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Crash Course in the "Business of Choir"

Repost from ChoralNet - click here to read original article

by Emily Williams Burch & Alex Gartner

Picture the eager undergrad. Just starting freshman year, a nervous excitement envelops them as they begin their first day of coursework. Ahead of them lies a colorful, four-year list of classes. Courses in conducting, teaching methods, and applied voice top the charts. The path to being a choir director is taking shape!

Fast forward several years and they’ve landed themselves a first-year teaching job in a high school. They have their syllabus and repertoire prepared and they are ready to meet their students and begin making amazing music together. This is the dream!

Meanwhile, the emails start pouring in. The administration starts scheduling meetings and training. Parents call in confused about the upcoming concert logistics. Your uniforms are worn out, but you don’t have the budget for new ones. It’s so overwhelming!

At the onset of our careers, we subscribed to the notion that the music would be enough. We’ve since recognized the necessary-yet-tedious administrative elements of leading a choir can sometimes eclipse the pure joy of choral singing. How can we usher that joy back into our careers?

Before we can reignite that spark, we must acknowledge that the “business” side of running a choir is underrepresented in collegiate music education and choral programs–and this is understandable—there are so many classes we already need to take! It’s no wonder that these on-the-job skills are given less attention than other necessary competencies required to be a successful choral director. Still, the administrative workload of running a choral program nearly always seems to get in the way. It can cause intense feelings of frustration, jadedness, and burnout.

So, in the absence of that Accounting in the Arts and similar classes in your undergrad studies, what’s the solution?

To take control of the administrative side of running a choral program, we propose three steps (all of which are explored in more details in the new book The Business of Choir,published by GIA).

First, you need to clearly define your choir’s value. How do you communicate what you do to folks outside your classroom? It’s easy to speak about choir in a room of like-minded people, but what concepts, experiences, or hooks can you use to share the value of choral music with those who might not intrinsically understand? By talking about choral singing in a way that makes it meaningful to the listener, you can begin to peak their interest and gain their support.

Second, you need to nurture your own choral community. This leadership comes from the top (a.k.a. YOU). How do you show up in your rehearsals and concerts? How are you perceived by your students, parents, volunteers, colleagues, and administrators? When we take stock of our own leadership, we can begin to amplify our choral culture.

Lastly, you need to spread the good news of your choir far and wide! What stories and images about your choir are circulating in your community? What data do you have at your fingertips to showcase your program’s success? You might consider using marketing tactics and formal evaluation tools (surveys, skill checks, etc.) to begin to understand and communicate the impact your program has on the lives of your singers and the community.

Value. Community. Impact. These are the three main building blocks of choral organizations that can be transformational. When a choral leader is supported by a strong organizational backbone, they create a space for choral singing to be met once more with joy! Additionally, only with that backbone will the resources exist to create meaningful collaborations and make impactful advocacy effort.

Want to learn more about the “business” of leading choral organizations? Check out Episode 110 of the “Music (ed) Matters” Podcast to hear more about a new resource available the choral field: The Business of Choir: A Choral Leader’s Guide for Organizational Growth (available through GIA Publications). On the podcast, co-authors Emily Williams Burch and Alex Gartner explain the book’s contents, how it can be used as a resource, and discuss the importance of advocacy and collaboration which are required to keep our choral profession strong.

Watch the Music (ed) Matters podcast episode on Youtube:

Dr. Emily Williams Burch chairs ACDA’s Advocacy & Collaboration Committee. Dr. Burch has served in various positions for ACDA at the state, regional, national level in a variety of roles, including co-programming chair and honor choir coordinator for the Southern Region ACDA conferences since 2014. You can subscribe to her podcast for music educators wherever you get your podcasts, or at

Alex Gartner serves as the Artistic & Executive Director of the Pensacola Children’s Chorus in Pensacola, FL. Under his leadership, the organization has grown to impact nearly 25,000 individuals throughout northwest Florida, including over 5,000 youth, through innovative programs, performances, and organizational practices. He also serves the American Choral Directors Association as the Children’s and Youth R&R Coordinator for the Southern Region, is an all-state coordinator for the Florida Music Education Association, and previously served on the national arts education council with Americans for the Arts. Find out more at!

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