Check out this preview to see what it offers.
I had a conversation with a young colleague who wanted to start a choir where he'd just moved. These are some of the things I said:
  • What's your passion? What gets you excited musically is more likely to excite the singers you hope to attract! Whether it's renaissance music, barbershop, or gospel, you will have a better chance of success if you choose something you love.
  • You always have to decide if you want a group that specializes (see the examples above) or which does a variety of repertoire. A non-specialized ensemble was often my interest (because I love lots of music and styles), but I also had a group devoted to Bach cantatas. But it may be easier to market to a particular niche.
  • What's the competition in your town/city? If there are already two wonderful early music choirs, what can you offer that they can't? Is there an area not served in your area? A good chamber choir? Perhaps a good large choir to sing with the local orchestra? Try to find a gap and fill it!
  • When you publicize that a new group is starting, you want to give singers a good enough idea of what the group will be to attract singers to it. In the flyer for my first group, shown in the last post, I emphasized potential repertoire and that it was a chamber choir.
  • Publicity has changed since I started that group (social media, for example), but not that much! Flyers (placed where the singers you want to attract will be) can give great information to those who might be interested. The flyer announcing the Bach Ensemble is below (yes, I was crazy and planned to do cantatas twice a month--which we did only the first fall!). But the point for this focused, niche ensemble was made clear. And I was successful in gathering singers (some were from the chamber choir I'd started the year before, who then sang in both groups) and instrumentalists for the project. A harpsichordist/organist showed up and volunteered not only to play, but brought his own harpsichord as well. I got enough string players and a couple very fine oboists immediately. One of the Seattle Symphony bassists came and said he wanted to play, even though there was no money for it--he just wanted to play Bach.
  • Of course, the success of your first concerts (and I hope they're successful!) will mean your singers will want to continue! And it can also attract new singers to your group. Word will get around.
This is just the beginning, of course. But if you have a passion for this and want to grow as a conductor--it's a great way to do it. As I've said before, the Seattle Pro Musica ensembles were my real graduate education. It's an enormously important part of my development as a conductor.
Next time: learning about leadership.

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