A group of OUP staff and composers have just returned from the biennial American Choral Directors’ National Convention. Representatives of every facet of the choral world were there: professional choirs, educators, college choirs, church musicians, and community choirs. The vibe across the US choral scene at the moment is undoubtedly positive: attendance at the convention was at a record high, and many spoke positively about the state of the sector.
As a European, the scale of an event like this is breath-taking – there are few music conferences in the UK that warrant their own app and that take over a city! The sheer number of delegates was deeply impressive, with some 5,000 choral directors, alongside 10,000 choral singers, converging on a bitterly cold Minneapolis for four days of seminars, concerts, and networking.
So what drives such impressive turnout at an event such as this? In part it’s down to the sheer size of the American population: five times that of the UK. There is also much greater focus in North America on attendance at conventions; perhaps the enormity of the geography means that those in the arts don’t so easily meet each other informally, and so attendance at events such as this is given a greater priority.
But a significant contributor to the success is the impressive level of participation in choral music. Current data on the number of people involved in collective singing is difficult to come by, in part because there are large sections of the choral sector that don’t fit any formal structure.
Alongside the established professional, church, school, and community choirs are huge swathes of informal groups that come and go under the radar. The last US research study I know of that attempted to quantify the size of the US choral market was undertaken by Chorus America in 2009. It reported that 18% of US households had one or more adults participating in a chorus, and almost 270,000 choruses across the country. Based on anecdotal evidence from last week’s convention, that number has almost certainly increased.
Paradoxically, despite the size of the choral population, everyone seems to know each other. We were proud to have many of our composers in attendance: established names in the choral music world, including Bob Chilcott, Will Todd, Sarah Quartel, Cecilia McDowall, Gabriel Jackson, Howard Helvey, and Alan Bullard alongside new US names Elaine Hagenberg and Connor Koppin.
The opportunity for choral directors to meet and talk with the people behind the music they work on with their choirs was powerful. And the OUP reading session, which was filled to capacity, gave an opportunity for those composers to give the choral directors attending the conference a unique insight into the new music they have written.
Congratulations to ACDA on such an impressive event.
Featured image credit: Picture of OUP stand. Copyright: Oxford University Press.