Rebuilding a choir
  • The lockdown has hit all choirs very hard. My own choir has not been immune to this, however - I now find myself in the position of having lost my best (and pretty much only) bass who is moving out of the province, and my members aren't able to commit as they used to. Perhaps this is because I run a very traditionally-flavored program - but in any case, I find myself having lost the gross majority of my choir.

    I would leave the church and find work elsewhere, but I know how much it took to build this choir, and in all honesty, there is some sentiment to it for me as well as it really was the first choir I was ever a part of, and now having taken it over as the director, that makes it much more poignant for me. The only problem, however, is that I am not currently paid... which is something that I do need to rectify (assistance on this matter would be appreciated, although that is not the focus of this thread).

    Although our diocese has asked us to refrain from choirs at the moment, I still think that a choir would be nice to have once restrictions ease. I also very much enjoy the community aspect of the parish choir. I have seen what is possible with even just volunteer choirs and I aspire to make this the finest choir in the city (a long shot, but with some effort and recruitment it would be possible).

    So, I come to you to ask for your guidance on how I might recruit in these times. I have had professional choirs once or twice, but to do this on a regular basis is awfully expensive, and I would only do that for special occasions such as Christmas or Easter.

    We are currently limited by the fact that we have no bulletin, and that, even with the typical "mention in the homilies" and "make announcements" tactics, we do not get many people for recruitment.

    Assistance, and prayers most especially, would be much appreciated.
  • I should also mention that if any of you find yourselves in the Oakville Ontario area and are looking to sing, please let me know, and I'd gladly have you (once restrictions ease, that is). Or, if you live around the area and are interested in participating in the choir, let me know as well.
  • I've had a few occasions to invite specific people to sit in on our practices for Christmas carols and even simpler Christmas chant (e.g., Jesu Redemptor Omnium, not propers) - once they experience the joy of choral singing, it's not unknown that they ask about getting more involved with choir
    Thanked by 2GregoryWeber bdh
  • The deterioration in participation in your choir is a major problem, and will limit the chance of you being paid. Priests do not see participating in a choir as a money-maker for them and they should. But they should and do recognize when a choir gets smaller and smaller.

    I'd suggest contacting each former choir member with a gentle survey asking their advice, and inviting them to send it back unsigned. Sometimes that problem is us and not them and it is better to know what they really think.

    I think that that would be a step forward.
  • Carol
    Posts: 694
    Noel Jones' advice seems sound and I don't think he meant it as criticism. We tend to fill in the blank without information and you may have jumped to the wrong conclusions.
    People may be so discouraged about not singing at Mass that they are just dropping out rather than feel that they are useless at this time. My husband and I were just talking about choir today and wondering if we want to resume running the choir whenever we are allowed to sing at Mass again. This break we didn't ask for makes us think about whether we want to keep going when we are allowed to resume singing OR do we move on to something different.

    The prima donas who show up only for Christmas and Easter can demoralize those who participate all year long. Especially if solos given to these occasional members, which is hard to accept, even if they are more skillful- human nature being what it is, it's hard not to feel "dis-ed"
    Thanked by 3Elmar kenstb bdh
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,153
    While we only have a cantor and organist to sing at Mass,our choir has been meeting for rehearsals for a couple of months. We have had our weekday evening rehearsals off church property for many years, and have a meal afterwards. Many places allow extended social bubbles, so why can't the choir be a social bubble?
  • My choir was mostly vulnerable sector, older people. So it makes it difficult for them to even leave the house at all.

    Any thoughts on starting a music fund? For the occasional professional choir, and to help pay most musicians.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,468
    Casavant, I wish I could help. I'm in a bedroom community and it is SO DIFFICULT to get people to come and sing. sigh...

    I decided to have lots of kids and they are my ringers now. It took about 20 years. lol...
  • I decided to have lots of kids and they are my ringers now. It took about 20 years. lol...

