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Re-naming and re-branding a community chorus.

I am proposing to my choir that we change our name, and long-time members are wondering why I'm considering it. Here's my reasoning:
 
We are called The "General Motors Employees' Chorus." HOWEVER...
 
1. We have not been sponsored by GM for over 30 years.
2. Only a couple of our members are current employees of GM, and only a couple more are retirees or have some other connections to the company.
3. We receive no money from GM.
4. We don't perform at GM functions.
5. We are not acknowledged by GM in any way.
 
We have to constantly tell people over and over again that you don't need to have a GM connection to sing with our choir or donate to it, but the confustion persists, and one potential grant writer has told me, "that name is an albatross."
 
My long-time singers don't want to change anything because they think we'll lose our audience and die out. But we're going to die out anyway because we have no strategic development plan, no fundraising, and we sing to the same 65-and-older audience that we've been singing to for decades. The most forward-thinking singers of the group don't get elected to the board, and as director, I can only make recommendations to the board as I have no vote.
 
Who's the crazy one: me, for wanting to change things, or them, for not wanting to change?
Thanks.
--Amy
 
Replies (39): Threaded | Chronological
on June 5, 2012 2:38pm
Hi, Amy.  In my opinion (and it is ONLY opinion!), both sides have valid arguments, and either changing or not changing the name will have both desireable and undesireable results.
 
PRO:  That's an unfortunate, long, awkward name!  And as you say it's a descriptive name that really doesn't describe the group as it stands today.  But have you (or anyone else) come up with a new name that would somehow manage to tie into the old one and not lose continuity?  I can't, with just a minute or two of thinking, but there are many people more clever than me!
 
CON:  Whatever name an organization has grown up with, that name is associated with the organization, it immediately brings thoughts (hopefully wonderful ones!) to mind, and like it or not, it is part of the organization.  In the business world it's called a Trade Mark, and has definite financial value.  And my personal feeling is that any time a business changes its name, it only shows that it has something to hide!!  (Especially banks, which change their names as often as their stockings and seem to be convinced that it's a Good Thing to do so--and that often DO turn out to have something to hide!  The most egreggious recent example is the poorly-run and poorly-supervised Blackwater, which has now changed its name at least twice to get away from their absolutely awful reputation.)
 
"Re-branding" is a marketing term, and therefore suspect.  The only large company I can remember doing it successfully was when Datsun became Nissan, but they poured millions or billions into establishing the new "brand" with a higher-level reputation.  Basically they had to start over from scratch as if they were a brand new company.
 
And reputation is what it's all about.  Unless you can come up with a new name that's somehow tied into the old one, you will in point of fact be starting over from scratch because the new name will have NO reputation associated with it.  As I try to tell my students, it takes a lifetime to establish a reputation, and only one bad decision to lose it all.
 
Your comments about fundraising, strategic development plan, and audience development actually have nothing to do with your name, and need to be worked on regardless of a name change or not.
 
All I'm really saying is that it isn't just a matter of conservatives versus progressives, it's a serious question that deserves careful consideration.  Are there members who will leave if you change your name?  Is there reason to believe that you can replace them with new members if you have a new image?  No way we can judge.
All the best,
John
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 5, 2012 3:24pm
Hi Amy,
 
This could be a tricky one.  You are in a cleft stick between the feelings of some older members and the need to get a good name and new members...
 
First off, the current name is quite offputting, unless you happen to have some loyalty to or connection with GM.  It would put off any prospective new member, I agree.  However, I advise that you to check carefully the group's archives to ensure that there is nothing, especially a document, that binds it to GM.  If there is, then you have a problem.  But you need to know for fear of finding yourself on the wrong side of the law.
 
I would recommend that you take a survey of members' views on the GM connection/name.  If you have a majority of people who are in favour of re-branding, then, nothing legal binding, you can go ahead and try to bring the GM people along with you.
 
OTOH, if there is some legal tie, then you can either talk to GM and see if they will come to an arrangement to free the choir, or stick with the present setup.   Or you can resign, announcing you intention to form a new choir that will do the best music and will not be bound with a name that would drive prospective members away.  Chances are there will be resignations to join such a new choir.  And you can advertise under a new and attractive name.  I cannot see that there is anything illegal in members resigning if they wish to, or in their joining another group. 
 
Perhaps someone knows better, though.
 
