25 November 2013

Advent and Christmas recitals: how and how not to promote

So now that I'm officially singing in church again, rather than simply howling at the back as the loudest member of the congregation, I find myself for the second or third time (I'll explain)in my time as a church singer involved in an Advent/Christmas recital.

The first was an unmitigated disaster. The music itself went off fairly well. We practised for about a month, the organist brought in the choir from another church he played at, and that plus the Italian choir from our church resulted in some half decent music. The problem was that we had zero support from the priest. Father had been reluctant to have a concert with voluntary donations, because in his opinion we would only get about one or two hundred dollars out of it, and it was a lot of work and not worth the effort. (This was the one and only time I ever heard a priest think a few hundred bucks wasn't worth any effort. Most of them will climb mountains for a ten spot.) He only let the recital happen because we had been pushing at it for a long time. I think he let us do it just to show us that he was right and it really wasn't worth the effort.

The problem was there was absolutely no promotion of the recital. There were no posters, no banners, nothing in the bulletin. The only promotion we got was an announcement the week before, which amounted to: "Oh, I almost forgot. There'll be a recital of Advent music next Saturday at 7:00." At the recital there were maybe thirty (and I'm being generous) people in attendance. The collection didn't amount to a hundred bucks. There were no further recitals under that priest. I believe he even told the director: "See? I told you so."

That priest was replaced shortly after, and the new priest soon announced that there would be recital for his first Christmas, but then told us we would not be involved. He brought in singer Michael Burgess, locally famous as the star of the original run of Les Miz, and a few others. He promoted it aggressively with banners and flyers and poster, charged twenty bucks a ticket and filled the church with around a thousand people. (What can I say? I didn't like him much, but I have to admit he had connections and knew how to use them.) I no longer go there, but I have heard they still have big fundraisers every Christmas, some musical, others not. One way or another, the choir still isn't involved.

So now we are doing a small Advent recital at our new church, a kind of Lessons and Carols Lite. I'll be doing two pieces. I don't expect anyone will be coming to hear me. However, this director has got a woman who runs a very good school choir (they do well at Kiwanis every year) to come with about forty to forty five of her students. Plus he has our main choir, plus a couple of friends who will play and sing selections from The Messiah.

The church has been promoting it. It should be up on our website by now, plus it is mentioned in the bulletin, plus posters at the back of the church, plus announcements. For all of this, I believe the main church filler will be the students. If you can't get some locally famous star to fill the pews, it is a great idea to include children.  I doubt anybody would come to hear me sing, but people will come to hear them.  We can count on both parents coming out, plus any grandparents who are in the area, so I am guessing there will be about three people for every kid. With these, plus a few members of the congregation, I estimate we should have, hopefully, about two hundred people and perhaps more. Not a full house, but not bad for the first time around. It may be enough for us to start doing a few of these a year.

The only issue I have is the way the announcements are phrased. Firstly, the announcements are matter of fact, and the facts are very bare bones, to say the least:  There will be a recital of Advent music at such a time.   There is no mention of what choirs will be singing, or that there will be a violinist and selections from the Messiah professionally sung. It seems to me we should play up these elements, and do everything to make this recital sound like it is the best thing since sliced bread. You have to convince the people that they want to come to church and hear us sing, that instead of  watching Hockey Night in Canada  in their warm, comfortable house they'd much rather  come out through the cold to the church to hear this music.  In short, you have to sell it.  Secondly, when they mention the tawdry subject of money, they say: "Admission is free, but if you wish to give a donation it will be appreciated and go to the building maintenance fund." I think that phrasing pretty much shoots us in the foot when it comes to raising money. It makes the donation sound completely optional, and gives the attendees nothing to aim at. I would have said something more along these lines: "Admission is free, but we will be collecting donations for the building maintenance fund. We are suggesting a donation of five dollars per person. If you wish to give more, feel free. If your situation is such that you can't afford that much, thank you for whatever you can give. If your situation is such that you can't afford to give anything, but you still wish to come and enjoy a lovely evening listening to some beautiful music, God bless you and by all means, come. Just make sure you clap a little but harder for all that. If you have a friend in the same situation, bring them too." Let them know that, whether or not they wish to contribute, we will be taking a collection and that we have a target donation in mind. Suggested donations: they're a good thing.

So, if any of you people out there are in the area of Keele and Annette on the evening of December 7th, feel free to drop in and enjoy some good Advent music, plus some loud fat guy. Admission is free, but... you know.

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