At this point, every choir director, chorus member, board member, volunteer, advocate, and supporter feels a sense of loss as performances have been canceled over the past several months due to COVID-19. In times like these, it can be easy to have an internal dialogue that says, “Without performances we are nothing.”
But is that really true? Are choirs nothing without performances? Why do we truly sing? Do we have a purpose without performance?
Why Making Music Matters
As I was thinking on the topic of why choirs sing and my own grappling with the loss of performances this spring, I had to address my own personal "why". As I made my list, it became clear to me that performances were only a small part of my answer. Here’s my personal "why" list (in no particular order) of the reasons I’ve joined choirs and continue to participate in them:
- For my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health
- For friendship and camaraderie
- To advance a local cause or mission
- To educate myself and/or the audience on topics of importance
- To entertain and be entertained
- To bring joy to myself and others
- To share a passion
- To say an important message through song
- To collaborate with community partners
- Because it is fun
- For positive community recognition
- To bring about positive change and/or advocate for others
- To explore a new musical style or method of singing/performing
- To surround myself with “my tribe” of people
Not one time did I find myself saying, “I sing because it’s all about the performances.”
Yes, performing is an important part of why I am in a choir, and I love having the opportunity to share this creative art form with my friends and audiences; however, it is not my first (or second or third) “why”.
Finding Purpose Without Performance
Ok, so even though we know our “why” of singing goes deeper than just performance, it doesn’t change the fact that performances are still important.
Performances are events at which we make memories, show our special skills, shed light on important topics, do meaningful work, raise money, and so much more! So, how do we achieve our why if our performances now must be modified or are non-existent? I have a few suggestions to think about with your organization:
- Involve choir members in the planning process. Having choir members participate in the planning process is a great way to find out where people stand personally and professionally, and also create a sense of purpose and motivation. Your choir’s mission cannot be achieved without your singers on board!
- Review your mission statement. It is likely that your organization’s mission statement says a lot about what your choir is trying to achieve. What opportunities can you create that will help you reach your goals? Do you have community partners or local advocates that can help you with your mission in a new way? How can you give back to the community through modified or non-performance opportunities?
- Do a SWOT or risk analysis. SWOT is short for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. Choose a couple of different performance options or community event opportunities and do a SWOT or other risk analysis to see what might be most practical for your choir. This is a great choice when you need to work through different mission-driven performance solutions with your board members!
- Try something new. Have you heard the old saying, “Just because that’s the way it has always been doesn’t mean that’s the way it should always be”? Exploring new performance opportunities may provide some interesting new insights into how you can have an amazing performance season in future years. Let the changes to performances now inform your future successes.
- Get inspired! Do you see other organizations doing something amazing? What’s stopping you from giving it a try yourself? There is no better time to use your “why” to advocate for, recruit to, and support your organization, whether or not performances are part of that equation.
Additionally, the Chorus Connection team has done an excellent job of exploring different approaches to performances in their 2020-2021 Season Planning Guide. You’ll find a little piece of all of the above suggestions there. If you haven’t read it, definitely check it out!
What is Your “Why”?
For most choirs, performances are the how, NOT the why of singing. COVID-19 gives us a unique opportunity to be as creative about our “why we sing” as we can be. I’ll leave you with a few questions as food for thought:
- If you take a look at your organization and its mission, what is the real "why"?
- What can you focus on that helps you meet your mission without the standard performances you’re accustomed to?
- How do your choir members perceive their "why" now that performances are changing amidst COVID-19?
- How can you partner with other organizations to achieve your mission, with or without performances?
Does your choir have unique ways it is achieving its mission with modified or non-performances? Do you have a new approach for your 2020-2021 season? Tell us about it in the comments!
Amanda Carroll currently teaches middle school chorus and general music 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. She is passionate about creating meaningful concerts and connecting with the community through performance.