Starting a new group, Part 1: Outlining a vision

This guidance explores how to go about starting a new group. It is a collection of ideas and tips structured in a way that we hope will help you to move forwards with your plan from the beginnings of an idea to your first rehearsal and beyond. This is the first of four sections, and outlines the process for deciding upon a clear vision for your group.

Content:

  1. What is a vision statement and why should you have one?
  2. How to create a vision statement
  3. What next?
  4. Some examples of how existing groups started out

In the excitement of a new idea it can be easy to dive in and start making plans – but taking some time at the very beginning to stop and think about your vision will be really beneficial.

The vision will inform many of the decisions you have to make in the future including everything from how you communicate with your members and audiences, to what your expectations are in terms of rehearsals, and who you want your group to be important to. In our experience this step often gets skimmed over - so make sure you give yourself time.

1. What is a vision statement and why should you have one?

Outlining a vision is about understanding the aims and overarching character of the group you are starting. What is it that makes your group interesting and why should people support you?

For some groups music is a vehicle through which to achieve other things whilst for others the whole reason for existing is the music itself. Neither one of these options is right or wrong and there is a whole spectrum of options in between, indeed you could do both. Think about where you want your group to sit on the scale and what implications that will have later on when you come to work out the details like where you’ll rehearse, who you’ll ask to join the group, and what a typical year will look like for your group. At the end of this section you’ll find examples of how it all began for a few different groups.

Getting ideas written down in some form or another is a very useful way of sorting them out in your own head whilst also making it something you can easily communicate to others. This will become important when you are looking for a team to help you run the group and hoping to make sure everyone involved in the group is on the same page. It will also be helpful when it comes to selling your group to potential funders and audience members.

2. How to create a vision statement

If you have a vision already starting to form in your head then have a go at writing it down in one sentence. You could also make a list of words to describe your group or three goals you’d like to see the group achieving over its first year of existence. These can be as ambitious or modest as you like. They’ll help you nail down what you want to achieve and make it easier to prioritise and move forwards not just in the initial planning stages of your group but into the future as it develops.

If you aren’t sure what your vision for your new group is then here are a few questions to help you develop one:

  • Where did the idea to start a new group come from?
    • This might help you to understand what the aim of the group should be.
  • Who would you like to become members of your group?
    • This may be obvious from the aim of your group or it might need a bit more planning taking into consideration what groups already exist in your area.
  • Is performance a main aim of your group?
    • You might not even be thinking about performance at this stage and that is fine – getting a group together purely for the purpose of enjoying making some music is a great thing to do.
    • If performance is one of the aims of your group, consider for what purpose. It could be to promote musical excellence, the experience itself, self-esteem, learning for the members, and or focussed on bringing music to new audiences.

3. What next?

Once you’ve got a vision statement or list of aims for your group then you’ll be well on the way to getting started. Make sure you always keep your decisions about the reasons for the groups’ existence in mind as you move on to the details of planning and the unexpected challenges that will undoubtedly come your way once you get started. The more people involved who know and understand the vision the better as then you’ll all be working to the same agenda and decision making will become much easier.

With your vision and objectives as a clear picture of what your group is about you should now have a pretty good idea of:

  • Who your group is for
  • Its main focus and purpose
  • How and how often the music itself will happen

You may also be starting to have an idea about:

  • Who you’d like to see in the audience
  • Why local businesses and funders might (or might not) like to support you

4. Some examples: the very beginnings of a few groups

To get you thinking here are the stories of how a few groups we know well started. These stories all have a few things in common:

  • The importance of the ground work done even before the date of the first rehearsal was set
  • The involvement of a team of people all willing to get stuck in with the running of the group
  • The determination to continue and wait for the long term results rather than worry when they hit short term bumps in the road

Opal Flutes began in an effort to provide for flute players struggling to find somewhere to play. Limited places and long waiting lists often make it hard as a flautist to land a spot with an orchestra or band so a group of flute players took matters into their own hands. What started out as a couple of sessions just for fun soon turned into a group with regular concerts and a membership and committee structure that is going strong today. For Opal Flutes the key was in starting small and letting things run their course. In the beginning they:

  • Were a few flautists brought together by a common friend
  • Worked with a student conductor who wanted the practice
  • Found a venue available at an affordable rate through their networks

Peckham Rye Sings was started by an enthusiastic and experienced vocal leader aiming to start a group in her local area and bring the belief that singing is for everyone to Peckham by making it accessible to all. With the focus on accessibility and enjoyment of singing, from the start the group used no sheet music and found a place within easy reach of transport links to hold their rehearsals. The aim was:

  • To make singing something available for all to enjoy together
  • To be accessible to all – with no need for a ‘good voice’ or the ability to read music
  • For the choir to become a community in its own right – giving people a place to belong and combatting loneliness

London Saxophone Choir was formed when the saxophonists from three different groups came together to form one. After a bumpy start in terms of leadership, a subset of the original group banded together and approached it afresh – putting out adverts and forming a committee. From the start they:

  • Grew in number steadily but surely
  • Took the opportunity of breaking away from the original groups to take a fresh look at their aims
  • Aimed to perform in public and showcase the saxophone in all its guises

Harmony Sinfonia is based in an area which previously had no orchestra. A conductor in training looking for a group to conduct took matters into her own hands and decided to form one with the support of a committee from the start. The conductor and her team spent six months planning and spreading the word before they even started rehearsing but when they did start they hit the ground running:

  • They charged subs and were largely self-sufficient from the start
  • Went through a brief period of low numbers and morale about six months in, when the initial excitement had worn off
  • Stuck to their aim of providing an orchestra for the borough and trusted the idea that these things take at least a year to catch on. Their persistence paid off and the reward was rising interest and numbers

Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra (based in Reading, Berkshire) was started after a group of young musicians and friends spotted a niche in the market for an orchestra that didn’t operate on a week by week basis. They started small using personal contacts and a little further down the line gained charitable status and a lottery grant to launch their Young Composers Awards which allowed them to expand and develop, starting to play more ambitious repertoire in bigger venues. The main aims of the orchestra from the beginning were:

  • To provide a project based orchestra catering for musicians who couldn’t necessarily commit to being around at a set time each week
  • To promote music by young composers
  • To encourage people who’ve never heard a live orchestra to attend their concerts

Read the full story of the APO in this case study.

Now you've got to grips with the vision for your group, move on to Part 2 on dealing with the practicalities of setting up a group from scratch.

Read part 2


We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.