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Financial Relationship between community choirs and professional orchestras

For almost 40 years, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, a regional professional orchestra, has had a cooperative relationship with the Dubuque Chorale.  The Chorale performs twice annually with the orchestra.  In December, the Chorale sings three "Holiday Pops" concerts on the Symphony's season.  In the spring, the two organizations combine forces to perform a major choral/orchestral work--this March brings the Mozart Requiem, last spring was the Mahler 2.  The Chorale and the Symphony are completely separate organizational entities, unlike those choruses that are under the umbrella of their symphony orchestra.
 
For years, the Symphony has provided some financial payment back to the Chorale, since all  income for combined concerts is collected by the DSO.  Due to the recent economic challenges we are all facing, there is continued discussion about how long this kind of financial payment can continue. 
 
Here is my question--are there those of you who are conducting choruses in similar situations?  If so, could you describe the fiscal relationship between your community choir and your symphony orchestra?  Is this a better question to be asked of folks associated with Chorus America?
 
Thank you very kindly for any information you can provide!
on January 6, 2010 8:57pm
Robert:  I'm not directly associated with our local Master Chorale, so I can't speak to the specific situation here.  I can note, however, that after several years of the Roanoke Symphony using our chorus, they started using a university chorus instead, and more recently have started their own Symphony Chorus.  I've always assumed that they did so to save money.
 
But if I may say so, if the recent recession is having an effect on your Symphony and your Chorus, it may very well be that some sort of money-saving change will change the existing cooperative relationship.  On the orchestra's side, that may well involve making a choice between disolving that relationship, either by no longer programming choral-orchestral works or by finding a different chorus, perhaps a college one, to work with.
 
On your side, you may have to cut back on expenses as well, of course.  Hard financial times have a way of changing relationships that may have seemed permanent.
 
Just one suggestion, assuming that you really want to maintain that relationship in some form.  My parents started their teaching careers during the Depression of the late 1920s.  My father was faced with a pay cut in the job he had recently taken.  But he and other teachers got together and proposed to their administration that they agree to a temporary pay cut, but that the cut be specified in their contracts as such while their proper pay scale was still mentioned in the contracts.  Eventually things improved to the point where their original pay scale was reinstated, without its seeming like a big pay raise, which it would have in other circumstances.
 
You might want to consider a similar strategy in your negotiations with the Orchestra, if it looks as if you'll either be faced with less support or a loss of the excitement of performing major choral-orchestral works.  But I suspect that negotiations there will be, and perhaps if you start them you will have a better chance of losing as little as possible, rather than waiting for their Board to hand down a fait accompli.
 
All the best,
 
John
 
 
on January 7, 2010 7:07am
Robert,
I am the Office Manager of the Jackson Chorale in Jackson, Michigan.  Our Chorale is invited to sing with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra once or twice every year.  The two organizations are financially independent and have been for many years, although the Chorale was associated with the Symphony in its early years.  Each organization now has its own charter and Board of Directors.
As the Chorale has grown in size and ability, the Symphony has begun paying us when we sing in their concerts, so it is a win-win situation for both of us these days.  In our community of about 75,000 people, we have had to tighten our belts somewhat, but both organizations are doing reasonably well financially.  The Symphony is in the midst of a capital campaign to remodel and redecorate the building that it now owns.
William MacMillan
on January 7, 2010 10:04am
Robert,
 
 A university choral conductor friend of mine has an arrangement with a local regional orchestra (I don't mention names because I haven't asked either organization for permission).
 
Both groups present their own seperate seasons, but occasionally the choir will need an orchestra and visa-verca.  The arrangement they have is that when the choir needs an orchestra the orchestra plays for the choir at no charge.  When the orchestra needs a choir the choir sings for the orchestra at no charge.
 
Except for one concert that I know of that was produced by both groups in unison, the monies earned from the concert go directly to the group producing the concert.
 
This has been working for these two groups for several years as neither group has the funds to pay for the services of the other.  This "swap" was a great solution they came up with.
 
Now this situation would only work if your chorus performed a seperate season outside of your official work with the orchestra and was in the business of hiring an outside orchestra (or hiring musicians and assembling your own), but it could be a viable option if the orchestra was open to the idea.
 
Joshua Strickler
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