Strategic Plan for Fiscal 2018-22
Approved by the Board of Trustees on November 16, 2017
As fifth in the series of Providence Singers Strategic Plans, this document lays out the aspirations and next set of priorities for our organization. For nearly half a century the Providence Singers has earned a reputation for performing music at the highest level and for providing high-quality choral education for young singers. Looking forward, our organization plans to build on these important missions and to expand our ability to serve Rhode Island and the entire music community as a premier volunteer chorus.
II. Executive Summary
The support and enhancement of performance excellence has been a core value of the Providence Singers since its founding nearly 50 years ago. It remains a strongly held central value among current members and is an important element in attracting talented new members to the organization. During the next five years, the Singers will focus on four key areas to expand and better support its entire mission:
Extending the Singers public presence
A concerted effort to increase public appreciation for choral music, with a goal of enlarging the Singers’ typical audience, will benefit all choral organizations in Rhode Island. A further effort will enhance public awareness of the Singers mission beyond performance, including choral education, an endowment to support composition of new music, recording projects, community engagement, and collaborations with other arts organizations in Rhode Island and beyond.
Expanding organizational and administrative capacity
The Singers will improve its systems for subscription sales, ticketing, data collection and analysis, and communications and will develop a dependable structure for organizing volunteer efforts that will increase the capacity of administrative staff.
Ensuring well-supported, effective programs of choral education
The Young Men’s Choral Festival, an annual day-long choral workshop for male singers of middle and high school age, has grown steadily since its inception and will receive continued strong support. The Junior Providence Singers, an SATB organization for high school singers, is being redesigned to better support and collaborate with the efforts of choral educators. Both programs offer important mentorship opportunities for Providence Singers members.
Opportunities in the 50th anniversary season
The 2021-22 season will mark 50 years of choral performance and community service by the Providence Singers. The Singers will plan a series of measures to mark the occasion and to improve ongoing structural support for the organization.
III. Mission, Vision, and Values
The Providence Singers presents choral performances of distinction to engage singers, listeners, students and composers with the choral art.
We will spark public interest in choral singing and foster the advancement of this dynamic art by being the preeminent chorus in the region and a cultural resource regionally and beyond.
Excellence: We value and strive for excellence in all our artistic and organizational endeavors.
Engagement: We value dynamic and responsive engagement with our audience, singers, other arts organizations, and members of our community.
Education: We value education of our singers, audience, and young singers.
Innovation: We value expanding the choral art form through performance and commissions of new choral music, and by identifying new ways to engage our community in choral music.
IV. Current Status and History
A recent round of focus group conversations with Providence Singers members demonstrated broad consensus that the chorus is performing at the highest artistic level it has ever achieved. Confidence in and support for the artistic staff, led by Artistic Director Christine Noel, are at a high level, and the general confidence and musicianship of the membership continues to grow.
The former strategic plan for the Providence Singers, concluded June 30, 2017, marked a decade of extraordinary artistic achievement and steady organizational growth:
The Singers has presented eight world premieres, including three works commissioned through its Wachner Fund for New Music, an endowment raised to honor the transformative decade of Julian Wachner’s tenure as the Singers’ third artistic director. The fund was established at the Rhode Island Foundation in 2006.
The Singers gained a measure of national stature when it became a member of Chorus America, the premier national support and advocacy organization for choral groups. The Singers Executive Director served three terms as a member of the Chorus America Board of Directors, from 2007 to 2016.
Since May 2007 the Singers has made eleven guest appearances in classical subscription concerts of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, among the nation’s finest regional orchestras.
December 2016 marked the tenth annual collaborative performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Singers and the Philharmonic, most of them conducted by the Singers Artistic Director.
In addition to performances with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, important collaborations have included FirstWorks Providence, the Dave Brubeck Quartet (including the Newport Jazz Festival and a world premiere at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater), the Aurea Ensemble, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and others.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project has produced three professional studio recordings under its BMOP Music label featuring the Providence Singers. A fourth studio recording, Dan Forrest’s Requiem for the Living, is in production and will be available later in 2017.
The 2007 “American Masterpieces Choral Festival” was funded largely by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, one of seven such competitive grants the NEA awarded nationally that year. (Additional NEA funding led to the Singers first recording, Lukas Foss’s The Prairie.)
Beginning in January 2009, the Providence Singers has presented an annual day-long choral workshop for young male singers that culminates in an evening performance. The January 2017 Young Men’s Choral Festival, presented with co-sponsor Rhode Island College, drew a record 155 young singers from area middle and high schools.
While its level of artistic attainment and the scope of its operations have increased, the mission and values that animated the Singers’ 45th concert season are consistent with the mission and values that were shared during its inaugural season, 1971-72.
