Locating Potential Choir Members in the Congregation
  • One of the problems I have had as DM is in locating potential choir members in the congregation. I've tried putting notices in the bulletin, ministry fairs, etc., but nothing is working. Our former DM was the cantor and lead singer with me as pianist, so she was able to look out and scout for potential members. Unfortunately, I am the lone organist now and am stuck behind the bench. I noticed today that there was a lot of singing in the church and a couple of voices really stood out (we have a small sanctuary so it's easy to hear individual voices), but, being on the bench, I was unable to pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. Anybody have any good ideas for me?
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    The easiest is to make friends with someone in the congregation. Even the Priest or Deacon processing up the aisle might be able to pick someone out.

    Talent is good, but better is to talk to people one-on-one and let them know how much you need them and would appreciate their contribution.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    Btw, you need to keep some of those strong voices in the congregation. They can be more valuable in the pews than in the choir stalls. Something some DMs don't realize....
    Thanked by 1musiclover88
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 836
    ...As well as pastors!

    While it's possible to learn to sing well and adapt one's voice to various circumstances. Not everyone has the time or commitment for that. Some voices naturally sound better in a choral situation while others work better as solo voices, and still others are best left for the larger ensemble of the congregation. I'm not saying it isn't possible to cross over, but that some voices just naturally lean one way or the other.

    Still the original question is a good one. I find "recruitment" to be a challenge as well. Being stuck behind the bench, not only do I not get to scout for talent, but it's also difficult to make those personal relationships with the PIPs since by the time I'm done with the postlude I'm left alone in the Church!

    In my experience, my best choral singers have sought me out and have asked to join the choir.
  • As music director in a small EF parish, I've been able, through the grace of God, to recruit over 61 people in 4&1/2 years. We have three choirs.

    One secret: I'm a voice teacher and I mingle with people and listen for resonant speaking voices. Then I pester them (ask about once a month) and pray.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Fantastic point, MaryAnn! I'm glad you point out that this can often be a multi-month (and multi-year) process. Be patient and persistent, as God works in His own time.
  • Thanks, Carl! Speaking of multi-year processes, it took over two years for me to recruit one of our strongest basses, and the director before me had tried for months.
    Every time I heard him talk I'd say a little prayer- sure enough, the young man was born to sing, and says he is having a very good experience developing his voice with the choir, learning the chants, praying the mass more deeply, and using his low, low notes. :)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Thank you for your responses. I am in the process of reforming the entire music ministry in my parish and it's a long road to go. We will be moving to a new sanctuary before long with a loft, and I'm hoping that perhaps those singers who are uncomfortable being on the altar "on display" will step up and sing in the loft. But, again, God works in His own time. It's just sometimes very frustrating to be on the bench all the time, hearing great voices and not being able to locate them. Also, my congregation practically runs out of the church once the priest has left the altar, so I am still playing postludes.
    Thanked by 2canadash SkirpR
  • Why do so many Roman Catholic parishes refuse to spend money on music? They will often hire two or three secretaries/bookkeepers, two sextons, and a pastoral associate but will not engage a full-time music director. Their congregations are--by my standards--huge; yet not one in twenty will spend $50K a year to engage professional choir singers. Volunteer choirs are great, but attaining the musical standards that CMAA is pursuing without engaging professional singers is a truly daunting task.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Well, it's a good question, Bruce, but in my view it's more philosophical than practical. The question is what I, as director, chorister, or organist, can do within the current constraints given. If I want to succeed within a parish that has no budget, there's still lots of things I can do. Or I can seek out a parish that DOES have budget. But in either case, it's my choice to move forward.

    In many forums (not just this one) people use the lack of money/sponsorship/etc. as an excuse to do nothing. I, for one, want to focus on things I CAN do rather than things I cannot. The latter is just frustrating.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,355
    The Episcopal practice of paying professional singers in order to have a choir is a bit of a double-edged sword. The propensity for Episcopal parishes to confuse "Anglo-Catholic, with beautiful liturgical music" and "Protestantish low mass plus non-liturgical choral concert" is (in my opinion) related to the fact most parishes would rather classically-trained musicians, rather than musicians who understand liturgy and would also rather spend $50,000 on paying a handful of professional singers, rather than spending that money on professional development so that the musician(s) can acquire the necessary understanding of liturgical and sacramental theology.