    There’s an Anglican Use Ordinariate priest who, during the cancellation of public Masses for the Triduum, was still able to have fully sung liturgies in his house chapel. His son served, and his wife and daughters sang all the propers and ordinaries.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,364
    A lot can be done building around an SATB core group of staff singer/ section leaders.

    I feel there is still a lot of fear at the the moment, and that things will change for the better in many places before Christmas.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,563
    Kathy... does that mean after Nov 4?
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    Casavant, I understand how you feel. I've convinced myself that this is yet another opportunity to do my best work. I have been in contact with my singers via email since the lock-downs began. Usually once a week. It's important to lift each other up regularly because so many of us have had real issues with feeding our families, paying our bills and being ill. Thank God my singers and I are all healthy. The singers miss the mass, the music and each other. There is a lot of depression going around and many of us (especially myself) aren't sleeping well. There's a lot on our minds, but this has been an opportunity to draw closer to Christ and to each other.

    I think that rebuilding a choir will be difficult for a little while, but you can begin by examining your loft or chancel for options with spacing. Even though you have lost singers, stay in contact with them. I have lost singers in the past who were having difficulties at home or work or with their faith. Patience and persistence have helped them to return and be faithful members again. I never delete former singers from my emails, and it reminds them that whether they sing or not, they are members of our parish community and they are cared for.

    I have set up the choir loft for social distancing once we are allowed to have choirs again. It seems to me that with proper precautions we should be able to offer music at mass even now, but here in NYC many folks are still terrified. I'm thinking of dividing my choir for Christmas and having quartets of singers serve each mass with me. The problem for us is that everyone looks forward to Mass at Midnight and I don't have the heart to separate them for that celebration. To make it up to them, I'm thinking of taking them caroling this year. It's outdoors and we can do it for fun. Don't give up on those singers who have taken a step back. Stay in contact with them, and most of all pray for them.

    Thanked by 3Drake CHGiffen bdh
  • These are no doubt trying times, and I would just say that it can be difficult to recruit even in good times. But this... this is different. So, while I don't think you should completely let things go, do keep in mind that it may require a little more time before you can get back to normal. Sad times for choirs...
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • I have some ideas with the caveat that this is not the time to recruit, IMO. This is a maintenance period the way I see it.

    I would talk to each person that left and be open to their answers. I found myself losing a few members after beginning this position. I found some decided a new director was a good time to transition, some hadn't song since their favorite director left years ago and had a habit of coming back for a time to scope out each new director, and for some it was me- but it was good to hear in any way.

    The best recruitment is ALWAYS a personal invitation. I have invited people I have personally heard and only one has joined. By far, the most recruits I have gotten were from invitations from Choir members. Oftentimes it is a confidence issues. Sometimes it's a shyness issues. Each of those are remedied by a friendly face inviting them.

    As for the community aspect, are you able to do zoom calls at all to stay up to date in each other's lives? Or an email every couple of weeks to see how they are doing or keep them up to date? For my elderly I would email them personally or call to check in with them. Even that may go a long way.

    Good luck but know this is going to be a marathon and we're going to be rebuilding when COVID is over. I'm not sure how useful it is to try to rebuild in the middle of a hurricane.
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 377
    We have kept in contact over the summer by having a virtual choir, and this might be a way to ease back in when people are allowed to sing in church again. I send out practice parts of straightforward hymns etc and people record themselves and send the results back. Everything is put together using a free programme called Audacity. Some folk have done everything, others take part when they have time. Now (in the UK) we are allowed just one cantor and one instrumentalist at Mass, so the cantor sings a plainchant introit and Communion plus the psalm and alleluia. A couple of our pre-recorded hymns and sometimes a short homophonic motet are played over the sound system. The important thing is to keep things simple. So far it's working well, so we're hopeful it will keep people involved until such time as we can get back together as a live choir. I've tried to attach a link one of our efforts as an example. image
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,153
    I have been told we can have 5 singers in our loft from this Sunday... and a number of our singers have been singing in other choirs at Mass for a couple of months now. The rules in the U.K. do not appear to be consistent!
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  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 377
    We are in Scotland, I guess that makes a difference. Nicola likes to wait and see what Boris does and how successfully (or not), then act accordingly. We're still restricted to one singer. If you down south don't have any Covid spikes we might be allowed more cantors.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Liam
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,153
    Just had a further update it is a small number, the organist has arranged for 5 at the English Mass (as they can socially distance). For the Latin choir we have less of a problem as many of our singers share a breakfast table with each other.
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  • Officially we are only allowed one cantor, but unofficially we have had choirs of up to 10. I just did a wedding (at a different parish) with a 10-piece choir. So who knows what it will look like. People are willing to break the rules, but the people I have don't want to even leave their homes.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,373
    " People are willing to break the rules, but the people I have don't want to even leave their homes."