The group was born of a desire to sing significant choral music and to sing it well. Its stated mission included a commitment to advance public understanding and appreciation of the choral art. It did this by presenting a broad range of choral repertoire, from Monteverdi and Schütz to 20th-century masters Honegger, Stravinsky, Britten and others — with periodic forays into more exotic works, among them a piece by Percy Grainger for chorus and tuned water goblets, a presentation of haikus for chorus and shakuhachi, and a spoken fugue by Richard Winslow consisting of syncopated Scott Joplin titles with a solo piano accompaniment of The Entertainer. The Providence Journal once described the early Providence Singers as “an eclectic delight.”
The Singers transition from ambitious community choral group to a well-regarded regional cultural resource began formally in the 2000-01 season. As part of a Rhode Island Foundation investment in the leadership of community organizations, Singers Executive Director Allison McMillan received a fellowship that allowed her to visit and confer with choral organizations in the United States and Europe that had made successful transitions to professional-caliber ensembles. What she learned in that year, together with a growing awareness of the group’s artistic potential under Artistic Director Julian Wachner, led to a full reorganization of the Singers Board of Trustees, the creation of a professional administrative staff, enhancement of the artistic program (including commissions, educational programs, and improved budgetary support), adoption of new bylaws in 2002, and eventually to the Singers current situation with office and rehearsal space when the Carter Center opened in 2008.
As the reorganization got underway, the Singers received two transformative gifts — the first for $100,000 and the second for $500,000. The anonymous donors placed no restrictions or designations on the gifts, save that the funds should be used. That generosity and vision has underwritten a decade of artistic and organizational growth that comes rarely to arts organizations and has positioned the Providence Singers for a productive and creative future, building public understanding and enjoyment of the choral art, offering effective programs of choral education for young singers, and advancing the choral art through the commission of new work and high-caliber performance of the choral repertoire.
V. Strategic Areas and Critical Issues
Artistic excellence has been and will always remain a core value of the Providence Singers. While there is consensus that the Singers is performing at a very high artistic level, continued artistic development will always remain a top priority. Member study and preparation outside rehearsal, long a stated expectation, is evolving into a fully embraced and shared value, supported by more widely available digital rehearsal aids and member-initiated sectional rehearsals.
Focus groups conducted by the Strategic Plan Working Group voiced strong support for the Singers’ emphasis on choral education. The Young Men’s Choral Festival is valued both for the content of its program and for the strong partnerships it has helped to build with choral educators and the choral arts program at Rhode Island College.
Support also remains strong for the Junior Providence Singers and for a strategic review in consultation with music educators that will lead to growth and development. Planned adjustments to its schedule should make the JPS more helpful to high school choral directors, resolve potential issues with the crush of school-year activities, allow Singers administrative staff to produce the JPS program at a more convenient time of the season, and encourage greater involvement of the Singers membership as mentors.
Expanding the Singers’ Public Presence
The artistic achievement of the Providence Singers suggests fresh efforts to prepare the organization for an increased role in the cultural life of southeast New England. The Singers needs to touch more people with its performances and engage new audiences with the choral art. Beyond audience development efforts, the Singers would benefit from a program of organizational marketing designed to highlight the importance of the Singers choral mission, the value of that mission to the community, and the ways in which the organization pursues its mission.
Administrative and Organizational Capacity
To reach wider audiences and continue advancing the choral art, the Singers will need to ensure sufficient organizational capacity. Volunteer engagement, historically an organizational strength of the Singers, would increase the capacity of administrative staff for more strategically driven work.
To support its organizational maturity and expand its ability to advance its choral mission, the Singers will need a permanent, well-informed, efficiently organized, and strategically driven fundraising capacity.
Board of Trustees
Membership on the Board of Trustees may be taken as a marker for the Providence Singers’ profile in the community, a measurement of its position and reputation as a cultural resource. Larger audiences, additional marketing measures, and an enhanced organizational presence in news and social media will support the growing engagement of the Board of Trustees and participation of community members.
The Fiftieth Anniversary
Fiscal 2022 will be the 50th season of the Providence Singers. Beyond any programmatic observations and special events that will celebrate the season, the Singers has an opportunity to begin a multi-year resource development effort that would reach its initial goal during the 50th year.
VI. Goals and Strategies
A. Continue strong support for artistic excellence and advancement of the choral art.
Commission and introduce new choral compositions.
Announce new compositions and premières to regional and national choral organizations in order to encourage additional performances and to build national awareness of the Wachner Fund and the Singers’ efforts to advance the choral art.
Develop strategies for multi-year planning and support of recordings or other special projects.
B. Enhance programs of choral education and provide increased support.
Expand the Fassett Fund and transform it into a primary source of support for choral education programs with a goal of keeping registration fees as low as possible.