Good luck!
on June 6, 2012 5:37am
Amy et. al. - This is a serious problem, not just for this choir, but for any organization which started under one sponsoring organization or idea, but which, because of time, has evolved into something not anticipated by its organizers.  A case in point is an organization of military officers I belong(ed) to, which is entitled "The Military Order of the World Wars."  When it was founded in 1926, I'm fairly sure it was called "The Military Order of the World War" (as in the only world war which had happened at that time - what we now refer to as World War I).  After the Second World War, they likely added the "s" because a large influx of WWII vets joined.  But then two odd things happened:  because of the large number of vets from both wars, they got lazy - they didn't do a lot of active recruiting (basically becoming something of old time reminiscence group with a veneer of concern about national security issues - my opinion, only); and they didn't want the Korean War vets because "it wasn't a real war."  By the time Vietnam came around, it got worse - that was an even less honorable "action" and we know that those pot-head, dirty, filthy....well, you can fill in the blanks, but by the time I joined in the mid-1990s, the organization was dying.  The WWI vets were long gone; the ones from WWII were dying off in increasing numbers, and they had no replacements.  The few younger members suggested name changes; but the old-timers had such a grip on the levers of power, that every suggestion was tossed out without a second thought.  So, what does this mean for you, Amy?  It's fairly clear that you're not happy with not only the name, but also the direction the choir has settled into over the years, and you feel a change of some sort is necessary for its long-term health (and yes, John's comment about strategy, long-term prospects, etc., is spot-on - but honestly, that'll be difficult to accomplish if you don't get a real sense of where your membership is - irrespective of the board's opinions - and yes, you'll get "But we were elected to represent the membership" - and the comeback on that is, "Do you?  Are you sure you know what the membership wants?").
 
1.  If the name no longer means anything, but the old-timers won't even give it a thought, or have such a grip on power and enough numbers to reinforce it, you won't get any younger members on the board to give a serious name change a chance until it's too late.  The younger members will leave before reasonably having a chance of being elected.
 
2.  What's more important:  making good music and heading perhaps in a direction other than singing to 60-plus year-olds as your primary mission, or keeping the organization together?  I know if you could manage both, you'd prefer to do so - it is unconscionably hard to start from scratch.  But a lot of times, you have to look to see if there's a bridge over that abyss - and if not, you start looking for a new road.
 
3.  David's suggestions are right on the money:  check to see what legal binding you have to GM, if any.  If none, then at least you won't have a legal hassle if you decide otherwise to change name or direction.  Check with your membership:  obviously, this is nothing new or surprising, and you may want to survey folks in (something like) the following manner (and your current board may resist the entire notion, but tell them that this is a way to either identify a problem or put the "problem" to rest, and that it won't go away as a "problem" until they find out exactly where they stand):
 
"It's a matter of common knowledge that discussions have occurred involving a number of possible changes to the organization:  name change, direction change, etc.  In order to make this a decision that reflects the desires of the membership of the choir, we have some questions we'd like you to answer.
 
1.  Do you think the name of the organization should be changed?  Yes ___  No ___   If so, what is the reason for your opinion? _______________ (enough space to answer thoroughly)  What name would you give this choir, if the group agrees to a name change? __________________
 
2.  Do you agree with the current direction of the organization, in terms of the audience served?  Yes ____ No ____  If not, what audience should we be serving? _____________ (with enough space....) 
 
3.  Do you think we should be doing a different repertoire?  Yes _____  No _____  If so, what should this choir be singing? _______________"
 
Obviously, this is just a quickie idea, which you could expand as you wish and need.  But there are caveats to keep in mind:  you seem to imply in your posting that you have no formal directive role beyond that of director - you can suggest to the board, but cannot force the board to take up an idea they resist.  The alternative tactic is to go directly to the membership, either openly or surreptitiously, and encourage a movement from "the grass roots" - but that has obvious dangers.  You have to calculate a number of things, personally:  is this/are these issue(s) important enough to risk your position and reputation?  Are you sufficiently unhappy with what the choir sings and the audience it serves to make an issue of this?  Do you have sufficient support (and without the board's formal consent to a survey process, you'll never KNOW - you'll probably have a good sense, but remember, it's always the ones who are discontented who will make noise - but where the silent majority is, ah, that's the real issue) to force a real and serious consideration and possible direction change?  Do you think you could help manage the disruption that such a process, if agreed to, will generate ("Well, what DO we call this group?"  Who SHOULD we be singing to?" etc. - because at that point, formal directive role or not, you're going to be the driving force, and you will be looked to by all - positively and negatively - as the engine of change).  Do you think, even if the board agrees to a survey and the results run against your sense of the issues, that you want to stay there and continue in what is clearly a personally tension-producing situation?  There's much, much more at stake here than simply a name change or even a direction change - and John's suggestions about what the organization should be working on irrespective of the outcome of these specific issues, become even more significant - because the process of strategizing and so on can, as no other process can, point out clearly to the leadership where the organization has been, is, and should go - but only if the board truly brings the membership's sense of these issues on board.  And your description doesn't give much of a sense of encouragement here.
 
Sorry for the rambling post, but as I got going, I realized that there were many issues beyond the stated ones that needed to be touched on.  Good luck, and let us know what happens!
 
