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Starting A Choral Tradition


Guest Patrick Coleman
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Guest Patrick Coleman

One strand of our growth strategy is to re-create a choral tradition within our still fine liturgical worship. For this we need a realistically paid DoM with the time to devote to it (rather than just keeping on expecting sacrificially devoted people to give up their spare time). I think this is a potentially very exciting project, and could become self-financing by generating enough growth, but... finance declined in the past along with congregations, and there is a need for cash to start it all off with. Not many rich benefactors in this part of the world, so:

 

Has anyone already done something like this, and willing to share tips?

Is anyone aware of charitable foundations &c that might consider 3 or 4 years of supporting such a project?

 

Hope to get some positive help from this, but it should generate some interesting discussion anyway! :angry:

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Guest Lee Blick
One strand of our growth strategy is to re-create a choral tradition within our still fine liturgical worship. For this we need a realistically paid DoM with the time to devote to it (rather than just keeping on expecting sacrificially devoted people to give up their spare time). I think this is a potentially very exciting project, and could become self-financing by generating enough growth, but... finance declined in the past along with congregations, and there is a need for cash to start it all off with. Not many rich benefactors in this part of the world, so:

 

Has anyone already done something like this, and willing to share tips?

Is anyone aware of charitable foundations &c that might consider 3 or 4 years of supporting such a project?

 

Hope to get some positive help from this, but it should generate some interesting discussion anyway! :)

 

I think you might find it difficult to secure funding to develop a choral tradition directly but it may be possible in context of, say, an after school club for children where you were offering music-making opportunities.

 

I ran a project in a church on a council estate a few years ago where we developed an intergrated music programme involving the local community which included developing a choir for the church. To get children involved in the choir we put on workshop and courses on music tech (software creation), Rapping & M.C.ing, as well as offering guitar, drums, voice tuition and doing Pop Idol/X Factor type competitions.

 

We were lucky because we were able to secure funding from our community centre trust and had a member of the congregation who gave a very large donation. We also got help from the local secondary school providing some resources. But we got NO help from the church at diocean or higher level and the RSCM were not interested or any help whatsoever. We found the Young Choirs organisation who provided us with singing animateurs for workshops very helpful indeed.

 

Our project wasn't aiming for a choral tradition but to encourage a partnership of music-making between the church and community. We achieved a good treble line (boys and girls) and three gained the Bishop's Award and we trained up some adults for the ATB parts.

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But we got NO help from the church at diocean or higher level and the RSCM were not interested or any help whatsoever.

 

My experience too - neither the Anglican Church nor the RSCM seem in the least interested in supporting a choral tradition at the parish level. There is this horrible mindset that choral music is not politically correct 'today' and that they would be quite happy to see it slowly phased out of the church altogether. Locally, I find the RSCM desperately unambitious - a few 'bring and sing' Crucifixions each year plus the odd trebles course is all they can manage - and the all-things-to-all-musicians approach that the HQ have simply means that they don't seem to achieve much worthwhile. I've heard a lot of serious church musicians say that the RSCM is simply no use, and I can see why they would say that. As for diocesan music - ours is run by a guy who seems to be a talented musician, who nonetheless seems fixated on 70's choruses and Iona stuff. The annual diocesan music day is dominated by pop/folk/gospel with the only 'classical' contributions being a half-hearted nod towards simple choral settings for the musically challenged. :)

 

Patrick:

I tried to do something similar, but it ended up being a battle between musicians/clergy and the choir/PCC, who frankly would go for anything that involved derailing the vicar's ideas. I tried to find external funding, but as I guess you found, very few secular organisations will even consider church-based projects, very few church organisations will consider 'luxuries' like choral music, and very few choral music-supporting organisations have the funds for anything more than a set of cassocks. I wrote meaningful and carefully-thought-out letters to various organisations, and the only replies I got were in the negative. In my situation, I planned to seek out generous individuals and possibly bequests to get the ball rolling, and hope that it was successful enough to attract funding later. As it was, I left, thoroughly dishearted because I couldn't take the abuse and attitude from the choir and PCC, but I feel that we could have had something very worthwhile. I wish you the very best of luck - the hard work is always worth it!

