How I Founded A Flute Choir
October 17, 2011
Flute Choirs are kind of new territory for me. Sure, I played in them all through college, and in grad school even conducted them…but founding one once you’re out in the “real world”? New ballgame.
After moving to Panama City, FL, I wanted to grow the flute scene here. What I found is that there really wasn’t much going on. And, to my annoyance and frustration, I found that I haven’t seen much effort or encouragement on the part of the band directors in this area either, so my job was doubly hard. I started a Flute Day at a high school and that had a grand run of 3 times. I think I had somewhere between 1-3 people show up each time? Out of a county of hundreds of flutists? They gave me the excuse of “well, the kids are busy.” or “they’re at the beach or they have jobs or or or or”. I don’t care what the excuses are, the excuses are still excuses. The kids chose not to come and the band directors chose not to make it mandatory. In TN, where I come from, I would have had probably 20-50 students come because it’s just that important there. You are EXPECTED to take lessons and go to extracurricular music activities, etc. Here, I have trouble even getting the band directors too call me back. They don’t make it a priority for their students, and the parents don’t see it as necessary, henceforth the kids don’t care much either.
So, seeing that there was a large pool of people not involved gave me the opportunity to mope and say “woe is me, there are no opportunities, I can’t do anything here” or go in a different direction.
I went in a different direction!
I play in the Panama City Pops Orchestra, a community orchestra that is better than the average bear. I feel very blessed to be able to play with them and have a good flute section. So I started asking them if they would be interested in doing a flute choir. They all said yes, they would commit and I asked around everywhere to see if I could find other adult members. We have gone through some changes in personnel, but overall, these founding few have stayed with us and we’ve developed a choir!
What were my steps?
I am by no means an expert in this area and I’m learning more each day I go about this. But this is what I did and what I’m doing so far so that maybe you can learn from this as well.
- Recruit members I asked around to find members, got their contact information and sent them all preliminary emails asking if they had preferences for times/days.
- Find a Rehearsal Venue Found a band director that would let me hold rehearsals in their band rooms. The school board has since decided they will charge groups wanting to use their facilities so we’ve moved to a choir member’s house for rehearsal. You HAVE to find a place to rehearse!
- Pick a Consistent Time This can be easier said than done. We went around and around in trying to pick a time and a place and ultimately, since I was the leader, I had to make an executive decision and say when it would be. If you cannot commit, I’m sorry. We did our best to work with everyone’s schedules, but of course not everyone can be accommodated: be prepared for that. We started out with an hour and realized that we just didn’t have enough time, so now we’ve migrated to two hours once a week.
- Repertoire I was very fortunate in that all the flute choir music we have has been donated by various members. Ask around, see who has trios, quartets or whatnot and use what you have. Double parts. Buy music only when you really need it. If one person is generous enough to buy music for the group, great, but if not, don’t be shy about mentioning that we need funds to buy music, what can we donate to that fund and is there anything specific we’d like to get? With rep, also be really aware of scoring. We have a unique situation in that we have more instruments than members! We have 2 altos, 2 piccolos, 1 bass and everyone has a C flute, but we only have 8 members, one of which is only in town for a few months out of the year. So, 8 members and 13 instruments? Kind of a neat problem to have…but then you look at how some pieces are scored and it’s for 6 C flutes, alto bass, piccolo, etc. and you don’t have enough people even though you have the instruments. Don’t be afraid to double on trios and be the conductor, or transcribe parts from madrigals and choral music. Put that music education/theory/instrumental class to good use!
- Get Goals for the Group Do you just want to get together to play or do you want to perform? Why are you getting together, what do the members want out of the group? We’ve decided we want to perform, so after many rehearsals, go out and either find or create gigs. My members mentioned a LOT of great places to play that I didn’t know about because I’m not from the area: the library has a grand piano and hosts groups, an historical house that hosts concerts, FBA meetings (band directors meetings), partnering with schools to play on their school concerts or at an orchestra concert, nursing homes, hospitals, local events and fairs, etc. We are going to be performing 15 minutes at an FBA meeting, at a middle school concert (with the middle school kids joining us on a piece), a full concert at the historical house and as prelude music in the reception hall before the Pops Orchestra Concert. We have plans to submit to perform for the Flute Flute Association Annual Convention in coming years, but we need some local performances under our collective belt first. Be creative. You don’t have to have a full hour long concert where people just come to see you. Your goal is to get in front of people and get known!