Ron
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 6, 2012 7:25am
I actually have put out an email survey to all the members--about 50 of them--and have gotten fewer than 10 responses. Here were the questions I posed:
 
1. What do we value as an ensemble? What are our greatest intangible assets?
2. Who is our audience?
3. What do we strive to bring to listeners when we perform?
4. What do our audiences experience with us that they can’t get anywhere else? What are they left with at the end of each performance?
5. What role does our choir fulfill in the community?
 
I may have to get more direct in the questioning and flat-out ask "should we change our name?" so that I can get more of a sense of what the membership wants, because my initial question of "what is the choir's identity?" only got blank stares in return. Later this month, I'm planning to have a board retreat and explore these kinds of questions in a little more depth. And I do like your questions in particular, Ron; they get to the heart of it.
 
(a)David: I'm aware that there was a formal dissolution in black-and-white between GM and the choir from 1978, and I'll definitely ask our archivist for a copy of that document, to see the specific terms.
 
(a)John: Thanks for sharing the view on re-branding as it might be negatively understood. This is a high-risk proposal that has potential to cause schism and disconnect with our current audience, and put out that unsettling feeling of "somethings wrong," so we of course have to handle it delicately and ethically. Although I disagree with this comment: "Your comments about fundraising, strategic development plan, and audience development actually have nothing to do with your name, and need to be worked on regardless of a name change or not." It has everything to do with the name, because our name is deliberately misleading to the people we're marketing to. We were turned down for participation in a veterans benefit concert because it was sponsored by Navistar, which considers itself a rival company of GM. They wouldn't let us perform with them because of our name. We can't recruit new members because they think you have to be a GM employee. The choir has become an island unto itself, where the non-GM people believe in the GM connection as much as the two or three GM people do, but it's a false assumption. 
 
on June 6, 2012 11:34am
Amy:  Yes, I can certainly see that the name impacts some of the other problems.  But my only point was that those problems (a) need to be addressed with or without a name change, and (b) will not automatically be solved by a name change.  But I do see more clearly how the name is hurting you.
 
I suspect that much the same thing happened when NCR, which was hugely important in Dayton, Ohio, shrank in size and influence when electronics replaced mechanical cash registers.  They sponsored both a good company band and a good company chorus back the the '60s, both with good conductors and both very popular.  I didn't keep in touch, and I don't know what happened to either of those ensembles or whether they still exist at all.  But there are certainly other such ensembles--including orchestras--that started as company ensembles, so there should be some history of how they faired after becoming independent.
 
I do like Ben's suggestion.  It's the kind of name I was groping for but couldn't come up with.  (Just don't make it "Motown"--that's already been used!!)
All the best,
John
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 11, 2013 5:53am
 When I joined AXA chorus, there was its sponsorship, and Judy Otten had this gig for decades. Now, corporate changes impel those who actually were employees to search for new singing. The withdrawal  employee benefits of all sorts is 'strategic'.
 Other groups I belong to are really singing communities, and the social bonds and scholarship involvements keep us sharp- some even in our '80s. We dont strive to sell ourselves- only the music, which we search out, edit & compose.
on June 6, 2012 5:52am
Hi Amy.  You wrote, "But we're going to die out anyway because we have no strategic development plan, no fundraising, and we sing to the same 65-and-older audience that we've been singing to for decades."  Reading between the lines, it seems your issue with the name is just part of the issue.  IMHO, the real question/frustration is one of differing vision/hopes for the choir between you and your Board.  I looked at your website and you are correct - without change, your choir is likely going to fizzle out at some point.  If your frustration level is surpassing what you obtain from the choir (making music, pay, whatever are your motivations to be the choir's Artistic Director), then it may be time to propose a Saturday retreat for your Board to do strategic planning.  See if you and your Board can reach a common vision.  If they decline to schedule a strategic planning session or you cannot come to a common vision - then either leave or accept their vision.  Maybe state your vision clearly and inform the Board without them coming more towards your vision, you will resign.  Not because you are just angry and are "taking your football and going home."  But because the current level of music making is not sufficiently satisfying to justify your time and energy.  You have some decisions to make.  Good luck.
 
David Spitko, Artistic Director
The Choristers
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 6, 2012 6:38am
Hi Amy,
 
I lke John's idea about finding a name that honors the history.  How about The Motor City Chorale?  I would think GM would have a problem with any group out there using its name without any connection.  When was the last time GM was even asked to give some financial support?  If someone pointed all this out to GM, they might make the decision for you by demanding the company's name be removed from the choir's title.  Good luck!
 
on June 6, 2012 12:51pm
Ben - I like your suggestion about a name, and it addresses the concern about "never make a proposal for which you don't already have a solution"!  Too often, someone raises a problem or a concern, and the rest of us carry on with our bright ideas - and no solutions in sight.  I will say, however, that your suggestion about getting GM to demand a name change is a bit more than radical; it's asking for trouble.  Better to do it smart and smooth under your own terms and conditions, rather than someone else's.
 