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Locally, I find the RSCM desperately unambitious - a few 'bring and sing' Crucifixions each year plus the odd trebles course is all they can manage

But (I have to ask) is this the RSCM's fault, or are the churches/choirs to blame? If the RSCM did offer events that promoted the sort of music and standards we would like to see, how many takers would they get? It's a bit like yelling into the wind.

 

I tried to find external funding, but as I guess you found, very few secular organisations will even consider church-based projects, very few church organisations will consider 'luxuries' like choral music, and very few choral music-supporting organisations have the funds for anything more than a set of cassocks.

Playing devil's advocate, I wonder why we should expect it to be any different. The Friends of Cathedral Music gives financial assistance to cathedrals, but it can only do so because there is a fairly limited number of them. How many thousand parish churches are there and how would you go about financing all the organists who, if money were available, would inevitably come cap-in-hand? Let's say you were running a scheme for such churches. How would you make the money go round? Your criteria would have to be very stringent. You would probably be looking for such things as a clear strategy and vision for the music, a clear exposition of how this would be delivered (convincing enough to give you some confidence about a successful outcome) and, above all, evidence that the congregation are behind the scheme - probably to the extent of having already coughed up most of the money. Inevitably you would only be able to fund a minority of the requests, leaving a trail of resentment which would ensure that attempts to raise money to keep the scheme going would quickly founder.

 

My pessimism is legendary, but I fear the long-term future for liturgical choral music depends ultimately on a change in culture and a resurgence in the appreciation of the high arts. Will that ever come?

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Guest Cynic
One strand of our growth strategy is to re-create a choral tradition within our still fine liturgical worship. For this we need a realistically paid DoM with the time to devote to it (rather than just keeping on expecting sacrificially devoted people to give up their spare time). I think this is a potentially very exciting project, and could become self-financing by generating enough growth, but... finance declined in the past along with congregations, and there is a need for cash to start it all off with. Not many rich benefactors in this part of the world, so:

 

Has anyone already done something like this, and willing to share tips?

Is anyone aware of charitable foundations &c that might consider 3 or 4 years of supporting such a project?

 

Hope to get some positive help from this, but it should generate some interesting discussion anyway! :)

 

 

In short, yes.

 

In this case I do not hold the answers you need, but my wife probably does. During her time as DOM at Holy Trinity, Stroud she stacked the young adult division with Choral Scholars on a fairly small budget using sponsorships from one or two charities and some local businesses. I suggest you e-mail me direct and I'll forward your questions to her.

 

IMHO The critical thing if you're trying to build a proper tradition is to get youngsters to stay on when they might usually leave the choir (typically, school year 9). Where there are a decent number of older kids around, the younger ones can see that this is a thoroughly respectable activity. More and more, kids value the opinions of older kids more than they do those of teachers, parents etc.

 

A lively treble department will soon attract singers on parts, especially 'in the valleys'!

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My experience too - neither the Anglican Church nor the RSCM seem in the least interested in supporting a choral tradition at the parish level. There is this horrible mindset that choral music is not politically correct 'today' and that they would be quite happy to see it slowly phased out of the church altogether. Locally, I find the RSCM desperately unambitious - a few 'bring and sing' Crucifixions each year plus the odd trebles course is all they can manage - and the all-things-to-all-musicians approach that the HQ have simply means that they don't seem to achieve much worthwhile. I've heard a lot of serious church musicians say that the RSCM is simply no use, and I can see why they would say that.

It is easy to get into the mindset that the RSCM is drifting down the happy-clappy stream, and, indeed, the RSCM quarterly magazine does little to discourage this view. However they do still promote activities which aspire to excellance, and the regional RSCM Cathedral Singers offer encouragement and opportunities to members of "traditional" choirs.

