Designing a Choral Scholar position
  • I have the approval and support of our pastor and PAA to explore the option of adding a Choral Scholar position to our music ministry next year. We're thinking that we'd offer a scholarship ($2500-3000) distributed monthly for 9 months of service at our Thursday evening rehearsals and two Sunday Masses, with the potential to be paid an extra stipend for additional cantoring duties as needed. We'd look for an undergraduate student, hopefully one looking for experience in liturgical music and possibly the desire to become a liturgical musician themselves.

    Have any of you implemented or used a similar program? Any advice?
  • One thing that might be an additional incentive would be to coordinate with the college(s) to see if it is possible to have course credit for participation in such a program... maybe as an elective. If you can demonstrate techniques covered in rehearsal that map to items in a syllabus, it is conceivable that they would be willing to grant some credit. Now there is value-add beyond the compensation.

    In my last choir, we considered this approach. We didn't actually implement such a program (we started getting voices from within the parish, there was push-back on paying, etc.), but I think it could be done. We would have listed items like use of sol-fege; count-singing; aspects of chant and modern music theory; etc. that would have become bullet items in a course equivalent.

    The other thing to be aware of is that you may well lose these students at key times in the liturgical year - Christmas and Easter for example - if they travel home. Something to at least be aware of.

    Good luck with implementing your program - please provide periodic updates on your experiences to the forum!
    Thanked by 1SingerLady
  • That’s a great idea. Thank you!

    Yes, we considered we’d be losing them at certain liturgically busy times. I was thinking about building in a certain number of excused absences to be used at their discretion, with a timeline for when I would need to know about them. I have a few reliable ringers I hire at Christmas and Easter and could possibly contact him now to do that as needed.
  • This practice has been in place in our choir for some time. There is a local music school (University of South Carolina) of some quality, which tends to generate decent candidates. We get both undergraduate and graduate students.

    A few remarks:

    1. Although it stands to reason that one would lose them to traveling home at Christmas and Easter, in practice it has only rarely happened for us. Of course, availability would be something to explore with candidates prior to signing them on. More often, the issue arises that they have numerous other gigs at these times, with the corresponding rehearsals, and it can be a trick to get them all at *your* rehearsals during those seasons. They do often go home for a while right *after* Christmas, as well, which is less of an issue for us.

    2. Alas, some undergraduate students have not yet absorbed the meaning (or at any rate, the practice) of professionalism. We learned the hard way that it is important to emphasize (and find ways to insist upon) preparedness and timeliness.

    3. They will likely be amongst the youngest members, and yet are, in some musical sense, expected to be leaders, at least in the sense of being strong singers. Different young men and women will react to that dynamic in different ways. Be prepared for the range of possibilities, here, many of which are not difficult to imagine, some of which are difficult to handle both gracefully and effectively.

    The remarks above are focused on warnings, but overall the program has been a wonderful part of the music ministry in our parish, and very effective at improving the quality of the choir. In addition, the vocal scholars get exposure to chant in a way that simply does not happen in many music curricula. I would rate the program a success all around and I encourage you to try it.
    Thanked by 1SingerLady
  • I am, in fact, part of such a program--with the exception that the choir it forms is all-professional and not mixed with any amateur singers from the church community, which instead form a separate group that sings at separate Masses (although occasionally we join together for larger events). The pay and commitment is roughly as you describe in the OP. No course credit, though.

    The advantage to this is that we can regularly perform high-level repertoire on a weekly basis without much rehearsal time and to a high level of excellence. However, I often believe that something is lost, not necessarily by failing to include members of the community but by failing to create a sense of community within the choir, whose members often jet off to other commitments immediately after Mass and who are mostly non-Christian. It becomes yet another job for many of them, as opposed to a true commitment to the Church as it is with community choirs or even mixed choirs in other denominations I've experienced--and I believe that sense of community service, whether paid or not, should be central to any church choir.
    Thanked by 2cmb Carol
  • Having implemented such a program in my church about eight years ago, I can echo most of what Michael Dickson said. Just a few things I've learned from experience:

    - The older folks in the choir love having young people there. I don't sense any resentment that they're getting paid while the volunteers aren't.

    - Having a conversation with potential choral scholars beforehand is a good'll get a good sense of how motivated they are, whether they'll be a good fit for your choir, etc.

    - We started off by paying a fixed amount per month, with the understanding that I would make a deduction each time they missed a rehearsal or Mass. Unfortunately, this had the effect of making me the bad guy. (You can't be at rehearsal because Grandma died? Tough!) After a few years we switched to paying them per service. While this didn't make a noticeable improvement in attendance, it at least does put the onus on them to show up if they want to get paid.

    - Get something down on paper: if not a written contract, at least something that outlines what you can expect of them, and what they can expect of you.

    - At the outset, you would be wise to inform them of the decorum expected of them during Masses. At one point I had two sopranos who thought it was fun to pass notes back and forth...and this was in full view of the congregation.