We always say that "choir is for everyone," but is it? Think about that costs we pay for choir. If we add it all up - the music, the dues, the travel expenses, the costumes, the time - it's a pretty big financial commitment for most people. And most likely every chorus has lost a member or a potential member because that person couldn't afford to join.
When working towards equity in our choruses, the financial impact on our members is an important consideration. In order to make choir fully accessible for everyone, we need to start taking steps to make it more affordable.
Designating a certain amount of the chorus budget towards member scholarships can go a long way in the fight for financial equity in our choruses. Financial need-based scholarships are a great stepping stone. Consider not only scholarships that cover member dues but also money for costumes, music, or other choral-related expenses. Scholarships for students or retired persons on a fixed income might also be good options. When considering scholarships, keep in mind that finances are a sensitive issue and should be handled with confidentiality and care.
The act of paying for transportation to and from chorus can be enough to dissuade someone from joining a choir. Consider working with the local transportation department to receive discounted or donated passes for use by members. If budget allows, offer an amount to be reimbursed to members or purchase tickets outright for distribution.
On-Site Childcare During Rehearsals and Performances
Childcare is expensive. Add this to the cost of being in the choir itself, and forget about it - parents are out! Providing on-site childcare is a great option for families who can't come to choir because they don't want to leave their children at home alone or are unable to afford childcare. Consider offering an internship opportunity to a local college's child development program. This intern would gain experience for their resume while also being a cost-effective approach for the chorus. Another option is to allow choir members to bring their children to the rehearsals. Though this may not always be practical, it can certainly help ease the burden for parent singers. Try a "bring your kid(s) to rehearsal night" for a trial run!
Offer Food at Rehearsals
Some people may be foregoing work hours to be at choirs, so trying to provide additional resources like food, transportation, and childcare can help offset that forfeiture. Consider healthy food options during rehearsal breaks. Look for a local grocery sponsor to donate fresh produce, 1-day old items, or food that they would otherwise be thrown away. Or ask for member volunteers to bring weekly refreshments.
Tiered Membership Dues
Consider membership dues that are tiered by self-reported income. This can help subsidize choir dues for the members who need it most.
Tiered Concert Ticket Pricing
We've talked a lot about making choir financially accessible for members. But what about the audience? Providing tiered prices for tickets or donation-only entrance fees can help make choir concerts more accessible for every audience. By having high ticket prices, we are potentially closing the doors to people who would enjoy choral music but can't afford the cost of tickets.
Transparency About Choir Costs
Transparency about the costs to join a chorus is particularly important when recruiting new singers. Every member should know the approximate costs of not only member dues, but all other choir-related expenses such as music, costumes, travel, etc. before joining the choir. Knowing up-front can help members plan their budgets ahead of time, relieving a lot of the financial stress.
Manage Expectations for Volunteer Hours
Choruses often have a strong volunteer base running their operations, from fundraising to ticket sales. Some choruses even have a specific requirement for their members to donate, fundraise, or even sell a certain amount of tickets. But consider how this affects persons with low-income, a family to raise, or someone working multiple jobs. Not everyone has the time, the network, or money to contribute more than they already are by singing in the choir. This is a great burden to put on them. Instead of making these tasks required, try to incentivize them instead!
Alternate Rehearsal Schedules
Not everyone works a 9-5 job! It's darn near impossible to find a practice time that works for everyone and even more impractical to constantly be changing rehearsal spaces. But it's a serious factor to consider when trying to make our choruses as accessible as possible. Try alternating rehearsal schedules, or finding alternative ways of learning music for those who can't make every rehearsal.
Not all ideas will have an immediate solution. But if we put our heads together and get creative with our efforts, we can do our best to make choir truly for everyone!
Have other ideas? Let us know in the comments below!
(Thank you to Tiffany E. Cook, Training and Professional Development Program Coordinator, Office of Diversity Affairs, NYU School of Medicine for helping me develop these ideas!)
Tori Cook is the former Director of Sales & Marketing at Chorus Connection, an active board member of the Greater Boston Choral Consortium, and a soprano with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. In a past life, she was the Music Director of the Harborlight Show Chorus and President of Chorus pro-Musica. When not making music, she daydreams about adopting a golden retriever puppy and scuba diving to exotic locations around the world.