 

The majority of RSCM events that grass-roots members see are promoted by their area committee, these are volunteers doing there best to fulfil local needs, and I can assure you its hard work and often unrewarding. If you don't feel the right events are being organised in your area then at the very least contact a member of your local committee, or, preferably, don't just sit there moaning about it, join the local committee and make a postive contribution.

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If you don't feel the right events are being organised in your area then at the very least contact a member of your local committee, or, preferably, don't just sit there moaning about it, join the local committee and make a postive contribution.

 

You're right. Point taken :o

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Guest Lee Blick

Gordon Bennett. The RCSM is like the London Buses. Can't see one for hours, then two arrive at once... :o

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As someone who is involved with an RSCM area, what events would people like to see organised? we're always open to new ideas!

 

Steve - I'm talking about my own region here, but I would love to see the RSCM doing more to drag standards up and encourage people to achieve more. Our local group give the impression (correctly or not) of managing the steady extinction of decent parish choirs as gracefully as possible, while looking after the 'average' church choir of six elderly altos and one tuneless gent of advanced years by providing vastly-simplified music and interminable Crucifixions.* They don't provide local support for organists attempting to play to high standards, they don't provide any support for the poor guy trying his hardest to aim for good musicianship within his choir, and they certainly don't have a clue about helping with chorister recruitment. I know this sounds like a rant (largely because it is) but it is truly heartfelt.

 

Does any of this sound like the sort of thing people in your area might want?

 

*Pros and cons of Crucifixions not to be debated again just now :)

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Our local group give the impression (correctly or not) of managing the steady extinction of decent parish choirs as gracefully as possible

To be fair, I suspect your area has been managing the extinction of church choirs perfectly well on its own without any input from the RSCM. Does the local RSCM have that much impact one way or the other? Perhaps you should launch a take-over bid! :)

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Steve - I'm talking about my own region here, but I would love to see the RSCM doing more to drag standards up and encourage people to achieve more. Our local group give the impression (correctly or not) of managing the steady extinction of decent parish choirs as gracefully as possible, while looking after the 'average' church choir of six elderly altos and one tuneless gent of advanced years by providing vastly-simplified music and interminable Crucifixions.* They don't provide local support for organists attempting to play to high standards, they don't provide any support for the poor guy trying his hardest to aim for good musicianship within his choir, and they certainly don't have a clue about helping with chorister recruitment. I know this sounds like a rant (largely because it is) but it is truly heartfelt.

 

Does any of this sound like the sort of thing people in your area might want?

 

*Pros and cons of Crucifixions not to be debated again just now :)

 

I face two problems when trying to organise things in my area, and it would be interesting to hear what other people's responses are to these...

 

Firstly, people don't seem prepared to travel very far. I might as well say that I'm in the Canterbury Diocese as my name would be obvious to anyone local anyway, and it is quite a rural area. We find some people (not all) are reluctant to travel say 20 miles to an event... now it wouldn't bother me, but I'm only 30 and don't have any family committments, but how far would people be prepared to travel to an event?

 

Secondly, the cost of getting someone to run an event like you describe is almost cost prohibitive now; if we invite someone who really knows what they're talking about then they need a fee and travel expenses... soon adds up to well over £100, plus a donation to the venue... if only 6 choir directors turn up then we're running at huge losses...

 

I'm not trying to find excuses, I'd really love to find a way of doing all the things you mentioned, especially as I'm fortunate to be in a parish position where I have a full choir of nearly 40 with an average age of well under 50 and would be able to benefit from it too.

 

Dare I ask if there is anyone from the Canterbury area lurking here?!

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"now it wouldn't bother me, but I'm only 30 and don't have any family committments"

 

You've hit one of the problems - family life and committemnts have changed so much since 70 years ago. Wifey is not prepared to sit alone at home and look after the baby any more in the evenings while Father is off enjoying himself.

 

My father, and most men of his gereration, would not been seen dead pushing a pram or push chair!

 

FF

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