November 4, 2014     Tori Cook

All About Ensemble Management: Keeping Your Choir Organized


As choir directors, we’ve all struggled from time to time trying to keep our choirs organized. From managing our music library to keeping track of changing voice parts,  some days it seems like our time is so focused on just staying organized that we can barely focus on the music! At Encore, we are always trying to find ways to save music directors time. To help you, we are introducing today our “Ensemble Management Blog Series” which will focus on various organizational strategies and general tips for managing your ensemble.

Today’s Topic: Never underestimate technology!


Ok, I’m going to get a little technical on you here. We’ve all heard of music software programs like Finale that helps composers and arrangers save time while composing, but what about something for directors to save them time and energy. Why can’t they develop something like that?! Well, guess what… there IS something like that and it’s called Groupanizer (and no, I am not a spokesperson for them!). It’s called an Ensemble Management System – sounds pretty promising – and for choirs, it has features like riser placement/seating charts, attendance tracker, group e-mailer, repertoire library and even has a place for collecting dues. Who could want more?! While I haven’t used this software yet, I have heard some great reviews from fellow choir directors, and it certainly seems like a wonderful concept to help directors stay organized. While initially the program was developed for choirs, they have actually expanded to include a management system for bands and orchestras too! If you want to check it out, they do offer a free trial to see what the program has to offer. I certainly recommend testing it out to see if it will work for your ensemble!

Of course Groupanizer does charge a monthly fee, so if you don’t have the necessary budget, there are all kinds of ways to stay organized in the technological world for free. Shared drives like Google Docs and Dropbox make it possible to store all of your repertoire, recordings, rehearsal notes and more in one place and share the drive with all of your members. Just make sure to let your members know how you have it organized so they can find what they are looking for!

Finale’s Educator Tools (Digital Rehearsal Notes)

Now that we have reviewed an overall management system, it’s time to fix that “old school” style of marking rehearsal notes: AKA pencil and paper. Ok, ok… I’m to blame too! Believe it or not, while I love technology, there is some kind of deeper connection that you get when you are actually writing with your own hand. While it is difficult at first to switch from handwritten notes to digital notes, I assure you that the benefits far outweigh the time you will spend learning to make the switch. Let’s quickly review Finale’s tools that are available to you as an educator:

  1. No more need to hand-write sightseeing exercises on those terrible transparency sheets that smudge before your class even starts – yuck. Finale makes it easy to quickly notate exercises in minutes and share the files via various devices or print out for your students. You can also compile your sightseeing exercises into one file for your students, thereby creating an ongoing list of exercises that they can use to practice at home!
  2. Score markings are possible and easily maintained. I don’t know about you, but by the time I am done in a rehearsal my music is covered with so many marks I can barely read it any more! Take your markings digital and you’ll always have a clean slate to work from. Plus, you can easily share your notes with the group so they don’t miss a beat (get it!).
  3. Finale has printed music scanning capabilities. For any published piece of music that is printed (not hand-written), you can scan into Finale which will create a copy of the file in an editable notated version for you. This is extremely useful if you need to arrange a piece for your group, make just a few small note/rhythm changes or even if you need to transpose it into another key!
  4. Finale has playback features. I’m a big believer in music literacy and usually do not advise people to regularly teach via audio recordings or by rote. However, I will say that it is pretty useful to have your music in a digital file because you can actually export the audio files and share with your singers. You can do an audio file of all parts, split it up line by line or pick multiple lines to be played together. For barbershop choruses, they typically do one recording that has all other parts except for your vocal part so that way you can learn to sing your part within the surrounding harmonic structure. While it might not boost your music literacy right away, if you are in a jam to learn music quickly, it can certainly help with the learning speed and help your singers become more independent on their own part.

I should also mention that Finale is not the only music notation software out there with these capabilities (it is just the one I personally use). There is also Sibelius, SmartScore and others. Make sure you do you research to find the one that works best for you!

And finally, just pin it!

That’s right, folks… I’m talking about the world of social media here. Pinterest is a great community of people who are constantly sharing their creative  ideas. If you need some organizational ideas for the classroom, Pinterest has got them. Need some behavioral management ideas? Pinterest has got them. Need a good musical joke? Trust me, Pinterest has got them – just check out our musical humor board for proof! As a teacher, you can use Pinterest to keep a running list of your organizational ideas on your own board labeled “Organization Ideas” and tackle each project, one at a time. If you have some great organizational ideas feel free to pin those too so the rest of us can also benefit! You can even send or share your pin with someone who you might want to delegate your project to.

I hope that some of these ideas are useful for you. Feel free to comment below if you have additional ideas – we’d love to hear them!

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