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Attendance: Attendance Contracts

Dear Listers,

I need some advice. My choir has shrunk in size so that I feel that
I need a certain number of people in each section to commit to
concert dates in order to proceed in planning events. I have not had
to insist on this before, and people are very reluctant to commit.
Even people who sing and serve on the Board. They say they might
become too busy and not want to sing at a particular concert (we only
have two major concerts per season). Both of these people have
missed concerts because of vacations, and they are on the Board. The
others in the choir feel baffled, perplexed, or "abandoned" by their
absences. So do I.

One says that if his brother asks him to travel with him, and gets a
really good deal on a trip to Europe, he want to be free to do that
AND not feel guilty because he breaks a promise. The other says that
devoting a Saturday afternoon and Saturday night for a concert in
another city 1 1/2 hours away, plus a Sunday afternoon concert in our
city, is too much for one weekend. He is willing to sing the Sunday
concert here but not the Saturday one (which means he would miss the
only rehearsal with instruments and the other collaborating choir).

I don't know whether I should allow people to miss the Saturday
events and just sing the in-town concert on Sunday? I have allowed
people to miss "dress" rehearsals on rare occasions, but I don't want
to encourage it. Not for reasons other than illness, family
emergency, or mandatory work assignments.

What is your reaction to this situation, and how would you handle it?

Thanks for your words of wisdom, in advance. If you would rather
talk on the phone than write something out, please feel free to call
me at home, 616-949-2528, or on my cell phone, 616-334-2954.

Your friend,

Suzanne Tiemstra
Grand Rapids Cantata Choir
6242 Acropolis Dr., SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
tel home 616-949-2528
tel choir 616-575-SING

Dear Listers,

I cannot express my gratitude adequately to those who took the time,
thought, and energy to respond to my request for advice. This is what
makes Choralist so valuable! I've never needed advice this much, and
there is nowhere else so appropriate to turn. So, thank you from the
bottom of my heart.

Below is a compilation of responses, but without authors names, etc.
Many of them have very important jobs and are very successful

Suzanne Tiemstra

Greetings Suzanne,

I understand how you feel about this issue. The only advice I can
think of is rather harsh but in my opinion, if they miss the concert
they are out. The best way is to make them sign at contract at the
beginning of each season with all concert dates. Let it be known that
when you sign your name on the dotted line that your events come first
regardless. If you miss, you are out and will not receive a refund on
any of the fees (if you charge anything). People who are wishy washy
do not want to make music unless it is convenient to them. They are
not the kind of musicians you need in your ensemble and iif you ask me
they are not the musicians who need to be making music anyway. i say
get rid of the, get new singers but NEVER give in because they do not
want to commit to the group. What if you felt at the last minute that
you didn't want to conduct them at certain concerts, how would they
feel. In my opinion it is a lack of respect and it is not fair to you
or the audience members who want to hear you guys sing. Don't let
them walk over you! Bend, don't break!
I know this is a tough issue. I've struggled with the same kinds of
problems. I've attached our handbook, which was created last fall
with the help of Listers, for you to check out. I hope it helps.
Do you have a written attendance policy? I'm in the process of putting
together a handbook for a new choir I'm starting, and attendance will
be one
of the first things that's addressed. In addition to the handbook, they
will have to sign a piece of paper when they audition that says they
read or will read the handbook completely and will agree to its
contents if
accepted into the group.

I will allow only for a certain number of missed rehearsals, and state a
policy for attending dress rehearsals and concerts. It will probably be
pretty strict, as my philosophy is that people who volunteer to
in a choir (or any ensemble for that matter) need to know they're
on to follow through. If they flake out, it's not fair to you or the
of the choir, and it damages the choir in terms of its output quality.

This probably doesn't solve your issues with these particular
singers, but
to be frank, I think the burden is on them to honor the commitment
they made
to your group. No one is irreplaceable, even board members (in fact,
members, especially officers, who blow off concerts should be subject to
dismissal from the board.) If that leaves a bad taste in their
mouth, so be
it; let them go and then actively recruit people, taking care to
inform them
of people's lack of commitment and what you need to have a successful

That's my "tough love" approach to this situation, anyhow. Hope there's
something useful in this for you.
I have worked with small women's community choirs for several
years. I find it works well to call each concert a project. I allow
people to sign up for each project separately. When they join the
project, they have 2 or 3 rehearsals to decide if they want to stay.
After that they must pay their project contribution and promise to be
on board for all project practices and the concert (aside from
illness, of course). One or two absences are allowed per project, but
never dress rehearsals. This accomodates travellers, who usually can
see ahead from Sept to Dec or Feb to May and know if they can commit.
Having reached retirement age myself, I can understand the reluctance
to commit for a full year. I have found working with projects
satisfactory for those who travel as well as for those who have other
pressing commitments but don't want to drop out permanently.
Amazingly the flexibility works and we usually end up with 16-18
people a project, sometimes with a turn over of up to 5 or even 6
I have sung in a number of choruses. I think the people on the board
should be the last ones asking for special privileges. They should
be setting an example for the others. If we missed a dress rehearsal
in my last chorus, we were not allowed to sing the concert. We were
allowed to miss 3 rehearsals a semester and still sing in the
concert. So I think they are using their pull and taking
advantageous of you. and the rest of your group I bet, is saying why
should I do it if they don't have to. Hope you can get it
straightened out soon.
Wow. What a terrible problem.

