Running a Choir – who’s actually in charge?

Choir leaders

Something very much at the forefront of my mind at the moment is my forthcoming fundraising concert at the end of June. You may have read about it on here or my twitter page, or if you are local in Wiltshire hopefully you might even have seen a poster.  At the moment I am spending most of my time going all over Wiltshire to find as many places as possible to put up posters. Having had 500 printed there are a lot of noticeboards which now need be adorned with the poster!

This whole process has made me re-evaluate the role of the choir leader.  Obviously there are some choirs who are fortunate enough to have active members who take on roles such as “concert promotion”, “ticket sales”, and general marketing.  But by and large for most small community choirs, this is taken on by the choirmaster.  Certainly that is my experience at the moment, although I am hopeful that in my new role as MD of Cirencester Male Voice Choir (more on that in the next post) this may change.

Who does what?

In all the choirs I have been involved in, whether as a singer, accompanist or choirmaster, ultimately the Musical Director is the one in overall control of the choir and everything about it.  The role is broadly similar to a Managing Director of a company.  Yes you may well have a chairman, a sales manager, a marketing manager and a finance manager but ultimately the MD is the one with whom the buck stops.

Ultimately the Musical Director is, as the title would suggest, primarily responsible for the music.  Interestingly as I write I have had to pause my thought process to take a phone call in regard to a potential recording for a Male Voice Choir.  Looking at their contact page, they have the following “Officers” of the choir:

  • Chairman
  • Vice Chairman
  • General Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • Engagements Secretary
  • Overseas Events Manager
  • Commercial Manager
  • Assistant Treasurer
  • Minutes Secretary
  • Publicity Officer
  • Clothing Officer
  • Librarian
  • Transport Officer
  • Archivist
  • Marshal
  • Deputy Marshal
  • Social Secretary

Ironically the Musical Director does not appear on the Management Committee or Contacts Page.  Clearly in this choir the Musical Director does not have to be a jack of all trades as there are plenty of people who have taken on individual roles within the choir. However not every choir is fortunate enough to have such an array of people to perform these tasks.

One of the most important things, not just in a choir, but in any organisation is to have someone who has overall charge of the business. Contrary to how this may read, this is not about a power struggle, rather it is about getting things done.  I’ve long held the belief that decision by committee simply doesn’t work. Committee’s never agree on anything other than compromise.  Any organisation needs a clear direction and in a choir it all starts, and ends, with the music.

Now as we can see from the list above it is extremely useful to have people who have a clearly defined role within the choir. It’s all very well having one person in overall control, but that doesn’t mean to say that one person should do, or indeed be responsible for everything.  To my mind, aside of the choir members themselves (the most important people of all!), there are essentially 4 key roles in a choir.  A Musical Director, an Accompanist, a Treasurer and a Promotions Manager.   Obviously you can sub divide these roles and create micro roles within them, but those cover the 4 main functions involved in running a good choir.  Someone to run the music, someone to play the piano, someone to take the money and someone to find and promote the performances!