July 27, 2017     Kate Huffman

How Choirs Can Work with Orchestras: From the viewpoint of the Executive Director

Four music directors in formal attire, including Encore's Ward Dilmore, smiling for a group photo at Chorus America with name tags and white Chorus America logo-covered backdrop
Encore’s Ward Dilmore with the Chorus America panelists on working with orchestras: Linda Moxley, Jeffrey Jordan, and Henry Leck

Guest blogger Linda Moxley is an arts manager with over 30 years’ experience in the arts field. Currently, she is the Executive Director at the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and she will soon become Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Baltimore Symphony in August. Linda has a broad range of experience directing marketing and PR campaigns and implementing fundraising strategies, as well as launching education, outreach, and audience development initiatives. Linda is an effective communicator and regularly works with board members, artistic leadership, volunteers, staff, donors, sponsors, and community leaders.

As part of Encore Tours’ effort to continue the conversation after the recent Chorus America Conference, we’ve asked Linda to expand upon her contribution to the ‘Working with Orchestras’ session.

Performing with a symphony orchestra can be an exciting opportunity for a chorus to participate in large-scale, choral-orchestral works.  It also gives singers the chance to perform in a larger venue with the orchestra’s Music Director or guest conductor.

Here are some general tips for working effectively with an orchestra:

  • Cultivate a relationship with the Orchestra’s Executive Director, Artistic Administrator, and if appropriate, the Music Director. Typically the Executive Director or Artistic Director will be the ones to make the offer for you to perform with the orchestra, discuss dates, repertoire, and fees.
  • Try to be involved in the development of the orchestra’s concert calendar.  This can be helpful in assuring that there is adequate rehearsal time for your chorus to prepare the work(s), and can be compatible with your own concert calendar. 
  • Develop a decision-making procedure around whether or not to accept an engagement.  Timing in the season, number of singers available, conflicts with your own concert calendar, adequate rehearsal time, are just some of the reasons why you may not be able to accept an offer to perform with the orchestra. For these decisions it is best to collaborate with your own Music Director and Chorus Council.  If there are any barriers to accepting the engagement, it is worth talking with the orchestra’s Artistic Administrator about whether other dates may be available in the orchestra’s schedule. 
  • Be certain that you are clear about exactly what the engagement entails in advance – all dates and location of rehearsals and concerts, repertoire, the number of singers to be in the chorus, transportation if this is a run-out performance, etc.
  • Ensure that your contract with the orchestra is very specific – include information above as well as number of singers, fee, any specific requests, i.e. travel accommodations, parking expenses for chorus, meal between matinee and evening performances, etc.
  • Make sure that you are able to deliver the number of singers that you agree to in the contract. You may want to take a poll of your singers to see how many are able to commit to the engagement before it is confirmed. Be prepared for the possibility of hiring extra singers to participate in rehearsals and performances, in order to meet the terms of your contract with the orchestra.
  • Capitalize on collaboration – promote the orchestral performances on your chorus’ website.  Consider placing an ad for your own chorus’ season in the orchestra’s program book and/or ask the orchestra’s Marketing Director if a promotion of one of your upcoming choral concerts can be included in one of the orchestra’s upcoming E-blasts with a special discount offer.
  • Agree to send out an E-blast to your own list promoting the orchestra concerts that your chorus will be performing in, and see if the orchestra is willing to provide you with a discount code as a subscriber benefit.
  • Request chorus parts in advance to begin rehearsals  –  depending on the difficulty of the repertoire.  The music is usually needed at least 4-6 weeks prior to the orchestra rehearsal.
  • Help coordinate a meeting or phone call between your Music Director and the conductor who will be leading the orchestral concerts to learn if there are special requests, tempos, markings, dynamics, etc. that will be helpful to know before your rehearsals begin.  
  • Your Music Director should prepare the chorus for varied dynamics, tempos, etc. and be nimble enough to follow another conductor in the final rehearsal and performances.
  • The Executive Director should attend at least one performance during an orchestra concert weekend.  Send a note of thanks and congratulations to the chorus after the performance, and also send them the music critic’s review, if there is one. 
  • If other choruses are hired by the orchestra, understand the dynamic of that decision-making.  Cultivate relationships with the key leadership so that your chorus becomes the “go-to” chorus for that orchestra. 

How do I know what fee I should request?  Here are some considerations.

  • Every fee is developed from a zero-based budgeting standpoint.  You should keep track of past performances and fees with the orchestra, tracking the repertoire, number of concerts, preparation time needed, etc.  Will rehearsal of this repertoire be a part of rehearsals of other repertoire?
  • In general the fee could include a combination of the following:  conductor who prepares the chorus, rehearsal pianist, rehearsal space, paid singers, management fee to cover other expenses.
  • Ensure that accepting the engagement, and the fee you request, is worthwhile for your choral organization.  Be mindful of the time of year (holidays), how busy the chorus already is, the preparation time needed, etc.

A huge thank you to Linda Moxley for her experienced advice on how choirs can work with orchestras from the point of view of the Executive Director.

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