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Music Director contract duration

My community chorus is working on a Music Director contract. We meet once a week for rehearsal and then have concerts 3 times a year.
What is a typical duration for the contract for the Music Director?
It seems like we have some choices:
  • per session (a contract for each performance plus rehearsals leading up)
  • per year (3 sessions)
  • 5 years (this is what the director has indicated is desireable)
Five years seems like an awful long time to guarantee a position. Maybe if it's a Director position for the New York Philharmonic, but not for our piddly unauditioned community chorus.
Does anyone have experience with Music Director contracts who can weigh in on this? What is typical for a community chorus?
Replies (5): Threaded | Chronological
on October 14, 2015 6:48pm
Travis Kline asks about what the duration of a music-director contract should be.
It seems to me that 3 years is a minimum fair term: it allows one year for a honeymoon and, on the other end, a search year if necessary, with the incumbent still in place.
Assuming this is for a conductor who has just been appointed, perhaps a side agreement that, after one or two concerts, a decision will be made to extend the term to the 5 years that s/he is requesting?
(Of course, one should never forget Walter Alston, who managed the Dodgers on a series of 23 one-year contracts.)
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 15, 2015 7:23am
The collective wisdom and best practices of many chorus leaders have been distilled into a terrific little book, "Conductors Count," published by Chorus America. Find it here, and you'll be glad you did:
I've found it useful in my own work and recommend it frequently to others. Chorus America is a tremendous resource for things like this in general; this book is spot-on for the kinds of things you're asking.
Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director
Chicago a cappella
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 16, 2015 4:22am
Yes, five years is an awfulLY long time to be bound by a contract with a person who may (or may not!) fulfill the group's needs and aspirations.   While, as a Choral Conductor, a secure contract resonates quite strongly, I have, as a singer, witnessed the unfortunate circumstance where the group «melted away» under a less-than-ideal conductor.   An ANNUAL contract, renewable upon review by the group's representative committee/council allows for some adjustment on both sides and an «out» for either party if push comes to shove.   Any choral conductor worth his/her salt should not «need» a 5-year contract unless the job involves a long-distance relocation, resigning a plum position, or some other life-shaking circumstance.   The push for 5-year (and longer) contracts started in Government and Academic circles where low-performing, even incompetent individuals assured their continuing comfort through legally-binding over-long commitments which, upon termination, even for cause, has very often led to HUGE payoffs or costly litigation.  Terms shorter than 1 year - renewable really don't allow for a «settling-in» and are unfair to the conductor, and stressful for the choristers.  Finally (!)  find yourselves a conductor who's comfortable with a One-year Renewable contract and you're already well on the way to a long and happy collaboration.
on October 21, 2015 6:35pm
By and large, I agree with Freeman. At the beginning of the relationship a one year contract should be sufficient. I think that this conductor is perhaps expecting you to reject his or her offer, but is starting the negotiations with a high "asking price" for his length of contract in order to assure a fair one is settled on eventually. A year should give you time to develop a sense for this conductor's skill. Perhaps, after you get to know the conductor, you could consider longer term contracts. If I were going to make a counter offer of a year, though, I would propose that you have at least two opportunities for your conductor to recieve formal evaluations and feedback from the board of your chorus so that he or she knows how things are going in time to become more attuned to the needs of the choir. Perhaps after each concert in the first year, there would be a formal feedback meeting. This might be good for the conductor and the ensemble if done well.
Also consider that if you're going to negotiate shorter term contracts, you should be prepared to offer a fair raise on the second contract. They took a risk on you. If they are deserving of a renewal of contract, please make sure you reward the shorter term risk they took on you.
I do feel compelled to respond to something Freeman said that I disagree with.
"The push for 5-year (and longer) contracts started in Government and Academic circles where low-performing, even incompetent individuals assured their continuing comfort through legally-binding over-long commitments which, upon termination, even for cause, has very often led to HUGE payoffs or costly litigation."
Speaking as a government employee in an academic position (I teach in a public school), I feel this is unfair. Every teacher in my building is competent and many are exemplary. We also belong to a union that, through collective bargaining practices, has negotiated a good contract with our school district that compensates us fairly and offers protection from malicious firing. I have to admit that these protections would extend to teachers who are hired that are not good at their job, too. However, all that means is that there is a protocol that must be followed to remove them. The administrators who have a spine and do their due dilligence can make that happen. Rather than assuming this protects the incopetent, I would say that it is the result of a favorable negotiaton for the employee. These protections don't just happen to public sector employees and academics. Often times, incredible protections and financial renumerations go to Corporate officers of companies. This is because they are good negotiators.
While occasionally, one does a bad job and people are horrified at their severence packages, by and large they are seen as deserving of their wealth, or at least clever for what they have negotiated. Government employees and academics, on the other hand, are viewed as lazy and incompetent for their good negotiation tactics and this is very frequently brought up in the media and (more rarely) on ChoralNet. That is not a fair standard.
I wish you the best in your negotiations with your conductor. Since both sides want this to work, I truly hope you can come to a fair contract that leaves both the choir and the director feeling like they got a good deal.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 16, 2015 7:03pm
Though I don't have experience in negotiating contracts for community choirs, I'll just voice what seems right to me, and you can take it with the contextual grain of salt.
A per concert contract seems far too brief.  If you have interviewed and auditioned this conductor, you should at least be able to tolerate a year.
I would start with two one-year contracts.  If things aren't working after the first year, then you have an easy out.  Some conductors that may seem fine for the first year may start exposing traits that seem less than desirable to the choir and board during the second year, when the glitter of the honeymoon begins to wear off.  After the second year, if things seem to be working well on both sides, then a longer-term agreement can be discussed.  I agree with those that have said that 5 years seems a bit too long, even if it seems like a great marriage.  Circumstances with the choir membership and/or audience demographics and change, and even if the conductor is still doing a good job, he or she may not fit the changing landscape well.  Three years seems to be a more reasonable length of time, as others have suggested.  
Demanding a long-term contract right out of the gate may be a sign of your conductor's trying to create security amidst his (or her) own sense of insecurity about his (her) ability to create a lasting good impression about the job he (she) is doing.  If that's the case, maybe it's a conductor your choir doesn't need.  (As one other person stated, if the candidate is moving into the area to take the job or leaving a secure job, that might warrant an exception.
Just my two cents.  Good luck.
Applauded by an audience of 1
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