    In any decently-sized parish, there are enough people with decent voices that a good choir director can bring the quality to a pretty high degree, and I don't think it is a "daunting task."

    CMAA's "ideals" (to the extent it has them) can be achieved with one amateur and a copy of the Graduale Romanum.
    Thanked by 1Jani
  • Musicteacher56, who began this thread, did not, apparently, agree with Adam Wood's assertion that "In any decently-sized parish there are enough people with decent voices that a good choir director can bring the quality to a pretty high degree," and that doing so is not daunting task. If what Adam says is true, this discussion is moot.

    I'm sorry if I gave the impression that high musical standards prevail in the Episcopal Church. They certainly do not. And in some Episcopal churches where music performance meets a high standard, the musicians know little about liturgy and care less. Episcopal parishes that maintain high musical and liturgical standards are few and far between. Such parishes, however, are often smaller and poorer than the average American Roman Catholic parish. They simply expend more of what they have on music. It seems to me that if the musicians, clergy, and leaders of almost any Roman Catholic parish were committed to having fine liturgical music, and if recruiting enough skilled volunteers to sing it well proved difficult, they could easily scrape up the money to pay professionals.

    Some Episcopal parishes that have lots of money still have bad music; but in these the leaders like what they have. (Indeed, inappropriate styles of music seem to be gaining ground in the Episcopal Church just as they are losing ground in the RC Church.) I think, however, that when the leaders of an Episcopal parish (clergy, music director, vestry) value good liturgical music, they will struggle to to pay for it more readily than most of their their RC counterparts.
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood CHGiffen
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,355
    I do agree with all of that. It is largely my impression of the Episcopal music world as well.

    If I said anything that seemed out-of-turn, it was likely me projecting other people's thoughts onto yours- I can't tell you how often I hear some version of how great music and/or liturgy is in the Episcopal church (particularly, how "traditional" it is), and I keep thinking, "Really? Where?"
  • WendiWendi
    Posts: 633
    Bruce, this may or may not be accurate...but it is my perception that most people, have the following beliefs about music in the context of the Mass.

    A. good music just happens, anyone can sing, and the music director/choir director only works for that hour during Mass, so they don't deserve to be paid much.

    B. choirs are song leaders rather than having a specific unique liturgical function. (All you really need is a cantor...right?)

    C. music is a nice addition to the Mass, but it's a luxury, an extra rather than an essential part of the Mass.

    These beliefs have a lot to do with why many Catholic parishes aren't willing to spend money on the music. It's not a high priority.

    As usual...YMMV.
  • I'm currently going through this at my parish, with the pastor handing out KRAs( key areas of responsibility) to all staff members. One of mine includes recruiting and expanding the choir so that they can have more options for liturgical function. Wendi's observations are spot on.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,229
    oh, your CHOIR MEMBERS are the ones who should be identifying and recruiting new members. They can hear others in the congregation who sing well. Choir folks can talk to them and tell them what a worthwhile time they are having in the choir etc.
    Also my .02...i dont think that it works to sell the choir by saying " its not thst much extra time...anyone can do it, its easy etc" i think people respond more when they are actually asked make a real sacrifice of time and energy for God. Thats the only lasting reason why people stick with choirs, or any other lay ministry for that matter.
  • May I suggest the spouses/families of choir members may make fine recruiters (or at least candidate finders) as well? Often the choir members themselves are unable to hear or see the congregation any better than the organist or director (especially in a very large parish), but their husbands or wives are often seated out in the congregation, and while perhaps not so musically inclined may at least notice those around them who can sing.

    Broadcasting appeals via announcements or the bulletin does not generally work, rather recruitment must be by narrow-casting methods. Also, if you can catch new members in your parish and extend an invite, people tend to be more open to trying something new before they get too settled in (so look at new registrations, transfers, RCIA candidates, people going through sacramental prep for themselves or their children, etc.).

    All this being said, finding singers is really hard, even if you could pay them it would be difficult to find good ones in many cases, and your best volunteer singers may well be using their talents elsewhere (like the local philharmonic's chorus, because it offers more challenging and engaging music).
    Thanked by 2canadash bdh
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,456
    I think that constant nagging of select people is helpful... and praying for their discernment.

