Feeling Defeated From Shrinking Choir Membership - And 7 Ways to Adapt

Amanda Carroll Feb 15, 2022

Learn more: member management, chorus management, managing during the pandemic

Wooden dolls, decreasing in size

Editor's Note: Recent research conducted by Chorus Connection has confirmed what many of us have experienced firsthand since the pandemic began, namely declining choir memberships. Beginning today we're launching a series of articles to shed light on that dilemma and hopefully provide solutions and a way forward. This first article acknowledges the loss and presents "silver lining" opportunities to strengthen your choir. Future articles will address rebuilding and replenishing your ranks, as well as singer retention. As always, please share any thoughts in our comments section below. Thank you! Michael Hughes - CMO/Chorus Connection

On a Zoom rehearsal call I attended a few weeks ago, our chorus director told a story about an award-winning choir in our area that has shrunk from more than 100 members to an average of 20 at their weekly rehearsals. The director of this larger choir has been devastated by the lack of participation as the pandemic has dragged on. While all of us were sympathetic to the situation as our own choir is currently at about half its normal membership, I also recognized that all of the choirs I am associated with have seen attrition during the pandemic.

Why are so many people leaving their choirs? Data from the most recent Chorus Connection survey sheds light on a number of reasons:

  • Singers are concerned for health reasons (perhaps especially older members).
  • Singers are mentally and physically exhausted from the past 2 years.
  • Some singers are finding participation in choir less enjoyable.
  • Singers are dealing with family or economic challenges.

There may be other reasons why choir members are leaving, as well. For example:

  • More people are working remotely, so online rehearsals after a day spent in front of the computer may not be appealing.
  • Having rehearsals online simply doesn’t have the same feeling or effect as singing with people in person.
  • Many have been reconsidering their work-life balance, their quality of life, and how they focus on family.

You may have experienced other reasons why your singers aren’t returning to the rehearsal hall. And the truth is…it hurts! These are some of our dearest friends, long-term choir members, those with special talents, and people who have dedicated their lives to the craft of singing!

It’s Ok to Mourn the Loss of Your Choir Members

Some of you may be feeling the sting of choir member attrition severely, and that’s actually ok. Mourn the loss of your choir members. Some of them may return in time, and some of them may not. Just because they aren’t attending weekly rehearsals or getting up on stage with you doesn’t mean your friendships and that family feel have to stop. If there is one thing about music, it connects us and some of those bonds will never be severed regardless of the situations in which we find ourselves in life.

Take a moment. Be sad. Cry. Feel the sense of loss. You might even want to plan some ways to help yourself and your choir members mourn:

  • Put together a celebration of choir members you may have lost to COVID and have a special moment to enjoy their contributions to your organization.
  • Take a trip down memory lane in place of rehearsal one week and watch all of your favorite performances from past years.

It’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to mourn. Now breathe. It’s also going to be ok. No, things aren’t going to look the same; but what if you take a moment to think about the opportunities that are now available?

Small choirMoving Forward with a Smaller Choir

One of the most important things we can do after we mourn the loss of something we love is to move on, but with a fresh perspective. Even though you may have a smaller choir, that doesn’t mean your choir can’t still achieve some pretty amazing things. Here are some opportunities to consider as you look to the future:

Opportunity #1: Get Back to Your Roots

Sometimes getting back to your roots is a great way to assess your future. How was the choir started? What was its original intent? What changed over the years that got it to where it is today? Who helped you along the way? As you ask yourself these questions, you can start to think about whether you want to keep some of these original structural details, or perhaps they can provide guidance on what you need to do next.

Opportunity #2: Restructure Your Goals

Another opportunity with a smaller choir is to look at your goals and determine what makes sense for your smaller choir. This could be in the form of fundraising, the number of performances, type of performances, or the kind of music you sing, for example. Now that you are a smaller crew, can you do something performance-wise that you wouldn’t have been able to do before? Do you need to look at your budget and determine where your financial efforts would be most helpful? Goal setting will provide much-needed direction as you move forward.

Opportunity #3: Teach the Basics

Something I have found interesting over the years with well-established choirs is that they have a hard time helping new members learn exactly what they need to do. In fact, with one choir I joined, I was handed a catalog with 20 years' worth of music and no explanation of how quickly I needed to learn it!

Even if you still have a core group of members that have been around a while, it is likely that you’re going to want to ramp up your recruitment efforts at some point. This is a great opportunity to put together a new member team or program, as well as go back to teaching the basics that help make your choir its best. Even established members can use a refresher of the basics sometimes!

Opportunity #4: Really Listen to Your Members

During my time as Assistant Director of Womansong of Asheville, I learned something very valuable about how the organization operates. Whenever there is a new opportunity or a question about the focus of their goals, they survey their membership and honor their member feedback. 

I have been in other choirs where the directors make all the decisions, and the choir is just expected to show up to perform. I have also been in choirs where the members are asked for their thoughts and opinions, but nothing ever really goes beyond the conversation.

As you consider your opportunities with a smaller choir, I would encourage you to ask your members what they want and honor their feedback. You might be surprised at their answers and the outcomes. Not only will you be garnering trust in your current membership, but they will be more invested in the journey.

Opportunity #5: Collaborate!

Collaboration is more than just getting information from an outside source; it is how we connect and communicate with like-minded folks who love the craft of singing! For example, have you always wanted to work with another local choir on a concert or do a fundraising campaign with a local charity? You might also choose to bring in a coach to work with your choir members on new music or have a guest director stop in to give pointers. Get creative with new collaborations! 

Opportunity #6: Embrace (New) Technology

It might seem like the use of technology is overdone these days, what with remote work and online conferencing. The thing is, accepting and embracing technology could be the thing that your choir needs. Here are some examples of excellent uses of technology from choirs I participate in:

  • Scheduling choir coaching sessions on Zoom from experts who live across the country. 
  • Signing up for a choir management program so music and recordings are more accessible.
  • Redoing the choir website so it is more inviting for existing and potential new members.
  • Using Zoom to invite prospective new members, and as a hybrid option during bad weather.
  • Increasing social media usage to encourage participation.

My questions for you regarding the use of technology are these: 

  • What technology do you have that you could utilize differently?
  • What technology are you missing that would enhance the choir or audience member experience?

Opportunity #7: Reconnect with Your Audience

When I directed my students in their winter concert at the end of 2021, I was shocked by the size of the audience we had in attendance. After two years of having no or limited performances, I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that our audience missed us as much as we missed them! 

Seeing live performances brings joy to our audiences, inspires them, enriches their lives, and brings them hope. As you look at opportunities in 2022, find new ways to reconnect with your audience, because they really do miss you.


The loss of membership in our choirs is sad and can bring about frustrations of all kinds. After two years of wondering what things are going to look like when this whole thing is finally done, there still aren’t very many answers. 

I encourage you to take stock of the opportunities that are available to your choir at this moment in time. I’d also like to take a line from songwriter and vocal activist Melanie DeMore: “You gotta put one foot in front of the other, and lead with love. Don’t give up hope. You’re not alone. Keep movin’ on.”

You can listen to Melanie’s song on Youtube here

You can also find it in print in the Social Justice Songbook here.

What are some new opportunities that your choir has taken advantage of during the pandemic? How are you managing with a smaller choir membership? What is your choir membership looking forward to in 2022? Let us know in the comments!

Help your chorus develop a deeper sense of community

Amanda Carroll

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.

Amanda Carroll