Case study: collaborating with other music groups

Collaborating with another music group is an excellent way of creating variety in your programming, as well as tackling repertoire you may not otherwise have a chance to play. This case study includes the motivations and learnings from one such collaboration: between Chantage and Nonesuch Orchestra.

Chantage is a stylish and energetic chamber choir of around 40 singers, mostly aged 18-30, performing all kinds of music. They give around 20 concerts a year including a wide range of repertoire and programming works traditionally performed by English chamber choirs alongside lesser known works sourced from foreign choral cultures. The choir also supports young composers and regularly premières new compositions and arrangements, many of which are written by its members. Chantage collaborates with other choirs of all types, particularly school and youth choirs, and has performed for a number of television and radio broadcasts. In 2002 they reached the adult final of the Sainsbury's Choir of the Year competition.

Nonesuch Orchestra is a small but versatile and dynamic string orchestra performing music from Purcell to the present day. Its players aged 18-80, many of whom are past or present music teachers, give around 4 formal lunchtime or evening concerts a year, as well as several daytime concerts in primary schools; in addition, some informal school workshops by small ensembles. The orchestra has twice played at Christmas in Crisis shelters in London and also to patients at the Putney Hospital for Neurodisability. It aims to take music into schools, giving children a unique chance to hear a live orchestra, and to give young soloists a platform and the opportunity to perform with an experienced group of players.

Interview with Bethan Sheppard of Chantage

Why did you want to participate in a collaboration?

Chantage usually performs a cappella and we wanted to expand our experience by performing an accompanied choral work with an orchestra. We also wanted to perform a concert in a high-profile London venue and felt that having a substantial accompanied choral work in the repertoire would help in recruiting an audience for this.

What was the first step you made to start the collaboration process?

Initial contact was made through James Davey (musical director) who looked up orchestras who may be interested in collaborations on the Making Music database.

Did you nominate someone to be responsible for liaising with the two groups involved?

Me!

Did you sign any formal agreements or contracts during your collaboration?

Only a standard contract downloaded from the Making Music website. I sent it out to the orchestra a few days before and they brought it with them on the day. The contract confirmed the fee in writing.

How did you organise rehearsals, consider location, times and duration? Did the two groups rehearse separately or together?

Both groups rehearsed separately for the concert with one joint rehearsal on the afternoon of the concert.

How did you feel about the rehearsal process?

We felt that it would have been good to have had more rehearsals with the orchestra prior to the day of the concert but due to the fact we were hiring extra players and we would have had to pay them for rehearsals as well, this wasn’t possible financially. However we did have a great rehearsal pianist!

Overall, how did you feel about the performance?

We were very pleased with the performance, and felt that we had achieved a great deal. Both Chantage and the orchestra said that we would like to collaborate again.

How did audience numbers compare with performances you give that are not collaborations?

The audience was bigger than our usual audience but I am not sure that this was down to the collaboration. The choir worked particularly hard at promoting the concert to family and friends and the fact that it was in a high-profile venue meant that we had some public “walk-up” on the evening.

Which difficulties did you encounter during your collaboration?

There were some issues around agreeing a fee for the orchestra in the beginning which took a while to resolve. Originally, we had envisaged that the orchestra would perform for free and in return we would perform at a reciprocal concert which they would organise. However, as discussions went on the orchestra asked us to meet the costs of paying their conductor, leader and two extra violinists. There were also some difficulties in agreeing the repertoire as we had originally wanted to perform Fauré’s Requiem but the instrumentation was not suitable for the orchestra with whom we were collaborating.

If you had a conductor, which group was this conductor associated with? How did you decide who would conduct?

The concert was effectively a Chantage concert in which the Nonesuch Orchestra appeared and therefore it was our musical director who conducted the joint works. The orchestra had a solo piece in the concert which their musical director conducted.

What was the overall feeling in your group about the collaboration? How do you think undergoing this process affected your group?

We enjoyed the collaboration and felt that it was a big landmark in the choir’s experience to have performed a big choral work in a high-profile venue. There was some feeling among choir members that we should have stuck to the premise that the collaboration would involve no money being paid to either party but the general feeling was that we were very lucky to have been able to perform with an orchestra for such a small cost. The cost of employing an entirely freelance ensemble would have made it financially impossible to perform the music that we did.