Amy - You're right, as far as I can see, about the name change being not so much THE issue, but as a sign of the larger issue involved.  You have a name with no connection; you possibly are even violating copyright/trademark laws without intending to by using GM's "brand;" you have folks singing thinking that somehow there is a connection; and what you've really got is inertia.  If indeed the connection was broken by mutual agreement in 1978, the choir's been operating under a misapprehension for all that time - and why didn't people change the name of the group in 1978?  I'll bet it was sheer inertia - it was easier to keep going AND possibly there was a sense that the audience they had had prior to 1978 would disappear if the title of the group wasn't the same.  Be that as it may, it is eminently difficult to get folks to change direction, whether it's as superficial as a name change or as fundamental as a repertoire change - but the latter can happen with a new artistic/music director, so the former should be much less of a problem.  David encapsulates better than I did the fundamental issues for you, and only you can answer those - but they do need answering.  This is a fight worth making IF, and only IF, your sense of the group's dynamic would agree - and I have to wonder about that, because your comment about "blank stares" suggests to me that there is little cognition happening on these matters on their part, and they may not see a problem.  If they don't, and you do, you may need to reexamine your concerns, and ask if they are more important than continuing to work with this group.
 
Ron
on June 7, 2012 8:18am
Yes, there is a little more going on than simply the issue with the name of the group. For one thing, they have a music selection committee which votes on what music they want to do for the upcoming season, and even though I'm the one who ultimately shapes the program, the singers protest when I don't follow the committee's recommendations, and we don't have any money to buy new music. So any new music is either donated by a singer or downloaded from the public domain library--mostly hardcore classical stuff, which they don't want to do. They hate singing in foreign languages, and would rather stick to upbeat pop song arrangements. (I never thought I would be telling people as old as my parents that classical music can be good.)
 
The board is selected by popular vote every year, and so are the section leaders. The voting is done at an annual meeting, which the director and accompanist are not allowed to attend.
 
The choir's idea of making money is to just do as many concerts as possible - up to 20 or more a year in churches and senior centers, none of which sell tickets. Everywhere we go, we're passing the hat and asking for donations. We will gladly do benefit concerts, but it's getting to the point where we can't support ourselves. Our marketing consists of paper flyers and snail-mailings to patrons. I had to get outside help to update the website. I have suggested fundraising events to no avail--instead, idividual singers step forward to overcome any financial shortfalls as a stop-gap measure. Late last spring, we discovered that a senior center couldn't pay us because of a sudden budget cut. I suggested to the board that we cancel the concert, but the board voted against cancelling, even though by this time we were well in the hole. They were wanting to sing so that I would be paid (I have no other job besides my voice studio), but they don't get that if the CHOIR doesn't get paid, there won't BE a choir to support me.
 
New singers have trouble adjusting to the rigors of memorizing 90 minutes of repertoire and performing it 20 times a year. And the choir VEHEMENTLY insists on memorization - not a bad thing, but when you consider that this is an unauditioned choir that can barely sing a cappella music unassisted, I would rather put music in their hands and have them sound good, than listen to a sound that's no better than a kindergarten class with everything memorized. You can have all the showbiz and panache in the world, but if the sound isn't good, people will not pay for it.
 
This summer, I'm trying as hard as I can to make my situation better, at least so that I can put on my resume that I did SOMETHING with this choir to make it better, because anything I have to show for it up to now has happened because of their choices, not mine. I had to pull teeth to transform their sound, and they didn't realize the difference it made until listeners started telling us, "that's the best you've sounded in 20 years." It's that kind of transformation I try to hang onto, but I learned (maybe too late) that a music director can't ignore the admin side of things. Those two elements HAVE to be aware of each other and work together. 
So yes, there's a lot going on. It's hard to know what to do, but I'm reaching out, and it's done a lot of good so far.
Amy
on June 7, 2012 8:24am
Been there, done that with soliciting GM. The last time we received money from them was a grant from their foundation to buy our current set of risers. And at the dissolution of 1978, GM did allow the group to keep GM in the name.
on June 7, 2012 1:34pm
Hi Amy,
I agree with the many comments that state that the name change is not the real issue here. Everything you have posted points to the fact that the way this choir is set up/running the music director has no power in anything.
 
You basically have two choices;
1) leave
2) accept that this is the situation and try to work within it. In any situation, change is extremely hard. It is rarely acheived by way of revolution (which is what it sounds like you are trying to do). More often it happens so slowly that it is only after the fact that participants realize it has happened.
 
If you want to continue in this post, my suggestion would be to pick ONE thing that you really need change, and figure out tiny incremental steps that you can take to make it happen. For example, would it be possible to megotiate with the music committee that you get to pick one piece unilaterally?
 
I can tell you from my own experience on a community choir board, that an individual can make changes, BUT, you need a lot of patience and a long view. I have been seeing the results of my work - 4-5 years in!
 