Develop and execute plans for the smooth, continued growth of the Young Men’s Choral Festival.
Undertake a strategic review of the Junior Providence Singers to ensure that the timing, duration, and structure of the program will attract talented young singers and support the efforts of music educators in area schools.
Establish a Board-level committee or member advisory group to assist the artistic director and executive director with strategic planning for choral education, to evaluate existing programs, and to make recommendations.
C. Increase average paid attendance for Singers-produced concerts.
Recent Singers-produced concerts have drawn a total audience nearly 500 people for two performances, which is the budgeted level. Since concerts are the Singers’ primary avenue for sharing its musical mission, audiences must increase if the Singers’ capacity as a significant cultural resource is to grow.
Increase total attendance for a typical two-performance concert to 800.
Engage a group of Singers to help motivate and engage the membership to increase friends and family attendance at concerts.
Cultivate relationships with arts leaders who have successfully grown their audiences to learn their successful tactics and strategies.
Conduct a multi-season review of staff and financial resources devoted to marketing and identify steps likely to increase average paid attendance.
Review with the artistic director and executive director possible adjustments to the typical season that might target new audiences and increase overall attendance, including the feasibility of a third performance of appropriate concerts as a way of entering new markets (e.g., Newport).
Analyze the effect of venues on concert attendance, an issue raised in several focus groups, and monitor development of potential new venues (e.g., Brown University, Moses Brown).
D. Build greater public awareness of the Providence Singers as an important cultural resource.
Develop and offer programs that enhance the audience experience, including lecture/discussion sessions, pre- and post-concert presentations, and improvements to the printed concert program.
Develop and distribute feature-style communications about Singers programs (Fassett fellows, JPS, YMCF, commissions) and about the actual content of concerts.
Repurpose the Philharmonic program ad to present the full range of Singers’ efforts at advancing the choral art (education, commissions, performance, etc.) rather than presenting the season schedule, which often becomes outdated.
Develop effective printed materials for trustees and members to use in describing the mission, values, and history of the Providence Singers.
E. Expand staff capacity and organizational effectiveness.
Rebuild a structure for volunteer engagement, freeing staff time for more strategic activities.
Create a volunteer coordinator position reporting to the executive director, the appointment to be made by the executive director in consultation with the chorus manager.
Identify functions that could be filled by volunteers: member ticket sales, music distribution and payment, program ad sales, and other activities.
Explore member advisory panels to support marketing, communications, member services, choral education projects, etc. Invite emeriti/ae member participation as appropriate.
Update clear, well-understood job descriptions and expectations for all positions, including section leaders, choral manager, stage/concert manager, librarian, and others and renew appointments on an annual basis.
F. Upgrade computing resources to better support the Singers mission and programs.
Explore cost-effective programs for Customer Relations Management (CRM) that will allow more effective, better-targeted communications.
Identify and fully implement software for customer-friendly, efficient season subscription and single-concert ticket sales.
Revise web programming to develop convenient editorial access for administrative staff.
G. Develop an effective fundraising capacity that addresses Singers priorities.
Increase operating capital reserve to $200,000 and reduce the drawdown to less than 6 percent of principal per year.
The Board’s Resource Development Committee, working with the executive director, will begin a long-term effort to advance programs already underway and to develop policy and procedures for appropriate new ventures (e.g., bequests and memorials, naming opportunities, sponsorships).
Present a range of opportunities for donors to support both the overall mission and parts of the mission that may be of particular personal interest (Fassett Fund, Wachner Fund for New Music, education, commissions, scholarships, special projects, season or concert sponsorships, etc.)
H. Deepen the involvement and engagement of the Board of Trustees.
Identify and recruit new trustees so that the Board operates at its full 18-member strength, with particular attention to community members who support the choral arts mission.
Design and implement an effective orientation program for new trustees, ensuring that they understand the history of the Singers, become well-acquainted with the current leadership and programs, and develop a greater appreciation for the choral art in the area’s overall cultural life.
Regularly review the Board committee structure and the official charges of individual committees to ensure that they contribute to the Board’s effectiveness as the Singers governing body.
Implement an annual review of trustee satisfaction and engagement in the work of the Board.
I. Plan and initiate significant programs to mark the 50th anniversary season.
In consultation with the artistic director, ensure that adequate funding and administrative support will be available for a significant anniversary commission and possibly for a competition focused on emerging choral composers.
Identify and consult with advancement experts about the feasibility and scope of a multi-year capital campaign that would build a “nucleus fund” leading to a public campaign in fiscal 2021 and 2022.
Support the creation of a short history of the Providence Singers.
Convene periodic idea-generating sessions with interested parties to discuss appropriate ways of using the 50th anniversary to advance the mission and stature of the Providence Singers.