Making chicken salad out of…well, ya know…

Making the best of bad situations is sometimes easier said than done, but in the case of Covid-19-related disruptions to personal, professional, and spiritual lives, we’re all having to adjust to changing circumstances daily.

For choral musicians, uncertainty reigns as we are transitioning from the chaos of the end of the spring semester and turning our attention to a 2020-21 season/school year that may not include choral music as we’ve known it our entire lives. This was brought into clear focus when the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) in conjunction with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) produced a webinar that sent shockwaves through the choral community in early May, 2020.

While we are justifiably nervous about what our jobs might look like, especially since most of us are at the mercy of decision makers above us in schools, churches, and government offices, we are not entirely powerless. While the phrase goes, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit,” we can certainly be gathering the ingredients while we wait for the excrement to pass.

This downtime could be a great opportunity for us to be creatively considering opportunities for our choirs that we might not otherwise have time to PLAN and coordinate.

Thesis

Choirs expect to prepare and perform four concerts each year (fall, Christmas/holiday, midwinter, and spring), and our audiences and administrators share the same expectation. If that’s the baseline, what more can we offer our people to keep them motivated, and ourselves challenged?

Proposed Possible Projects

  • Tour
    • Choirs love to travel, even if the destination isn’t tropical. Find a choir within driving distance and partner to share a concert, or do a ‘home and home’ where you travel to them one year and they come to you the next. This allows you to pool resources to hire instrumentalists if you’d like, and certainly affords your singers an opportunity to perform some repertoire that might not be suitable for a single choir (like a Mass or other multi-movement work).
    • If you have funds and time, a regional, national, or international tour can be an incredible opportunity for a choir to bond, and these types of travel create lifelong memories for our singers.
  • Record
    • Professional recording projects can really galvanize a choir. The intensity of the preparation required to get a stellar recording (which we all want) is great for building discipline and cohesion within a group. While CD’s are a little 1998, YouTube is in the palm of everyone’s hand – literally. That said, professional engineering averages about $200/track for audio recording, mixing, and mastering, making CD production and sales a possible fundraiser to offset your recording costs. Alternatively, you could just go the free route and make your own audio recordings to post online, though I would recommend having someone create a picture slideshow of images that relate to your piece – watching a choir stand on risers and sing isn’t the most visually-engaging for viewers – and you are almost guaranteed to have someone in your choir who has the video editing skills to do this for you.
    • Recordings are also useful for auditions for state conference performance opportunities.
  • Guest Artist/Commission
    • When we think about commissioning new pieces, big-name national composers usually come to mind: Eric Whitacre, Z. Randall Stroope, Morten Lauridsen, and others. And while those well-known composers bring excitement and a guarantee an incredible piece of music and an even better live experience if you can bring them in to be with your choir for the premier, the financial costs are higher, and their availability to accept new commissions is generally years out. The good news is you might have some time now to plan for a 2022 event that features a new piece written especially for your choir by a name they’ll all recognize.
    • But large financial investments and two or three years of waiting aren’t necessarily required. Composers all over the country are working every day to bring new music to our ensembles, and are equally worthy of our commission dollars. Even better for us, we can get quality, new, custom music for our choirs at a fraction of the price of those headliner names.
    • In either case, make an effort to bring the composer to your performance for a residency. Two days is enough for your singers to interact with the composer, get their feedback in rehearsal, and to interact casually. Ask them to give a pre-concert talk, and if they’re a pianist, consider asking them to accompany the premier.
      • Pro tip: get a frame and a mat to give as a gift. Frame the concert program and have your singers sign the mat as a commemorative memento for your guest artist.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but maybe some of these ideas will spark other thoughts in your mind as you think about how to maximize our time away from our choirs as we dream, and then PLAN for incredible experiences when we are reunited with our singers.

I’d love to hear your ideas! Email me at matt@iammatthill.com or find me on social media!