Maybe the way for you to go is to start your own choir, and set out with a mission and priorities you agree with.
Leah
on June 8, 2012 8:16am
Amy - let's see if I can recap the situation:
 
1.  The choir has a name which, in not just your judgment, but others' (but not enough "others") is a stumbling block to recruitment.
2.  The choir has been "doing it this way" for a very long time - and shows no sign of wanting to change ANY of it - memorization, elections, direction, etc.
3.  Though they are at least your parents' generation, they have no interest in doing classical music (by the way, being older does NOT equal an interest in classical music - my parents, both musical apt, had little interest in the stuff - which makes my interest almost exclusively in it a real interesting matter for some study!) - and I have to wonder how much of an interest there is for this in your general audience.
4.  You have no real authority - except in strictly technical musical matters.  You can't pick or change repertoire; you can't affect how the board is elected (a popularity vote and probably longest-serving folks are the ones - the noisiest, not necessarily the best, at the job being the prime candidates); you can't do anything that would make this choir a more exciting and dynamic group of musicians - not more relevant; just more dynamic.  You can't even directly address your concerns with the group for fear of being a revolutionist - your comment about "...they don't get that, if the CHOIR doesn't get paid, there won't BE a choir to support me" is the most poignant and revealing.
5.  This group, leadership down to the last squeaking singer, doesn't understand that the "good ol' ways" that kinda worked 50 years ago are the "bad ol' ways" that insure the eventual (and not necessarily) painful death of this group.  They don't understand, and don't really seem (in the main) to want to understand that without a plan, they'll limp from crisis to crisis, non-paying situation to pro bono event that costs more than they'll ever make as a group.
6.  Other than this, only your voice studio provides you an income.
 
I think that covers it rather well - yes?
 
The solution(s)?
1.  Quit and go to another existing situation (but be ready to face the same stuff)  2.  Make a revolution (very hard if you're not hard-bitten; it takes a "true believer" to make a successful revolution, and those aren't nice people) within the organization - very hard, very nasty, very unsatisfactory at the end.  3.  Start a new choir that is at least closer to your main concerns and objectives - but for the first several years, even if you are successful in doing something like this, it isn't likely to be a paying venture.  4.  Stay where you are; swallow your pride; work on incremental changes - and be prepared to see even those rebuffed, rejected, thrown aside as "too much change."  (Remember:  "change" is the enemy here)
 
None of these are very satisfactory, but I can't see a fifth or more option.  Leah's take is good, at least for the incremental change.  Perhaps the most important change to make, IMHO, is to get the group to understand that the finances have to drive a fair number of other decisions - it's just the way it is.  Doing 18 instead of 20 gigs is not a statement of failure; it's facing realities and not damaging the group's integral health.  A long-term set of objectives, and finding the wherewithal to fund those, is necessary to the long-term health of the group.  If the board members don't see that, don't want to see that, then there is little hope for the long-term health of this organization - you're already indicating that they're operating in the hole.  They pass the hat - but no talk of grants (I assume that your group's in Michigan, which isn't doing real well overall, economically, so I would suspect grant money at the state or local governmental level is probably minimal at best) or any realistic prospects of fund-raising.  People step up in the event of crisis; but it is deadly for an organization to lurch from crisis to crisis.  Eventually, people get tired of it, and walk.  Since I also suspect that your "board" hasn't changed membership significantly in the last 5-10 years (the same old folks rotating from one position to another), your only hope to begin changing things is with them - and that's a bleak hope, in my estimation.  You're proposing work - real work - the real work of running a community chorus - and there's nothing scarier than that (been there, done that).  This is a reality check, both for them, and for you.
 
Ron
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on June 8, 2012 9:27am
Many, many thanks to everyone contributing! There's a lot for me to keep in mind here, as we go through this soul-searching process. 
 
I wanted to say a little something about the mandatory memorization thing, because at least one of you responded to me (privately) that I shouldn't worry about it, and that directors would kill to have singers that value memorization at that level.
 
Here's why I worry about it: This choir is used to a rehearsal process that goes like this: Just sing the song from beginning to end, over and over and over, until everyone gets it. Go through the entire program every rehearsal in this manner. This is what their previous music director had done. And they sounded awful. I actually wanted to WORK with their sound, and isolate different parts of the piece to work on in detail. But they resisted this constantly: "We'll never memorize it!!" they kept saying. They wanted me to rehearse them the way their previous director did. They only started to change their minds (a little) when listeners started telling them how much their sound improved. I've had singers tell me all the time, "why can't you rehearse it this way?" like they're telling me how to do my job. The first year, they criticized the way I dressed. It's insane. I actually walked out of rehearsal a year ago when an alto suggested they rehearse the "old" way, and I said, "Ok, do YOU want the podium? Because here it is." 
 
They are only starting to get what a good sound is now. They thank me up and down for this and love that they're getting accolades. But I just feel like hired help. 
 
