Flute Choirs - Get Organized!

by Amy Rice-Young (1984)

Flute Choirs are now being accepted as an actual, real-live, performance medium. There is a plentiful supply of music and a surplus of flutists. In my experiences with flute choirs, the questions most asked pertain to "What's next?" Flutists are finding that there is more to running a successful flute choir than simply gathering together a group of flutists. Yet many of us have had little or no experience in managing an arts group. The following article lends some ideas on organization and serves as an outline to help you find the direction of your group.

STEP I

First, assess what you have. Find out as much about your members as possible. The Rocky Mountain Flute Choirs (RMFC) have a form given to everyone involved. Sample questions include:

  • a) other organizations, both musical and non-musical;
  • b) other instruments;
  • c) occupation (in the case of student choirs, their parents also complete forms);
  • d) miscellaneous hobbies;
  • e) time that they are willing to donate.

We also ask about favorite kinds of music and performances. When you have finished compiling these answers, you should have a pretty good idea of what you have to work with. Next, review your assets. What music do you have? Do you have extra instruments? (Bass, Alto, Eb flutes, etc). What about music stands, sound equipment, files, etc? Finally, if you have already had a number of performances, assess your audience. The RMFC handles this in a variety of ways. We have had several receptions at which our members have been able to talk to the audience. We get feed-back from family members. Definitely keep track of ticket sales, and see which concerts are most successful, both in numbers of people attending and financially. The most successful method we have used is an audience questionnaire. We simply put a questionnaire in one of our programs and had people leave them at the door after the concert. (Never let them take them home, or ask them to mail them back. Your response will not be nearly as complete!) By this response, we were able to learn who was actually there, which pieces were their favorites, what kinds of music they enjoyed, why they were there, how they learned about the concert, and numerous other useful bits of information!

STEP II

The next step is to assess what your needs are. Needs will vary greatly from one organization to the next. Some things to consider include:

  • a) Members - Would you like to expand the size of your group?
  • b) Performance Outlets - Many ensembles are ready and willing to perform, but aren't sure where and how to market their talents.
  • c) Promotion and Publicity - Almost every group I know of has a problem with this.
  • d) Assets - Now that you know what you have, think about what you would like to have. Dream a little, but still be realistic. Do you really want 14 bass flutes and a sound system large enough for Shea Stadium?
  • e) Management - Sure, we all have great ideas, but who has the time!?
  • f) Money - So what else is new?

STEP III

Okay, now it’s time to get it together. At this point, you have several options. The most obvious is to affiliate with a school or university. This has several distinct advantages. There are usually plenty of flutists and opportunities to perform for school functions. Schools usually publicize their own events quite well. You have use of the school's library. They may have supplemental flutes which you can use, i.e., bass, alto and Eb. Association with a school should provide ample rehearsal space, with music stands available, etc. Sometimes schools will make available their secretarial services, Xerox machines, and, with a little bit of luck, you may get some funding. There are drawbacks too, however. You may be limited in the number and quality of your players and/or the performances you can give. Most flute choirs in schools have a high rate of turnover among members. The school's publicity may extend only to its faculty and students, and not reach the general community. In many cases, the library of flute choir music is very limited. The school may not have any of your supplemental flutes, nor be willing to purchase them. Each educational institution is different and should be examined before a commitment is made. Be sure to think of the community as a whole, and where mutual needs will best be served.

Another option is through a flute club. Obviously, you must either have one in your area, or be willing to start one, which is a whole different subject. Again, each flute club is organized differently and has distinct advantages and disadvantages pertaining to a flute choir. If you flute club is non-profit, be sure to check the limitations in both the articles of incorporation and the by-laws. The Rocky Mountain Flute Association has a flute choir that meets once a year and performs at the Spring Flute Follies. While this is great fun, it is hardly a regular, performing organization, and does not meet the needs of flutists who wish to play more frequently. Other flute clubs, however, have flute choirs that meet on a. regular basis and are quite successful!