I now teach a University chorus, which is a different situation - we
require complete attendance at all rehearsals and concerts. But in
the past years, I did community-based choruses.

You have a serious morale problem. Some people have the attitude
that your chorus is a low priority for them. They don't feel
committed to the group as a whole.

This may sound harsh, but I would jettison the members (including
those on the board, who should be setting an example) who are not
committed. One (or two) rotten apples can really spoil the bunch.
It weakens you as a leader and director to send the message that this
behavior is acceptable.

Bite the bullet and insist on full attendance - and then focus your
time, efforts and energies on those folks who are as committed as you
are. It's the only way to fly. And you will find that those people
are worth it - and the others are note.
How you handle this is largely up to what you and your singers
expect of the collective organization. I can only convey (as
a singer, not the director) what the understanding is in my group,
the Sacramento Master Singers.

Everyone in the choir is aware from the start what the commitment
will be, and the expectations. (I've included a section from our
"handbook" as an example. Anyone who thinks he/she cannot make
the commitment is expected to drop out, either for one concert
period if the failure to commit is a temporary aberation, or
completely if he/she finds the expectations too onerous. This
would include membes of the Board.

Thankfully we are blessed with a solid core of singers and with
a waiting list of auditioners. I gather from your description of
the problem, that you are not so lucky.

My advice, for whatever it's worth, is likely to cause some suffering
and growing pains. I would thank those people who cannot make
a commitment to the group for their past service, which is no longer
required, and wish them well in whatever future endeavors they
undertake. (This inludes those Board members who cannot live up
to their obligations.) You may end up with only nine singers,
five of whom are altos! But then with a core of dependables, you
start a building program, making sure that any recruits are fully
aware of just how great a comittment they are making.

Being or becoming an outstanding perfroming artistic organization,
as opposed to merely a singing club, calls for a group decision to
be excellent. Early in our formative years, we had a couple of weekend
meetings where we discussed at length just what it was we wanted to
accomplish and how to go about it. We came away from that with a
sense of
purpose and unity that has held us in good stead for many years.

I wish you well in your efforts to establish a dependable core of

- Jack

Though our By-Laws spell out in detail the requirements for
the less formal description of expectations from our handbook are more
revealing, and may give you a few ideas. Here's an excerpt.

We are a select group! Sacramento Master Singers has become
successful through
the strong commitment of its members. A committed singer:

* adheres to attendance rules spelled out below
* rehearses the music at home between rehearsals and learns the parts
* is prepared and open to accept feedback
* seeks feedback on vocal and musical issues and receives feedback
* provides feedback to other singers in the same gracious manner
* develops and implements a personal plan for continuous vocal and
musical improvement
* reviews progress towards personal musical goals

SMS regularly performs selected portions of its concerts from memory
music). Singers are expected to start the memorization of this music
early in
the rehearsal schedule to enable the group to focus on the musical
expression of
these pieces as the concert approaches. Our goal is to go beyond the
requirements and strive to reach ever higher levels of musical quality.


Collectively we are an instrument, and each part of this instrument
is vital to
total group sound. Therefore, if one or more of the parts is missing,
instrument is weak and the director is forced to guess how the
instrument will
sound. Here are some guidelines to help you and the group continue to
be the
best possible instrument.

1. Be early or on time.
2. If you cannot make a rehearsal, call your section leader and
the director in advance. If he/she is not at home, leave a message
stating the TIME and DATE of your call. Also, call your musical
or someone else in your section to inform them in person that you
be absent.
3. Follow up your absence with a call to your section leader and/or
buddy to find out what you missed and what will be required for
the next

Because attendance is crucial, four (4) absences for the winter
concert and
three (3) absences for spring concerts will result in mandatory
non-participation in the upcoming concert. We understand that there are
extraordinary circumstances; these will be considered on an
individual basis.
The annual retreat counts for two rehearsals due to the length and
of the retreat.

Dress rehearsals require that 100% of the choir be in attendance. Be
sure to
take extensive notes on movement, which people stand next to you,
whom you
follow in processionals, etc. A calendar of rehearsals and performances
will be distributed to all singers early in the concert season. Singers
should mark their personal calendars with the dates of these SMS
to ensure that they will not schedule other events that may conflict
previously announced SMS commitments.

