If you’ve looked around lately and noticed that the landscape of your choir is changing, you aren’t alone. Many ensembles are faced with changes big and small this year. These changes might not only be related to the singers you have standing on the risers but could also include a transition in the board of directors or leadership team or the identification of new needs within your chorus.
How do we implement these changes with the right kinds of support and communication? Changes in communication can be subtle or feel drastic and sometimes leave people feeling uncomfortable or confused. Communication breakdowns can cause singers and other stakeholders to feel left out or uninvited to the conversation.
How do you communicate about the changes your choir is making without creating friction? How do you include different stakeholders, so they feel they are a part of any necessary choir modifications? What can be done to ensure your choir’s transitions are as smooth as possible?
Strategy #1: Implement Changes Slowly When Possible
While it might be exciting to roll out an entirely new plan overnight, the truth is that it takes time for most of us to adjust to any changes in the status quo. It’s important that whoever is leading the way with your choir’s updated plans communicates details thoroughly but implements major shifts in action and mindset gradually.
The more planning and communication that goes into change implementation, the better all stakeholders will feel about adjustments as they occur. Early development, planning, and transparent communication will help everyone during a significant transition. In fact, it might seem like the implemented modifications are easier to manage and stakeholders come together to support the changes.
Examples of how to roll out changes slowly:
- Choir Retreats - Host a choir retreat where a new director and singers can have a Q & A and generally get to know one another before rehearsals start. Choir retreats are a good opportunity to discuss changes that may be necessary, or already in-progress, and get feedback. Everyone in attendance now has advanced notice of any changes and is included in the process as changes occur.
- 90-day Plan - The leadership team sets specific calendar dates for rehearsal changes, such as a 30, 60, and 90-day plan. This is an ideal way for the leadership team to communicate about changes so they aren’t implemented suddenly from one week to another. This goal-setting opportunity helps leadership know how quickly or slowly to implement a change and communicate accordingly with singers.
- Donor Notifications - Notify your donors early about upcoming changes to fundraising or sponsorship opportunities. This is especially important if your choir has changed the way they fundraise during COVID - taking time to explain to donors how fundraising opportunities may affect them.
Strategy #2: Include Stakeholders in the Conversation
Ensuring smooth transitions, whether to a new conductor or leadership, changes within the organization and beyond, it’s crucial to identify the stakeholders involved and affected by the change and to include them in the conversation. Multiple types of stakeholders are part of any choir, including singers, volunteers, music and artistic directors, board of directors, donors, audiences, and community members.
Once you have determined who needs to be included in the conversation, plan to invite those folks into your choir’s discussions about changes so they feel comfortable, confident, and part of the upcoming changes.You’ll need to create messaging and talking points to help navigate the finer details of communication.
Examples of how to include stakeholders:
- Facilitate a round-table discussion with singers about what they need and want from a new director BEFORE the position is posted online.
- Bring current board members together with community leaders to set goals for creating a more diverse and inclusive board.
- Plan a meeting with volunteers a few weeks or days ahead of a performance to discuss logistics and expectations for setup and break down of merchandise, ticketing, risers, props, and other essential items.
- Send an email blast to audience members about changes to performance venues, seating, masking requirements, or ticket sales.
If you aren’t sure how to start the conversations that are needed, consult a peer organization to see how they approached that particular issue, or consider hiring a consultant for guidance.
Strategy #3: Encourage Feedback
Encouraging feedback from your choir and stakeholders is one of the best things you can do when implementing changes. Not only does this encourage ongoing trust and transparency within your choir, but it also ensures that you discover things that are working and might not be working with the new changes.
While receiving feedback can be scary for many people, it’s critical not to leave feedback out of your communication plans. The responses you receive may be the most essential information you receive from stakeholders about changes within your choir! Otherwise, how will you know your changes and adjustments have been successful?
Examples of how to seek feedback:
- Survey your audience members electronically about venue accessibility, programming selections, and ideas about how your organization can serve them effectively.
- Hold exit interviews with staff, board members, interns, and volunteers and ask them for open and honest feedback about the organization.
- Let singers know you plan to invite feedback at the end of designated rehearsal and set the stage for an open dialogue by asking open-ended questions and be realistic about the time needed for everyone to weigh in. (Be sure to note who hasn’t spoken up and give them a chance to share as well!)
- Conduct a board of directors self-assessment to let your board members share how they feel about the effectiveness of your board.
Strategy #4: Communicate Consistently
Have you ever been in a situation where you were told a change was coming and never heard about it again until it suddenly occurred? Then you know firsthand just how jarring it can be. Whatever new changes are on the way for your choir, it’s essential to communicate consistently to avoid an unexpected uncomfortable situation.
Communication about changes aren’t going to be the same for every issue. For major changes or issues, create a simple communications plan. Identify the stakeholders and determine the major points along the way where you will share key information. You can even let your singers and / or stakeholders know when you will be communicating new information with them.
It may seem tedious to communicate regularly about changes for your choir, but it will be well worth the effort! Communication instills trust in your stakeholders and it will help to make transitions within your choir go more smoothly.
Examples of consistent communication:
- Weekly or Biweekly Announcements - These can take place at the beginning or end of rehearsal. Some things are better said in person (if you anticipate a lot of questions) and some are best over email (relaying logistical details where fewer questions are expected).
- Countdown Reminders - With the change(s) on the horizon, share reminders that the change is coming at the 90-day, 60-day, 30-day, 1-week marks to help bring everyone along and reduce surprises.
- Email Blasts - Share relevant information about changes -big and small- with your audience whether it's an update on your conductor search, new concert venues, new singers or staff, new board members, new partners and more.
- Board Minutes - Share a summary of board meetings with singers or make board minutes available to stakeholders.
- Follow Up - Did the big change happen and it feels like no one noticed? When in doubt, follow up and share the results with stakeholders. If appropriate, consider inviting feedback.
Transparent Communication Benefits Everyone
If you are a music director, leadership team member, chorus committee leader, volunteer, president of a choir board of directors, or have any responsibility within your chorus, transparency in communication is essential.
Transparent communication fosters a healthier choir environment and helps build trust with decision-makers. Frequent and open communication also gives stakeholders more confidence when volunteering for particular roles or taking on new tasks, which is healthier for the choir as a whole.
If your choir has been accustomed to doing things the same way for many years, you know the difficulty that comes with changes. While COVID certainly made change necessary for many choirs, it can still feel uncomfortable to continue to implement changes as things transition to the “new” normal. Fortunately, taking small steps with improved communication can make changes easier to manage until something new begins to feel like it has always been the practice.
How is your choir handling an upcoming transition? What forms of communication do you find most effective? Let us know in the comments!
Amanda Carroll is a former middle school chorus and general music teacher in North Carolina. She is a member of Carolina Style Chorus and Sweet Adelines International and is a non-performing member of Womansong of Asheville. She has Master of Music and Master of Public Administration degrees from Appalachian State University. Her background includes singing with large and small ensembles, as well as solo work and teaching private lessons. Amanda is passionate about creating meaningful concerts and connecting with the community through performance.