I do apologize if this is just ranting, but I seriously never expected to be in a position like this. My board president told me a couple of weeks ago, "The reason people stay in this choir is because they LIKE it this way."  But I feel like I have something special as a conductor that no one has seen yet. And yes, I am angry about it. My plan is to make things better for myself, and this summer will be very critical in that regard. Again, I can't thank you all enough for all these ideas and possibilities you've shared with me. It's already making the process easier.
 
Amy
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 8, 2012 3:24pm
What an intolerable situation.  
 
How about just leaving and starting up a new choir under your terms?   
 
If you spend the summer researching all that is needed to start afresh  - instead of wasting energy researching how to make the current choir work with these deplorable attitudes from on high - it will probably be well worth it.    Life is too short to put up with such nonsense.
 
It sounds as if you have a lot to offer the music community - and the singers who don't join this current choir because of its name and its repertoire would probably flock to a new one.
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on June 9, 2012 7:11am
Parallel situation that worked: the former "Exxon Choristers" from The Esso Corporation changed their name to "The Celebration Singers," in Cranford, NJ, when they went independent of the company, and they are doing fantastically well! Morale's high, they have an awesome director, a thriving multi-level children's chorus they didn't used to have before, they're up to some 60 adult singers, and just formed a men's a cappella group that goes around singing paid gigs!
 
 
Please familiarize your singer-members and board with this group and its history and the new life it took on when it re-branded and re-named...It will serve as tremendous inspiration as to the validity of your suggestion!
 
I agree that you're dealing with more than a name change issue, though!
 
Cherwyn
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 9, 2012 9:00am
John is right... the 'trade mark' (or 'service mark') of the group has value -- "brand equity" is another marketing term that gets used for this. Beyond the finances of the change, an even worse problem would be for new singers who heard about the group and want to join, but can't find you anywhere.
 
See if you or someone can come up with a new title that incorporates the initials "GMEC" (such as, "Greater Michigan E_______ Chorus"?), thus allowing you to keep whatever logo exists and allows you to keep your current Internet URL ("www.gmchorus.com"). You can even have a contest for the members to come up with a new GMEC. For the first few years after the change, you can put a little tag line on all your correspondence and advertisements, noting "... the group is formerly known as General Motors Employees' Chorus". After a few years (2 yrs.? 5 yrs.? 10?), when the transition seems to be complete, drop the tagline...
 
Example: "MCYO" -- 'Montgomery County Youth Orchestra' has been around for eons, and eventually started to incorporate young musicians from outside of the county. Eventually the name was changed to reflect that fact, becoming 'Maryland Central Youth Orchestra'... It can be done.
 
Ron Isaacson
Germantown, Md.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 29, 2012 4:57pm
 Today's renowned classical choirs use terms like these in their name:  scholars (as in The Tallis Scholars), singers (The Cambrdige Singers), ensemble, chorale (Queen's chorale), glee club (Harvard Glee club), Parley of Instruments, academy (Academy of Ancient Music), choristers, collegium musicum, camerata (Boston Camerata), choirboys, boys' choir. I do find that the fancier the name or something in latin tends to catch one's attention.
on January 2, 2013 9:48am
A caveat on Latin, though:
 
For 20 years I conducted Voces Novae et Antiquae in Philadelphia, and while it made us look distinguished (in effect, our name was our mission statement), the name got hopelessly mangled time after time, and, probably, hurt the organization in the end.
 
Robert A.M. Ross
Finalist, 2012 American Prize for Choral Composition
info(a)robertamross.com
on January 3, 2013 3:29am
So, Amy, what's happened?  What has been the fallout from this?  Have you decided to stick with this group, or have you bagged it for a different gig?  Have you "gone to the barricades" like the students in "Les Mis" or are you attempting a "revolution from below" (well, not quite - maybe from the middle)?  You posted this 7 months ago - don't leave us hanging!
 
Ron
on January 3, 2013 9:13am
Hi! Nice of you to check in.
 
Artistically, we're doing better than ever - our sound is at peak performance, we're getting a lot of great feedback and have performed at a couple of new venues this season. I cut back the number of choral pieces and alternated them with solo and small ensemble pieces, which gave us all the time in rehearsal we needed to improve the sound such that the choir is singing a cappella unassisted for the first time ever. They love their sound, they're paying better attention to it, and I'm enjoying making music with them. Some singers don't like the artistic decisions I'm daring to make these days, but they actually sound good now, and more and more are realizing that.
 
On the administrative side, though, things are at a stalemate. I brought in an outside consultant thinking it would make a difference, but even though the board appreciated his time and suggestions, it was back to business as usual at the next meeting. I decided to take my foot off the gas with the name change because it's really only symptomatic of some larger issues, which I'm planning to tackle from the grassroots level. Number one is fundraising. And here's what they decided to do about that: sell ad spaces in the program...and go crawling back to General Motors for a grant. (Cue sad trombone.) 
 