    Also, ask choir members to ask friends who can sing. I have a soprano who joined because her boyfriend's mom thought it would be good for her depression. She isn't even Catholic. She joined and is amazing. She is coming into the faith at Easter and she is bringing a non-practising Catholic friend with her. Amazing the work of the Holy Spirit.

  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Some random/sequential thoughts:
    Nothing breeds success more than success.
    Someone whom you notice sings extremely well in the congregation should be personally invited by you to consider committing that talent, if possible, to the larger benefit of a successful choir.
    If there's someone whom you've noticed or known with a specific worthy talent, and you've asked them without a positive result, accept that there's a reason they prefer to sing from the pews.
    If you are "charged" with welcoming remarks prior to Mass, consider inviting anyone from another parish who's visiting and is a member of another parish's choir to sit in with your choir for the Mass. Can't hurt. If the congregation sees a new face taking advantage of that invitation, they will realize you are not only collegial, but confident in your leadership.
    Back to success- random and general exhortations and invitations may result in some percentage of "odd duck...wing nut" personalities (often with agendae) stepping forward. If that interferes with the discipline of a normal, smooth rehearsal, be prepared to manipulate "social Darwinism" and whether by suggestion or inference help that person to choose to exit of their own volition. Even if that personality is a needed S-A-T or B, if the "karma" is disturbed, success will be impeded.
    Tailor your repertoire to whatever BEST traits and constituency of your choir.
    Beauty will beget more beauty.
    All of these notions are regarding the building of a volunteer choir.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • My choir peeps try to recruit, and one said the response was "but you guys sing such high and long notes." Which we don't particularly. But if people can't imagine doing the music we're doing now, will they be able to handle the music I want to be doing?

    Biggest issue: musically talented young couple sings with you, gets married, has a kid or two and drops out to care for the kid. Great thing in 20 years, but now it's a problem.
    Thanked by 3canadash Steve Q Gavin
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Don't tell them it's easy. Tell them it's FUN. And SO worth the work.
  • My choir does not sing every Sunday, so I ask my choir members to recruit from the congregation also. Once in a while they will come to me and say that they heard a great voice in the pews and told that person that he/she should join choir. So I reply, "Well, did you get the person's name? Maybe even a phone number?" Uh...no.
  • Yes, perhaps I should instead be asking people to give me contact information for people whom they have advised (after they advise them, of course) that they should join the choir. That way, they get it at least twice: once from the choir member who advised them, and then from me when they get the phone call inviting them to join and giving them rehearsal times.
  • Biggest issue: musically talented young couple sings with you, gets married, has a kid or two and drops out to care for the kid. Great thing in 20 years, but now it's a problem.


    Family choir - parents and kids together. You might not be able to do so much musically, but by 8 the kids will know how to read chant, sing simple propers, know the basic masses.... Now think what you will be doing with them in 20 years time.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,456
    I want to begin a "family" choir in my parish.... great idea!
  • A lot of people probably won't agree with my recruitment method...but I basically just stalk out Facebook for anyone I know at the parish and ask them if they want to join. 90% of the people I ask, I have no idea if they can sing at all. I've gotten a lot of responses from people declining because they can't sing, which is fine, but I've also gotten a handful of people to join who have nice voices and are dedicated. And it's really not that creepy to just randomly send a message to someone you barely know. The worst thing that happened was I got a really long message back from one person detailing like, 20 different problems they have with the Church and why they don't go to church anymore. That was pretty weird, but other than that it's worked okay.
    Thanked by 2noel jones, aago bdh
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,456
    musiclover88: I just did the Facebook stalk yesterday. Fingers crossed!
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Cool! You never know what might happen...plus it's a nice non-confrontational way to ask people you don't know very well. When I first started, I made a lot of phone calls to people I knew in the parish, but it got so depressing for me to be rejected over and over again. I think it's easier for people when they're not put on the spot and they have some time to think about it...and a rejection over Facebook is much easier to accept, too.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,229
    Another idea is to have childcare for couples who want to sing but have young children. ive noticed this is very commonplace in protestant churches.
  • Hard to get sanctuary time in a large parish. Our rehearsal time is after any kids bedtime. It's almost past MY bedtime.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 379
    I found this post while doing research on how to recruit new choir members and since the last post was five years ago wondered how your recruiting efforts in your parish are going. What worked for you and what didn't?
    Thanked by 1bdh