What were the positive benefits of collaborating?

It provided a great new experience for the choir at relatively little cost.

Were there any things you would do differently if you collaborated again?

Try and have more rehearsals with the orchestra prior to the day.  Approve the piece that the orchestra are going to perform by themselves in advance - the orchestra told us that they would perform a piece which lasted 10-15 minutes but it actually lasted half an hour which made the second half of our concert very long.

Are there any resources you feel would have helped in the collaboration process that you would have liked Making Music to provide, e.g. checklists, contracts, etc.?

It would be good to have a contract which agreed both parts of the collaboration in advance. We have yet to agree the reciprocal part of the collaboration where we will perform in a concert that Nonesuch will organise.

Any other comments?

I think this is a really great scheme that enables organisations who might not otherwise find out about each other to get together and broaden their experiences.

Interview with Deborah Behrman of Nonesuch Orchestra

Why did you want to participate in a collaboration?

We felt it would provide us with a concert platform and that it provided the orchestra with a chance to extend the repertoire. Chantage were organising venue, advertising, extra players for choral work, etc. so it was a relatively easy concert for us administratively.

What was the first step you made to start the collaboration process?

Chantage contacted the Nonesuch Orchestra (via chairman Deborah Behrman) to ask if we’d be interested.

Did you nominate someone to be responsible for liaising with the two groups involved?

Deborah Behrman (Nonesuch) liaised with Bethan Sheppard (Chantage).

Did you sign any formal agreements or contracts during your collaboration?

We signed a contract specifying a fee that Chantage would pay.

How did you organise rehearsals, consider location, times and duration? Did the two groups rehearse separately or together?

Groups rehearsed separately until the day of the concert when there was a joint afternoon rehearsal. Nonesuch’s solo contribution was rehearsed in the course of our normal weekly rehearsals for schools and other concerts.

How did you feel about the rehearsal process?

It was a little rushed on the day but that was partly due to circumstances involving Nonesuch’s conductor. We could have done with more time to rehearse our own item.

Overall, how did you feel about the performance?

I felt it went well and we enjoyed working with Chantage, who were most appreciative. On our part we were very impressed by Chantage!

How did audience numbers compare with performances you give that are not collaborations?

It’s difficult to say as audience numbers vary enormously.  From our own experience we always get very good audiences when we are part of a festival (e.g. Pinner or St Jude’s) or a series (e.g. at St John Greenhill, Harrow), but we struggle to get as good an audience if we put on a concert out of the blue.

Which difficulties did you encounter during your collaboration?

Slight communication problems over extra players, but nothing major. Having agreed a fee which would cover the Nonesuch expenses, we were short of players who were available for the concert and so had to buy in extras ourselves for the day and hence were out of pocket. I should have anticipated that problem with a summer concert and budgeted accordingly.

If you had a conductor, which group was this conductor associated with? How did you decide who would conduct?

Both conductors took part, Chantage’s with the choral and joint items and Nonesuch’s with the string orchestra item.

What was the overall feeling in your group about the collaboration? How do you think undergoing this process affected your group?

Everyone enjoyed it and appreciated the chance to do something different, and the opportunity to play in a venue we could not afford on our own.

What were the positive benefits of collaborating?

Playing for an excellent choir, performing in a beautiful and prestigious venue, promoting the Nonesuch Orchestra to a new audience, and learning a work which was previously completely unknown to most of us (Duruflé Requiem).

Were there any things you would do differently if you collaborated again?

Budget more carefully, and ensure we had adequate rehearsal time.

Are there any resources you feel would have helped in the collaboration process that you would have liked Making Music to provide, e.g. checklists, contracts, etc.?

There weren't any resources we needed in this collaboration, but that could well have been because Chantage were so clued up. I should think sample contracts would be useful for most groups, and also a checklist of things which would need to be discussed and clarified – e.g. delegation of responsibility for rehearsal timetable, hiring of rehearsal and performance venues, provision of music, payment of fees, hiring of musicians if necessary, production of programme, publicity, staffing/refreshments on the night.


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