Our new season in the year 2000 is fast approaching and now is the opportune time to address new objectives for our association. Much has been written and said in recent years about the problems that are in evidence when we examine the steady decline in AMCA membership. And yet little is being done effectively to reverse this disturbing downward slide. It is apparent that the efforts that have been made, have not been successful.
The purpose of this article?
I will from the outset declare that these are not my ideas alone but include some that have come across my desk from various sources. However, the ideas that I have included in this blueprint are ones that I support and feel would be of benefit in what I consider a crisis - we must stir ourselves to action or face the consequences of a further decline which will surely result in the eventual disintegration of the AMCA.
Do I state the matter too strongly? You be the judge. In the years beginning with 1993 to the present, here are the membership numbers: 1510, 1318, 1382, 1425, 1410, 1378, 1310 and today in the year 2000 only 1263! The number of member choruses has dropped from a high of 57 in the mid 1980s to the present 44 choruses in our six districts.
Following is a plan for putting the AMCA back on track and has the potential, I believe, of restoring our position in the United States and Canada as the primary advocate of community-based male chorus activity. Note that although the actions listed are in random order, increasing the finances of our General Fund is a crucial first step in achieving many of the objectives listed
Action #1 - Finance: A critical first step!
We cannot run a successful international organization on $14,000 a year! Our budget has no income from grants. We need to enlist the services of someone who has either experience in obtaining grants or the desire to become experienced in searching out and applying for grant money. We need a grant writer!
There are resources available to individuals interested in getting training as grant writers, learning the how-tos of writing grant proposals and receiving tips on researching the best sources of foundation and corporate grants.
One example is the Minnesota Council on Foundations, the statewide membership association for grantmakers, including private foundations, community foundations and corporate giving programs. They offer a non profit service and sponsor several seminars each year for beginning grant writers. Information is available by (web site), mail or phone - 800 Baker Bldg., 706 Second Ave South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (612) 338-1989. It should be a simple matter to find similar organizations in other states. (Appreciation to member Joanne Normandin for this information)
Of course, we need to have a reason to apply for a grant and many of the things we have had to cut out of our budget, items that we really think should be in there, are legitimate items to be funded by a grant from a public agency. I would suggest that having a booth at an ACDA conference, producing a new brochure or a new Recruiting Package, funding and advertising our music contest, funding certain aspects of our International Big Sings, hiring clinicians to give workshops - all would be considered legitimate for grant applications.
Our scholarship fund which has a balance of close to $50,000 is a good example of what motivated leadership can accumulate in operating capital. We need to take an approach towards our general fund that will see more money coming in from outside sources to allow us to promote the AMCA in such a way that our membership will grow.
Action #2 - Finances (Cont): Affiliates
At present, there is no way for a person to significantly contribute to the General Fund of the AMCA. The original purpose of Affiliate membership was to allow potential chorus members to track AMCA activities with a view to eventually taking out full membership. I cant recall that this happened very often! The Affiliate Membership category is no longer sustainable since most information needed to make a decision to join is now available free on the web site.
I would recommend that this type of membership be changed to a supporting membership with different levels of support available (Currently the Affiliate fee is $10 per year which at best covers mailing costs). It should be renamed Affiliate Supporting Membership and be available at various contribution levels, for example: a) $25, b) $50, c) $100, d) Other. In this way we might increase funds available in the AMCA General Fund to apply to some of the projects we wish to pursue while still providing the opportunity for individuals and groups interested in us to become members at the reasonable first level cost, if they so desire.
Action #3 - Identify and Recruit our Resource People
We need to find ways to attract the services of the brightest and best minds in our association. Some of the ideas presented herein require expertise that we presently do not have on our Board of Directors. How can we engage the volunteer services of those who could be of assistance to us? First, we need to identify the projects that we feel are necessary for growth and development which is what this column is attempting to initiate, then reach out to our membership using all the resources available to us to let them know of our needs. I would anticipate that our elected officers would assume the responsibility of one or two projects acting as committee chair, AMCA contact person for their projects and the inspirational motivator to keep the committee on track.
A reorganization of our executive has been proposed and one plan submitted for consideration. Whether or not this particular model is the best for the AMCA to adopt needs your thought and discussion, but the concept of a system that encourages reaching out for the brightest and best is solid and therefore merits our serious consideration. We have motivated leaders but we need a system that encourages all our leaders not only to be actively involved in initiating projects, but also gathering about them members with particular experience and expertise that will ensure the project moves towards a successful conclusion.