    Which is more of a concern for you?
    Thanked by 1Richard Mix
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,373
    Viola once again illustrating the sense of Scots. In New England, the northern trio of states (Vermont, New Hampshire and especially Maine) has a similar view of the southern trio (Massachusetts, Connecticut and especially Rhode Island, which is in the penalty box for now). The Canadian Maritimes are thanking heaven for the border for a change, instead of cursing it.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,563

    What ARE the rules? (don't even try to figure that out... won't be possible...)
  • We are permitted a cantor, or a "small schola" (number unspecified) as long as distancing can be maintained. Masks must be worn or singing "booths" (for lack of a better term) must be constructed for the cantor, or they can sing without a mask, if they can be positioned at least 20 feet away from anyone else and facing the back of the church / away from the people. *eye roll*

    This Sunday was our first with a small schola with five (six if you include me) and it was delightfully refreshing. We sang a small motet during the offertory and did plainchant with english texts for the propers. I've already received a few complements although I'm told the psalm text didn't make it over the balustrade. It's a bit difficult for five non-professionals to get clean diction on a good day, let alone smothered in masks... so I'm not surprised. Still happy to have some semblance of normalcy, however.
    Thanked by 3Elmar GregoryWeber bdh
  • Wow. That is actually harsher than our restrictions. The official restrictions from the insurance company say that a distanced choir is permissible. But the diocese has not allowed it thus far - although, one of the major churches of the diocese has a choir each weekend (distanced) and no one has complained so far.

    I suppose that it's a bit discouraging for me since that choir is also in the vulnerable sector (mostly), so perhaps it's a cultural thing.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • My choir was (is) small and many are high risk as well. Up until a few weeks ago, we couldn't even have a cantor masked in the church; they had to sing from an isolated room/booth via mic. For months it was just me alone in the cry room. A cantor 12' away with a mask is a tremendous improvement! Having the schola this past Sunday was positively divine.

    But then I read about other states/countries where full congregational song has been permitted this whole time and everything is just fine... and I sigh that the lawyers have so much sway. I don't fault the bishop for wanting to be cautious. I really don't; but it's time. As with many things covid-related, I'm for choice. Don't want to sing? Don't sing. Don't want to come to Mass because you're high risk and there's a dispensation?  Don't come; attend via livestream. Want to come to Mass but don't want to attend a Mass where there is congregational song? Come to one of the other Mass times where there isn't singing. But not permitting singing at all? It's tiring, especially since it's an essential part of the fabric of the liturgy.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,373
    Well, it's easier to have congregational song in places where (1) there was a long enough severe lockdown and little subsequent evidence of continued spread, and (2) where spread is difficult by nature of sparser population spread out over wider area and where the pandemic never had gotten a significant enough toehold. The earliest toeholds in urban areas were worst hit because spread was able to occur undetected for several weeks until there was enough information to correlate and identify. It's not that complicated.

    And blaming the lawyers is not right. They are giving advice based on necessary assumptions and facts about what they are asked to advise. They don't make the decisions.
    Thanked by 1Elmar