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Advice in finding a new music director?

Hi, singers!
I'm a member of PhilHarmonia, a fairly young choir in Philadelphia. We've got great singers, and had a great first-half of a first season, but we lost our music director. (He lives in DC, and decided, to no one's surprise, that the weekly commutes were absurd.) So we're looking for a new music director, and don't really know how to go about it. Any advice you might have about how to find someone would be greatly appreciated.
Some possibly relevant thoughts, off the top of my head:
-- We're young, and still figuring out who we are as a choir, so a new director would have an opportunity to shape us somewhat.
-- We're by and large good singers for whom singing isn't the big thing in our lives, so we need a director who can be a good teacher, and who can calibrate how much to push us musically and how much not to.
-- We can currently offer a tiny stipend; we hope as time goes on to make the stipend progressively less tiny.
-- Currently our membership is mostly upper-middle class white folks in their thirties; the composers represented in our first concert were all white men. We're very much looking for a music director who has ideas about how to raise our diversity quotient all around.
Our current plan is to write a posting for the position here and wherever else we can think of; interview applicants and have them run a rehearsal (or half rehearsal); and have finalists come back for a second go-round. Is that an appropriate process? Should we give applicants pieces we're working on to rehearse us in? Should we have them try to teach us something new? We're hoping to start this process ASAP and have it completed by mid-April - is that a reasonable timeline?
Again, any input would be greatly appreciated.
If you're curious, here's our website:
on February 24, 2014 8:29am
Based on your description- I can honestly say I wish there was some way for me to work with your choir. I might invite you all to move to California if i had the room to put you up! 
But seriously, the heart of your choir sounds so true it may be that you should simply publish this request. Your plan in the final paragraph is a good one, and perhaps your candidate will have some thoughts on how she or he can make the connection and secure the position.
All the best in your search... I wish more choirs had the same attitude as yours! Protect that, it is precious and will go a long way to your success in sustaining a long, excellent career. Present that honesty and clarity to your audience in performance and they will love you for it!
Stephen Bigger
on February 24, 2014 9:02am
What would probably be most helpful is to have somebody local who is experienced in the profession (but who's not going to apply for the job) advise you on the process. Your most likely hire would be a young hotshot, so somebody who conducts an established chorus in the area might be willing to help you plan the process. Find 'em on Google and write to them.
Your procedure sounds fine, although even a half-rehearsal audition might be too much. You'll be able to tell in 20 minutes whether the chemistry is right, which is all you'd be looking for in the audition (as opposed to the interview). Typically only two or three finalists get as far as actually auditioning, although with minimal pay it's unlikely you'll have a huge field of applicants, so most likely you won't need a callback step.
You should choose the music for the audition; neither so difficult that you'll be struggling with notes for the whole time, nor so familiar that you can sing it on automatic pilot. It's not critical that you be able to learn it completely in 20 minutes but you should be able to make significant progress. The tricky question is whether to give the same piece to each applicant: on the one hand, that makes it easier to compare them, but conversely the second applicant has the advantage of the work the first applicant already did. If possible, choose a long piece and assign each applicant a different section of it, or find two or three really similar pieces.
The only issue with your proposed timeline is most choruses run on an academic-year schedule, so potential new directors might expect to start in September; furthermore, moonlighting music majors in a local university are a potential applicant pool. I don't know what kind of performance schedule you had in mind, but it might make sense to advertise for a one-shot summer chorus director, with the understanding that you're going to re-open your search in the summer to hire someone for fall; then if you like your summer person you can continue with them.
In terms of mission, your self-description is a good start, but there are a couple of additional questions you might want to ask yourselves before talking to any applicants, such as:
  • How often do you want to perform? And where?
  • How large would you like the choir to be? You didn't say where you're rehearsing, which might affect this.
  • What kind of accompaniment do you anticipate for rehearsals and/or performances? You didn't mention an accompanist. (If you're expecting the director to accompany rehearsals, you definitely need to mention that up front.)
  • What ideas do you have for making the stipend less tiny, as you put it? Charging admission to concerts? Bake sales? Soliciting donations? Day trading? Petty larceny? Forming a 501(c)3 nonprofit?
I realize you're hoping for some guidance from your new director on these types of things, but many of them are dependent on the level of commitment of the singers.
Good luck, and you've come to the right place to ask!
on February 25, 2014 8:30am
Talk's cheap, so get them to do a 30-45 minute rehearsal with you.  Best if it includes a piece that you're still learning, and a piece you know, so you can see different sides of the candidate.  Look for clear musical ideas, working well with all sorts of people, and a clear downbeat, which, amazingly, is rather rare!
Also ask for a sample program, so you can see the person's programming taste and style.  I find it valuable to talk to someone who's been in a chorus the person conducts, preferably not a friend.
Enjoy the process!