Action #4 - Special Meetings
Even without a reorganization, we can begin by recognizing that a problem exists with AMCA and make finding the solution a priority. This should involve a full day or two of meetings specifically called to identify and address the problems.
My suggestion would be that rather than spend time at a spring meeting in a music reading session, we would get far more benefit from addressing our problems and finding solutions.
The spring meeting traditionally has less business for discussion, so why not plan a two day meeting with a shortened half a day for the necessary general business and two half days to spend on these very important issues? If the meetings were held over Saturday and Sunday the agenda could be: a) Saturday a.m. - General Meeting; Saturday p.m. - Round table discussions on selected topics, Sunday a.m. - Meeting of the whole to share results and deal with motions for action. The Sunday meeting could conclude around one oclock which would allow participants time to make the drive home if they so wished.
I would be willing to act as facilitator for a meeting such as this and would suggest that the Board should establish the Round Table Topics well in advance, say the prior fall meeting. This will allow the participants and all other interested members to research and prepare for the discussions. And if the discussion groups were formed at that same fall meeting, that might encourage dialogue in the six month period prior to the spring meeting which could result in much more progress when we get together in the spring. In this way agreements for action will be more likely to occur.
Action #5 - Music Workshops
There is so much we could offer if only we had the funds and they can be available through grants! Within our association we have some of the most talented musical directors available and yet we dont fully utilize their talents. While most districts hold their own periodic music workshops, the International body is noticeably absent in this important aspect of male chorusing. Even at our sponsored International Sings, we leave this responsibility up to the host chorus to plan and execute. Why are we not more involved in this, our event?
I would suggest that the International Board should accept at least responsibility for part of the workshop and reading sessions at an International Big Sing. The hosts responsibility should be arranging for the facility where this can take place. Why not offer to work together with the hosts of our 2003 Sing, the Lansing Orpheus, and reduce their workload at least for part of the workshops - Im sure we would have the cooperation of their planning committee to do so, unless their plans have progressed beyond the point where our involvement would be welcomed. If that is the case, AMCA should write this involvement into the Big Sing Policy for the future.
In addition, AMCA should become involved in district workshops. This involvement initially could be the compiling and sharing of a list of our member conductors who are willing to travel and give workshops. It might include the topics each would be prepared to address. With some funding, this could develop into an increasing AMCA presence in regional workshops where AMCA and the District could work together to plan and execute workshops for those in and out of our association, thus giving AMCA a higher profile in the male chorus community and increasing our service to members!
Action #6 - Music
One of the most significant benefits we can give our members is to inform them of new music available for male voice choirs. Our current reviewer does an admirable job but he is only one person. His calls for reviewing assistance have not been answered. AMCA needs to assemble a team of reviewers who regularly review new music and make those reviews available to our members via the AMCA web site and The Chorister newsletter. Many Directors are doing this now for their chorus and it may just be a matter of coordination to bring all of this together. This too requires motivated leadership from our AMCA Board members!
Action #7 - Music Contest
We have in place a Music Contest which has a budget of $500: $300 for a first place prize and $200 for second. The object is to encourage new music for male voice choirs and to assist the composer in publishing his work. Great! But we do not go far enough in publicizing our contest. Why? It requires funding that we currently dont have. We should be advertising our contest widely in publications like ACDAs The Choral Journal and Chorus Americas Voice of Chorus America in order to reach potential composers. This is not only good publicity for AMCA but it also lets the choral community know what we are doing to benefit male choruses. Publishers will also appreciate the publicity when their orders for our competition winners music increase. And we also need to publish the list of winning selections in these publications as well.
Presently, we receive less than six compositions most years and that is nowhere near enough participation to make this a truly worthwhile competition and to achieve the objectives we have set. There just are not enough submissions to give us the potential of finding good new music. More funding for the contest would also allow us to increase the prize money to make it more attractive to composers. Also, we could consider increasing the number of winners from two to three each year - if we had a larger number of submissions.
Another problem is that we seem to be getting mainly sacred music and very little secular. Perhaps, if we were to suggest categories, or select a theme for a given year, it might encourage other types of music as well?
Action #8 - Common Repertoire
The intent of a common repertoire for the AMCA was originally that it be a limited listing of massed selections to be used at both District and International Big Sings. This allowed for District interaction since choruses would know the massed selections and be able to accept an invitation to participate without incurring extra effort to learn new music and also to avoid the expense of purchasing music just for that occasion.
