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7 ways to hold onto your choir members: why retention is more important than recruitment

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    I often hear choirs asking how they can recruit more members.

     

    photo by Laura LaRose

     

    But if you hold onto your existing members, you won’t need to recruit that often. Here are some of the reasons why singers might leave your choir and what you can do to stop it.

    It’s inevitable over time that singers will leave your choir. There will then come a point when numbers are low enough for you to start a big recruitment drive.

    But what if you could hold onto choir members better? After all, you’ve trained them up, they know the ropes and they like what you do, so they’re very valuable assets.

    Why do singers leave choirs? Here are some of the reasons and a few ways that you can persuade them to stay.

    1. singers’ circumstances change – they move away from the area; they have a new work commitment which clashes with rehearsals; they die or develop a serious illness; they become unemployed and can’t afford choir subs; they start a new family and simply have no spare time; they become a carer for an elderly relative. The list goes on.

      SOLUTION: there’s not a lot you can do if somebody dies or moves away, but in other circumstances you can make doubly sure that attending choir is such an attractive proposition that people are prepared to move other commitments around so they are free to come. Make coming to choir their priority.
       
    2. the choir’s circumstances change – often for reasons beyond your control you need to change the rehearsal venue, or the day and/or time that the choir meets, or the choir’s weekly subs increase (maybe funding stops or the venue increases their rental charge). This is not what singers signed up for and the change in circumstances might be a deal-breaker.

      SOLUTION: before you make any big changes consult with the choir to see if there are ways to minimise the impact.
       
    3. you don’t deliver what you promised – when you first start your choir you are offering a vision of what that choir will be. Maybe it’s a rock choir or a non-auditioned choir or a singing for fun choir or an acappella choir. People will sign up because you’ve told them what to expect. If you don’t deliver, then they will understandably leave.

      SOLUTION: make sure your choir does exactly what you’ve told people it will.
       
    4. you move the goalposts – your choir might have been going for a long time and become very successful. But then you decide to try something different. A non-auditioned choir becomes an auditioned choir. A singing for the terrified choir becomes a choir that performs regularly. A choir that learns by ear suddenly requires singers to sight read.

      SOLUTION: nothing stays the same and it’s good to change things now and then, but make sure you do it in small increments so that you take the choir with you. It might also be an idea to consult the choir or at least give them fair warning and explain to the singers why you’re making the changes. Most singers like a challenge and you’ll probably take most of them with you.
       
    5. you stop trying – we all get jaded from time to time even with the best job in the world. It may be that you take your eye off the ball and stop trying as hard as you did when the choir first started. Singers will pick up on your lacklustre approach and begin to get bored themselves. And if it gets too samey or not interesting any more, they will leave.

      SOLUTION: it takes a lot of energy to run a successful choir. Don’t rest on your laurels. You need to put the time in and come to choir with fresh ideas every single week. If you’re really getting jaded then get some input from outside (the posh word is: continual professional development). We all need to be fed. If it’s terminal then maybe it’s time to hand the job over to someone else. Nothing lasts forever.
       
    6. you don’t nip problems in the bud – it often goes unnoticed by the choir leader, but there can be seriously catty stuff going on between singers, even bullying. It’s your job to make sure everybody is happy and that there is no tension within the choir.

      SOLUTION: at the first sign of any problems – whether it’s a singer’s attitude towards you or whether it’s tension amongst your singers – deal with it. If you leave it too long the problem will get bigger and singers will leave.
       
    7. big changes at the top – if a choir has been going for a long time there will inevitably come a time when there is a change of musical director and/or the choir committee membership changes radically. The temptation is for a new broom to sweep clean and bring in all kinds of new elements. This is the best way of alienating your singers!

      SOLUTION: If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. This choir has been working successfully for a long time so don’t come in and change the formula overnight. As in “moving the goalposts” above, any changes you want to make should be small and incremental. Be patient.
       

    I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons why singers might leave your choir. There are also bound to be loads more clever solutions to the reasons I’ve outlined above. Do drop by and leave a comment if you’ve other examples.

    Basically, make sure your singers are happy and they will stay with you. Good luck!

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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