A flute choir can also be a totally independent organization. The ALRY Flute Choir started from an advanced flute class (adults) that I taught at the Denver Free University. Each member paid dues to belong, and from that I was paid a salary and we purchased music. The Young Flute Choir was formed when a group of Junior High students decided they wanted to play together. It was also run on a dues basis. This method can be very successful, especially for the private flute teacher. You can choose your members and size. You can regulate your performances and set your own fees. You are also in charge of your own publicity, providing rehearsal space, music stands and obtaining extra instruments. You are your own manager, accountant, etc., etc. As an alternative, you can delegate many of these responsibilities. The ALRY Flute Choir assigned chores to each of its members and appointed a manager. Enough money was eventually made from performances that we no longer charged dues. This system was very efficient for us, until we decided to expand our horizons. This leads us to another form of independent organization.

The ALRY Flute Choir and the Young Flute Choir joined together and formed a non-profit corporation called Rocky Mountain Flute Choirs, Inc. While the two choirs are still separate (ALRY is a professional, adult performing group and Young is Junior High and High School students), they share management and assets. There are some rather major steps to be taken at this point.

1) Form your corporation and file for non-profit status (501)(c)(3).

This can be a very complicated step, as you must have Articles of  Incorporation, By-Laws and a Board of Directors. Check your information sheets and see if you have any legal connections. This is your best bet. We were fortunate in that there is an organization in Denver called Colorado Lawyers for the Arts (COLA). They aided us in all of the paper work at no fee. Many arts councils have similar services, so be sure to check with yours. In designing your By-Laws, examine carefully your goals and objectives as well as officers and their responsibilities. Other major questions to resolve include:

  • a) Are you a member or non-member organization?
  • b) Who will have voting rights?
  • c) How much power do you want to give you Board of Directors?
  • d) What is your purpose for being non-profit? (This is an important one!)

There will be many other questions that will arise. If possible, obtain copies of By-Laws from other organizations similar to yours. This will be a great help in answering some of your questions. Also include the members of your flute choir as muchas possible, as this determines the direction they will follow.

2) Set up a Board of Directors.

This can be both fun and frustrating. If you have completed Step II, it will be much easier. One warning about your Board of Directors: it is common to ask the actual members of your group and/or your friends to be on the Board. While they may be very good, you have not expanded your potential, nor have you removed any responsibility from you performers. Remember, too, that your Board basically runs your organization. In most cases, they are in charge of hiring and firing your staff and making major financial decisions.

I will again use the RMFC as my example. Our major needs were for better publicity and marketing, obtaining additional flutes, enlarging our sound system, having outside management to free our members from too much responsibility, and the money to do it all. For our Board we chose a lawyer, a banker, two professional fundraisers, an officer of the Denver Musicians Union, two marketing experts, an accountant and a representative from the flute choirs. The Board then set up Standing Committees to perform the tasks most needed, drawing upon members of the choirs and community.

3) Organize your Staff

Your Board will function much more smoothly if they know exactly what is needed, and who reports to whom. We separated artistic responsibilities from administrative ones. While the Artistic Director is responsible for concerts, music, etc., the Administrative Director does most everything else. He is the General Coordinator, and serves on most Standing Committees on the Board. (Notice, however, that neither he nor any other members of the Staff are actually Board members). Your Board should be very careful in choosing a person for this position, and should certainly consult with the Artistic Director.

4) Do You Have Support Groups?

Any non-profit organization needs and wants as much outside support as possible. As any band director can point out, parents are a perfect place to start. While the students are actively learning and performing, your best move is to keep their parents involved. The RMFC formed the Parent's Club, and all parents of students in the choirs are encouraged to take an active part. Some of their functions are to maintain the wardrobe, serve as backstage supervisors, provide refreshments at various functions and help in ticket promotion. Any number of other support groups can be formed according to your special needs. 

The RMFC feels that becoming a nonprofit corporation was the right direction for us. As we continue to grow we have built-in expansion capabilities. Our Board has developed a long-range goal plan, and we have been recognized by both the business and arts community.

Whatever direction you decide to go, I urge you to organize your group so as not to limit your potential. Hopefully, these three steps to better organization will be as useful to you as they have been to us. Most of all, aim for quality--and have fun while you do it!!

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