Ray Fahrner
on February 25, 2014 9:07am
Our choir has done this twice in the past 15 years, and each time we used the same process.  We posted the position on this list and in the ACDA and AGO publications.  We had quite a large number of applications.  From those, we looked over all of them as a board, and then selected our ten/sixteen favorites.  We had inerviews with each of them, about one hour in length, and asked them a number of questions regarding their experience and how they would like to work with a choir such as ours.  From there, we had auditions with six-eight of them (the number were different each time).  We had a one hour audition and asked each candidate to use a warm-up technique with us and to teach us a piece (or two, if they felt that they had time), and most of the choir was present at all of the auditions.  We asked them to choose the music, and provide the scores, because repertoire choices were so important to us, and we wanted to know what type of music might be included in what was selected.  That was indeed a factor in the selections we made.
We are in a city that has a Choral Directing Program in the major university, so that probably had something to do with the larger number of applicants.  
Best of luck to you!
Nan Beth Walton
on February 25, 2014 10:11am
I agree that your description and presence here sounds attractive.  I tend to lean more toward a longer "engagement" .  This might save issues later.
You say you want a teacher and someone who will connect you with diversity-repertoire.  (Applause!)    A month might give you a better idea as to whether you'll really see this from the director.   Most folks can be impressive for 2 weeks... ;/  Take a portion of the "tiny" compensation, and thank them for the last two weeks (since 2 is standard for  choirs to "audition" their directors. BYW, I think a "rehearsal-meeting" is a better word.  You are, after all meeting each other - personally, and musically.)
As to repertoire, I would find 2 short, contrasting numbers that you did early on, and send sample copies.   (You mostly know the music, they can brush up/ polish/interpret.)  As long as the candidates do not observe each other ( and they should not), they will all have equal chance there.  Send the copies 2 weeks before they audition, so they all have them for equal time.  Request that they bring one or two (two is better, so the group won't "type" the repertoire direction based on one piece.)  If the candidate does not conduct a group that has appropriate borrow-able sheet octavos, or free/inexpensive down-loads, have your members call around and help procure.  (If it is too obscure/hard-to-find, have the candidate change pieces.)
After each rehearsal-meeting (and yes, this is after you narrow down to hopefully 2, maybe 3 or 4) dismiss them, and let the choir silently answer a questionaire.  Some chatting aloud my follow, but have a discussion leader who is very objective and attentive to everyone's view being heard.  The "squeaky wheels" don't need to run it.
I'm interested in how you gathered the group - I've wanted to direct one like this for years!  (I live in Atlanta).
Looks like you have a good thing singing there - Best Wishes,
- Lucy
on February 27, 2014 6:00pm
Thank you all, for your very helpful input! We've lined up an interim director, which takes a little of the pressure off. But your input on what to expect from applicants and the application process is really helpful. I'll post links to the ad here when we post it!
Lucy, the choir was formed initially by friends of our found director. They talked him into helping create a new choir, and gathered friends-of-friends - mostly people who used to sing seriously and no longer do but miss it. After the friends network petered out (at maybe a dozen committed members) and we had rehearsed casually for maybe 2 months, just getting a feel for what we wanted, we started auditioning new members until we hit about 24, which we had decided together was about the size we wanted...
Thanks again!
on February 27, 2014 6:10pm
Here's the posting! Thanks again!
on February 28, 2014 5:22am
on February 28, 2014 5:35am
Hi, Jarrod,
As a conductor living in the Philly area who directs a group that got started in much the same way yours did (Ensemble Companio, starting in 2011), I read this post with particular interest.  A few things to think about:
Has PhilHarmonia filed for non-profit status, both with PA and the federal government?  (Or are you at least planning to do this?)  This is crucial to getting a fundraising machine built, and could make your group more attractive to applicants for the job.
Can you offer your incoming director *any* compensation?  Even something small could be better than nothing in attracting people to apply for the job.
What kinds of music are you singing?  Good, sturdy, real music, or contemporary fluff?  Singers and directors will flock to good's like the voice that Kevin Costner hears in Field of Dreams says: "If you build it, [they] will come."
I, too, applaud you for wanting to diversify your lineup.  Especially as regards repertoire, I'd plan on asking candidates how they would achieve this goal of yours.
Do you have a council of officers that take care of the logistical (and often more mundane) facets of running an organization?  i.e. Will the incoming director be free to focus solely on the music, or will s/he have to take on the concert planning, publicity, etc. as well?  It could make the job more attractive if the "other stuff" were handled by other officers.
Finally, don't be afraid to declare a failed search if you don't find the right person.  Far better to spend another year under an interim leader than to be stuck for good with someone the group has settled for.
Good luck in your search!  I will pass your post about the job to friends and colleagues of mine in the area.
All best,
Joseph Gregorio
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