Meanwhile, there seems to be a rumor going around among the singers. Now that they know how good I am as a director and singer, they think it's possible that I'll find a better job somewhere else. I haven't yet gotten an offer to use as a bargaining chip, but that's exactly what I plan to do if I get one. I'll tell my singers to let me be present at the annual meeting, leave ALL the artistic decisions to me, and have some kind of development plan or else I'm leaving. For the time being, I'm going to do everything I can to make my situation better regardless of what anyone thinks, but if I get another offer, it's time to play "let's make a deal." 
on January 3, 2013 8:31pm
Amy - thanks for the update!  It does sound as though the musical aspect of your life as a director has improved, but not the administrivial aspects.  Lord knows, artistic organization boards are no different than most others - fear rules them.  Fear of change; fear of confronting possible failure; fear of being blamed for things beyond our control.  But here we address change, discontinuity (so viewed), shaking things up.  The answer?  Take the lowest possible denominator of success and hope for the best while fearing the worst.  Go sell ads, and return to GM for a grant.  Eh, what?  Haven't these "leaders" understood that there was a or several reasons for the separation from GM back in 1978?  Possibly because both sides decided it was better for both if they went their separate ways?  Whatever - I hope you 1) do get an offer that's worthy of you; and 2) are prepared that, should you use this "offer" to try to leverage greater control - for that's what it's about - you get invited by the board to take advantage of it.  Be ready for that.  Conservative administrations tend to look for any out that will leave them securely in "control" - even if what they control isn't worth it.  Also be ready to have your reputation damned around the area should you leave and should a number of singers leave with you - which I would anticipate would be the case - because those who stay behind WILL do that.  You will be condemned as a brutal, power-hungry, controlling...well, you fill in that blank - and you will not have the luxury of reply, other than doing a slam-dunk job at another choral situation locally or regionally.  Final thought:  make no threat you're unwilling to see through.  Otherwise, they've got you!  Go git 'em!
 
Chantez bien!
 
Ron
on January 4, 2013 9:20am
Amy:  Ron, as always, sees things very clearly.
 
Tradition teaches (or perhaps claims) that nothing should ever change.  It can become very strong, and many people do respond to the "it's what we've always done" argument because it relieves them from the need to think.  And most religions, to name just one facet of human nature, could not exist without it.
 
History, on the other hand, teaches that EVERYTHING changes, and not only can and will but MUST!   And that it's futile to try to "stem the tides" of change.
 
Here in Virginia this came to a head in the mid-'90s, when the Virginia Military Institute's tradition of never admitting women came into conflict with their status as a state supported institution.  And the school's position was defended by the state's Attorney General, who happened to be the first woman ever elected to the job!
 
At the time I was playing in an symphony that put up its out-of-town players in host homes, and I got an earful of the "traditional" viewpoint from several alumni of the school and their supportive wives.  And it was obvious that the Attorney General was counting on their political support as she tried to run for Governor in the future.
 
But the outcome, whlich went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, was perfectly predictable.  The school was told to make a choice:  admit women or give up their state support.  And even the traditionalists could read a balance sheet perfectly well!
 
The school fought change, but in the meantime American culture had changed around it.
 
And the irony is that here at Virginia Tech, just a couple of hours down the interstate, our own Corps of Cadets had not only admitted women years earlier, but had already had its first female Corps Commander, but nobody noticed!!!!  (This whole military shcool thing seems rather strange to a West Coast boy, as does the idea of single-gender education, but it's certainly popular here in the East.)
 
But since the Supremes are unlikely to get involved in your situation, my best advice is to give up on expecting a revolution and see what you can do in terms of evolution.  It may take time, but what you need is new "traditions"!!!
All the best,
John
on January 9, 2013 11:58am
Update: My board president has invited me and the accompanist to attend this year's annual meeting - a first for this group. He said he heard compelling arguments from both of us on why we should be able to attend, and that as long as he's president, it will be his policy to let us be there. Score one for progress!
 
Amy
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 10, 2013 9:31am
It even sounds as though you may have a "quiet" friend in court.  Cultivate him!
 
Ron
on January 12, 2013 10:00am
Why not call yourselves the GM Chorus, and skip the  Employee part of the title. Then you could subtitle it  " The Great Music Chorus"  or "Greater Michigan"  or something else with those initials.  It would keep your name recognition but eliminate the supposition one had to be an employee of General Motors to join. 
 
 
on February 11, 2013 9:15am
Another update: I made a major program change this week, taking out a very difficult piece and replacing it with a couple of easier ones, and now 5 singers are up in arms telling everyone how awful I am for doing this. All I want is for this choir to sound good. If it means re-working the program, I will do it. If these naysayers think they can do a better job, let them have the podium.
on May 30, 2013 11:43am
I've resigned. I'm now an unrestricted free agent.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on May 31, 2013 5:19am
Hang in there, Amy.
What a lot you've had to go through...truly.
 