Today most districts have developed their own repertoire for Sings and the AMCA Common Repertoire has become the source of recommended music as well as the basis for the selection of massed numbers for an International Sing that happens once every five years. The current Common Repertoire has a listing of 4 permanent numbers, 18 current numbers and 10 retired numbers for a GRAND TOTAL of 32 selections. Wow! If you were a chorus considering membership, would you not find that rather daunting? Now we know a chorus is not expected to learn all the numbers in the AMCA Common Repertoire, but they will need to learn some over the three years prior to an IBS plus all the district repertoire as well. Its still a lot of numbers imposed by membership that an individual chorus has little control over and that is above the selections the chorus must learn for their own concerts.
Its too much and the AMCA has lost choruses because of this requirement.
This whole concept of a Common Repertoire needs to be reconsidered and I would suggest that we change the label from Common Repertoire - it really isnt anymore - to AMCAs Recommended List of male chorus music, or some such title.
How many selections does your District require that you learn in order to participate in the District Big Sing? (And the District Big Sing participation is an obligation of membership!) Anywhere from 10 to 13 is normal. This can be as much as one third of a chorus repertoire for the year. Too much!
What is the solution? Reduce the number of massed numbers at a Big Sing to a maximum of 6 plus the anthems. This might encourage choruses to join the AMCA if their obligation to learn massed numbers were reduced to allow them the freedom to select repertoire for their own particular needs. It also would reduce the music expenditure required to participate in Big Sings. I offer this as not only a suggestion for Districts to consider, but strongly recommend that the AMCA consider reducing the number of massed for the International Sings as well.
Action #9 - Chorus Needs
This is an obvious step that should be taken periodically - the AMCA should survey member choruses with the question What do you need, what would you like us to do for you? When we are able to provide the services that our members want, which they feel are really helping them accomplish their missions, theyll be out selling membership in AMCA to everyone with whom they come in contact. This too requires leadership and should/could be spearheaded by one or more of our Board members.
Action #10 - The Chorister
Our newsletter, The Chorister can be an excellent advertisement for what the AMCA is able to offer. Our new editor is doing a wonderful job within the guidelines of a newsletter. However, I would suggest that we are only scratching the surface of the potential that this publication can do for our association.
Currently it is a newsletter, but it can be so much more. I would suggest that The Chorister broaden its mandate and seek out the expertise we have in our association to contribute regular columns that contain scholarly and practical articles with information of interest to choral needs - a journal if you like.
Expansion costs money as well as requiring a greater coordination effort on the part of our editor. Selling advertising in the Chorister could provide income that would help to upgrade the publication to a more journalistic status. In my view, our Chorister should not be offered free to the public on the web site, but be offered as a benefit to those who pay membership dues. Out of the five organizations similar to ours that I have researched, we are the only one that offers its newsletter/magazine free to the public. Those researched were: ACDA (The Choral Journal), International Federation for Choral Music (International Choral Bulletin), Intercollegiate Mens Choruses (Quodlibet), SPEBSQSA (The Harmonizer), and Chorus America (Voice of Chorus America). The subscription should be a benefit and for those outside our regular membership, it would be available with Affiliate Supporting Membership.
Action #11 - Recruitment
At present we seem to have adopted the attitude Were here - you find us, you contact us, and then come and join! The AMCA needs to become proactive in the search for new member choruses. At one time we at least manned a booth at ACDA regional and sometimes national conventions to let choruses know about us.
I would suggest that Expansion of the AMCA is a very important responsibility that should merit an appointed officer. Although it is a committee listed in our Constitution as Promotion and Publicity we do not have anyone appointed to the position. (The Promotions Chair, I believe, is a different responsibility)
I would suggest to our President that this oversight be rectified at the earliest possible date. However, its not enough to appoint an interested member to the job without giving some direction as to what the job responsibility should be.
I would suggest that a worthwhile starting point would be the development of a recruitment package which could be distributed to prospective choruses. An attractive well designed folder which could hold individual pieces would be advisable so that the pieces could be updated or changed at will without the expense of reprinting a whole booklet.
This could be a start point but at the same time plan needs to be developed to seek out and identify potential member choruses and compile a mailing list ready for contact by this committee. Much can be done, and this too could benefit from outside funding. This committee should also investigate the costs and advantages of once again bringing the AMCA presence to the ACDA conventions.
I leave you with these several ideas for action to consider and hopefully act upon. I anticipate that there will be disagreement with some and solid support for others; however, if we all thought the same way this would indeed be a dull old world to live in! I feel the need for some comic relief, so my next column will be in a much lighter mood. The topic? - Sin for Solvency - or has that been done already?!
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