- Set Deadlines and Be In Constant Communication After every rehearsal I send out an email to the group reminding them of what we did, what we need to work on and what we will do next week, this way they can be practicing and preparing for it. I also let them know when our concerts are, remind them what we are going to be playing and since we’ve now committed to them, we have to be prepared to play at our highest level! Don’t be afraid to set the bar high – set the bar too low and you’ll get what you asked for. Set it high and be amazed.
- Advertise I have included our name as a flute choir everywhere I can think of: on my blog, webpage, facebook notices, listed on the FFA website, NFA website – and I’ve had people find us to join us because of that. Hobnob and network with various band directors and tell them to send you their star players. Can’t get them commit? Our next plan is to go play in the schools. Get a middle school or elementary school assembly and play as a group or get your choir together and go on a school tour during the day, hitting a bunch of high schools. Play for the kids, get them to ask questions, mention you teach lessons and you are an open group – they can join, and LEAVE SOMETHING IN THEIR HANDS or they won’t remember you were there when they get home.
- Don’t be a Taskmaster, but Don’t Be Afraid to Say What Needs to Be Said or Do What Needs to Be Done Remember, people are doing this because they enjoy it, so don’t take a holier-than-thou approach or constantly criticize. However, there is that fine line that needs to be walked because you don’t want to not criticize at all. Be tactful in pointing out mistakes or “opportunities for improvement”. Ask for group feedback. Step back every once in awhile and let them solve things. Remember, this is your group if you want it that way, so you are the leader. Lead, but still serve the group in leading. Say what needs to be said in a tactful way. Pick your battles, sometimes it’s the right time, sometimes it’s not, so walk the fine line of not being a taskmaster or a pushover.
These are the things that I NEED to do now.
- Advertise This one really never ends. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it needs to be out there. Try setting up a Facebook page, a Weebly free website for the group, maybe a blog with what you are doing, business cards or flyers. Constantly be in contact with people and have your group at the forefront of their minds.
- Get a Name and Get it Known we already have a name: The Emerald Coast Flute Choir, but is it known? That’s another story. Let your members know you have a name and get them to hand out things and talk about the group with the name, not just “hey we have a flute choir and we could come play”. It sounds much better to have a name.
- Realize that you don’t have to be formal If you want to look like the group in the first picture that’s fine, it depends on what your venues are and the image you want to project. Us? We live in a beach town, so while we want to be known as professionals, we don’t want to be too “professional” that we alienate our audiences, do you know what I mean? Example: how we set up. Due to how we rehearse and our limited space, we don’t play in a straight line. We are more in a circle spread out around the room. This has led to the thoughts of “how will we set up on stage”? Considering we all have different parts at different times, it would get annoying to constantly be moving between pieces and honestly, I think we play better and are forced to listen more by staying in the same spot and standing next to someone who doesn’t have your same part. So, we just might set up around the room instead of in a line. We’ll see 🙂 Point is, be flexible and find what works for YOUR group.
- Include the local musicians whenever possible We have pieces that call for instruments we don’t have like string bass, claves, various percussion instruments and narrators. If you are going to a school, include their band director, the kids will LOVE seeing their teacher actually perform. We have people coming from a town 2 hours away to play with us occassionally, include them whenever possible. Again, be flexible and include your audience if you can.
Um, I’m sure there are more, but that’s what comes to mind.
Biggest thing that was a hurdle for me: picking a date to start and then just launching the thing and seeing what happens. It won’t start if you don’t, so pick a date, be in contact and go for it!
- A Flutist’s Self-Worth (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- 15 year old Annie Wu and Beatbox Flute (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)
- Exciting Announcement! (fluteangel.wordpress.com)
- NFA Recap (innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.wordpress.com)