Sorry to hear it came to your resignation, but I'm hoping (and am fairly certain) there's a silver lining out there ...
Very best wishes to you!
 
Jenny Crober,
VOCA Chorus of Toronto
 
P.S.  It was a pleasure to read again John Howell's caring comments.  He is missed!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 13, 2013 1:55pm
Thanks, Jenny. I appreciate it. And I'm happy to say that I'm already beginning to form a new choir that will be unleashed on the world in the next few months. Things are looking up.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 14, 2013 4:58am
Amy - I'm so sorry to hear that it came to the point of resignation - BUT - as has been said, when a door closes, a window opens.  But all of us should take this as an object lesson - that the tendencies towards a rigid conservatism, unwilling to encompass change, unwilling to welcome new directions, is probably the deadliest "sin" in the world of performance artistry - irrespective whether it's in the realm of instrumental or choral music, theater, dance, etc.  Too many times such conservatism is couched in terms of "faithfulness to the (initial - and not necessarily valid) vision" - without any hard thinking or soul-searching involved about where they are in relation to where they might go.  I admit freely that I tend to be somewhat conservative in my artistic taste - but I hope we've not become so intellectually or artistically ossified that we could be used as museum pieces: "Ah, yes, boys and girls; we come to what is the grimmest example of artistic lack of flexibility - Director Ossificatus.  The species, for all that it seems to have a suicidal tendency to take positions that lead to artistic implosions, and suffers from progressive hearing loss - it seems that suggestions made to improve activities by the larger group for which they have a responsibility are increasingly unheard as the years go by - nonetheless seems to reproduce at an appallingly high rate, and we continue to find so many examples of it throughout the world that it has baffled scientists and sociologists.  The species appears to reproduce in conjunction with yet another amazingly long-lived, if suicidal, species:  Boardmemberus Obscuratus.  Frequently found congregated in rooms in the basements of churches, performance venues, etc., the individuals have little importance on their own, but in large groups, known colloquially as "boards," they exert an influence out of all proportion to their real value.  And here, boys and girls, is still another species with a sad life history, Canti Canti. further divided into two sub-species:  Canti Canti Indifferenti and Canti Canti Insignificanti.  The first species, frankly, doesn't give a damn - oops, sorry, I forgot I was addressing children - and the second is, sadly, treated - truly, MIStreated - with disdain by members of the Ossificatus and Obscuratus species.  The numbers wane and swell - but they are so focused on producing sounds in public, and really don't seem to be bothered or are not empowered to make significant changes to the actions of Ossificatus and Obscuratus.  It's truly amazing that this species has survived!"
 
And so, let us know, Amy, when you have "unleashed" this new choir and how it goes.  And after unleashing it, tell us what you have really learned from the experience and how it has informed your decisions with this new chorus.
 
Chantez bien!
 
Ron
Applauded by an audience of 3
on June 15, 2013 6:58am
Oui; merci.
on June 16, 2013 3:04pm
Hi, Amy,
As president of the board of a 32-year old ensemble (which is in the process of "refreshing" itself), I wish you all the best in your new endeavor. I couldn't even imagine not having our music director absent from our annual meeting - I hope your next group will have a more welcoming culture. From all I've read in this thread, I'm sure that your next group will be blessed to have you for their director.
Lori McHugh
Connecticut Choral Society
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 17, 2013 7:36am
Thanks so much. I'm actually forming a whole new ensemble called Spectrum Singers, and I'll be making a big announcement about it this week.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 18, 2013 3:54am
Congratulations, Amy!  When you do, give us details, details, details.  Although you're out there in Michigan (I guess), I think that many of us would be more than happy to support you iin whatever way possible.  In addition, I'd be curious to hear what happens to the GM Employees' Chorus.  No doubt they'll struggle along for a while - but without a dedicated leader (such as yourself) to be willing to explain away the disconnect between the name and the group's actual composition, and all the other attendant nonsense you had to go through - it'll not only be same-old, same-old all over again - which doubtless will make the Canti Canti Indifferenti and the Bordmemberus Obscuratus thoroughly happy - but the same-old, same-old problems will have returned, but with greater vigor than before.  They'll return to the outmoded practices of before, and eventually, not having addressed any of the core problems of the chorus, they'll go away.  If they do continue, but with some of the innovations you introduced, it'll be to your credit - not theirs (not really).
 
Ron
on June 18, 2013 5:26am
CONGRATS, Amy!! That's wonderful news! 
All the best to you and your brand new ensemble!
 
Jenny C.
(VOCA Chorus of Toronto)
on June 18, 2013 11:16am
Thanks, all, again. There's a fresh classified post here in ChoralNet detailing what's going on with my new group.
on July 8, 2013 8:14am
 
Here's the new thing that's going on. Real excited to share it, and the meeting is just a week away!
Applauded by an audience of 4
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