Being on time is nearly as important as being present. Arriving early
allows the member to focus and mentally prepare for the upcoming
Arriving late distracts the concentration of the group, plus the late
is sure to have missed something important. Avoid tardies!

Rehearsal Expectations

1. COME PREPARED. Know your music. Rehearsal time is best spent on
2. Arrive EARLY to rehearsal, warmed up and ready to sing. (Early is on
3. Leave cell phones and pagers at home. In the rare instance that a
needs to have a cell phone or pager at rehearsal, turn phones and
pagers to
silent mode to avoid interrupting the rehearsal.
4. Always have a pencil in hand to mark your music. A clean score is a
dangerous score!
5. Good posture produces good sound. Sit on the edge of your seat, chest
raised and music in line with the director.
6. Be energetic, focused and alert.


An annual activity of SMS is the fall weekend retreat. The purpose of
the retreat is to kick off our musical season, provide an opportunity
social interaction, and to help build group morale and cohesiveness. In
addition, we are able to get an important head start on the music for
holiday concerts. A successful retreat demands full attendance.

This retreat is not optional. Each year the retreat is scheduled for th
second weekend after Labor Day Weekend. The exact date is
communicated to
singers during the prior Spring, as soon as the facility is contracted
to SMS. Each member is expected to make necessary arrangements so that
he/she can attend the entire session. Singers have found this to be one
of the most valuable experiences of the choral season.


Small group rehearsals

Each singer is responsible for meeting a minimum of two times with other
singers to rehearse the music for each upcoming concert. The director
arrange for quartet tests in which he/she will be listening for
correct notes,
intonation, phrasing, vocal tone and overall musicality.


Your section leader will call sectional rehearsals as needed. These are
extremely important in establishing a unified sectional sound.
Usually two
sectionals are called during each concert season. Keep an open line of
communication with your section leader to facilitate the scheduling of
sectional rehearsals. Singers are expected to treat sectional rehearsals
as a serious commitment on their calendars.

what a pickle you are in! I understand the difficulty. It seems that
if you let this continue then it will become a bigger problem -- and
the choir is already suffering for it. A letter to all during the
hiatus [I assume your two concerts a year are winter and spring?]
that simply says "we have a problem here" -- then remind them of your
policy. the choir needs to count on all parties to be there for the
concerts and rehearsals -- the development of the choir depends on
good attendance for rehearsals as well. dress rehearsals and concerts
must not be missed except for the exceptions x, y, or z and approved
by the director hopefully in advance. singers who miss more than
three [or four] rehearsals need to be tested for knowledge of the
music. These ideas may help encourage better commitments.

I know this is tricky here -- you don't want to lose any singers. I
would include in the same coorespondence a plea for good recruitment
during the break, offering some ideas to the singers...if everyone
brings in one person then we double our roster, etc.
One cannot really say how they would react unless they are facing the
situation themselves. However, I think that I would do the following:
1. It seems as if the choir might have outlived its place on this
earth: a choir cannot exist with out a committed core.

2. Given that thought, I would do some extensive soul searching in a
three areas: a) how the choir got to such a position, b) whether the
choir can be saved c) whether I wanted to continue my affiliation
with such a group. This might be the time for you to start a new
group of dedicated people.

3. Assuming a more positive outcome, that the choir can be saved, I
would develop a strategy to help save it - a recruiting, fund-raising
strategy. that would clearly include firing some singers and board
members (which I have done in the past) and finding singers who want
the same things you want.

I think if your singer is unwilling to do the Saturday thing that he
should sit out the Sunday program as well. Otherwise you are setting
a terrible precedent, especially if you plan to have this sort of
Saturday/Sunday thing happen again.

My two cents worth...
The community choir I direct has an attendance policy as follows:

There are 12 rehearsals each semester. Members can miss up to 4 and
perform. Dress rehearsal counts as 2.

After two years of continuous membership, a singer may make a request
to the
board to miss a performance and still maintain membership in the chorus.
Other than emergency situations (planned vacations are not considered
emergencies, regardless of the ticket rates), other absences from
performances signal a resignation from the choir, and that person
would need
to reaudition to gain membership again.

The policy was developed by the choir, not me. It's not flawless,
but it
does provide some guide to members.
I am sure you are going to receive a lot of sympathy replies, and I
do not
know if my reply will be of much help, but I feel compelled to give my
opinions. Having sung in semi-professional community choirs, served
as a
graduate assistant to collegiate ensembles, and currently head a high
choral program, I am of a belief that singers willingness to commit out
weighs talent on numerous levels. It feels weird to say this as a
year old, but integrity and accountability appear to be lost virtues
in our
youth AND adults in this country. Usually, I realize that a
student's lack
of accountability stems from the same traits in his/her parents.

I do not know what your ensemble numbers have shrunk to, but it may
be time
to draw a line in the sand, even if it means standing up to board
I would have them sign a written covenant that has them agree to
perform at
the scheduled engagements set forth at the beginning of the season.
If a
member fails to live up to his/her end of the covenant he/she can be
from the choir. Admittedly, making these decisions may put your
status as
Artistic Director in peril. However, if you commit to a collaborative
with another musical ensemble (choir and/or orchestra) and are unable to
require attendance from your ensemble members this damages your

In my own example, at the high school level, I believe less is more.
finishing my MM in Choral Conducting a year ago, I took over a
program in
decline from a director who lacked both my experience and ability
level. As
this school year progressed, I found I had a lot of dead weight in my
large ensemble. To combat that for next year, I have changed the
configuration of my choral programs to remove the untalented dead weight
from the top ensemble, and put the talented apathetic singers on
alert that
it is time to sink or swim. One of my most talented sopranos is the
singer I have ever seen, and it dumbfounds me that she wastes her
but as a result she will not be a member of our top chamber choir,
was not
considered for section leader, and is in our Concert Choir on
status. Again, I will take less talent in favor of individuals who I
count on.

In the end, Suzanne, I do not envy the situation in which you have been
placed. I say, "Stand Firm. Best of Luck."
Give members a letter of commitment to sign at the first rehearsal that
requires them to commit to specific performances in order to
participate in
the group. If the out-of-town concert is an issue for many members,
drop it
and find another opportunity to perform. On the other hand, if it's a
welcome opportunity for all but these one or two people, drop the
Gently but honestly emphasize that the chorus is only as good as the
as a whole. Having extra voices at rehearsals and not at
performances is
unacceptable. Explain that you only want people who are truly
committed to
the group. A board member who cannot commit isn't much of a board
Members who participate only if something better doesn't come along
are not
committed either.

Advise your remaining members of the voice part openings that you
have and
ask them to find new members who will be committed. They own the group,
they are the group and they have a vested interested in making it

I think you'll be a lot happier if you bring it up to the choir
members themselves. Open the discussion saying this is our problem.
What are our options? One option you might throw out is to drop the
instrumental component. Another is to disband. Say you're sure there
are other options you haven't thought of, and you'd like some input.
You have to be ready to go with consensus, but you won't end up
getting a black eye for making an unpopular decision.

I'm guessing this is not a paid choir. If this is true, how do you
make them accountable? Ask them to quit? My church choir is all
volunteer and mostly retired folks. When some get a chance to go see
the grandkids or go on a trip, they're gone, regardless of what is
planned. This happens on major holidays, as you can imagine, and my
few die hards and I have been left holding the bag on more than one
occasion. My situation is different only in the frequency that they
sing. They're on every Sunday. Your situation only requires them to
perform in a couple of concerts per year. This is so frustrating,
isn't it? One solution may be presenting a calendar of events at the
initial rehearsal of the year outlining the repertoire and dates of
dress rehearsals and performances. Have them sign a contract that
states that they will commit to the scheduled dress rehearsals and
concerts. If that doesn't work, maybe you could ask your group for a
list of potential conflicts and then work around those dates. This
has worked for me and I haven't spent an entire season preparing a
major work that only a few will be in town to perform. I also have
more than a few choir members who are on church council, so I
understand your predicament. My philosophy is to make do with those
who are dedicated and give them my full attention. I try not to waste
my energy on those who are absent. Maybe it's time to canvas your
group and ask them what their goals are. Are some just content with
singing in rehearsal and the fellowship that it brings? Is the end
goal to perform in public? The answer to those questions will help
direct your plan for the season. Best of luck.
Been there....done that!!

You need to decide what you want your choir to be and get buy-in from
the board and singers. One community choir here has singers sign up for
a season, say the November, March or June concerts. That allows some
flexibility. But then they absolutely must commit or they shouldn't be
in the choir.

When I directed a church choir, I asked them to sign out well ahead of
dates they would be absent so I could plan the repertoire. Once people
understand the mission of the organization and why things are done a
certain way, they will either join you enthusiastically or go their way.

What doesn't work is a flabby requirement that people feel resentful
about and then they seek to get "theirs" by trying to get the same time
off as they perceive others are getting.

Why are they in choir? What is the power of music in their lives? How
much does it mean to them? What do they owe to the group?

These are questions to discuss with everyone and try to touch the soul
of their commitment. Good luck

Thanks again for your generosity,

Suzanne Tiemstra
Grand Rapids Cantata Choir
6242 Acropolis Dr., SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
tel home 616-949-2528
tel choir 616-575-SING