I had the great pleasure of working with Susan McMane and Chorissima for several years, helping the girls sing with authentic expression. My experience has also included writing a book on expressive singing, coaching hundreds of excellent choirs across the country, and singing with world-class groups. Suffice it to say, I know a great director when I see one … and Susan McMane is a GREAT director.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by the hundreds of other people upset about this decision, and suggest that the “new direction” might be best gleaned by reading the Wallace Foundations study entitled “Attracting an Elusive Audience: How the San Francisco Girls Chorus Is Breaking Down Stereotypes and Generating Interest Among Classical Music Patrons.”
That study examines in depth and detail (60+ pages) what SFGC has done to attract new audiences, and implicitly suggests this thesis: Susan McMane’s contract was not renewed because the board believes another director can attract more audience members, generate more money, and bring more fame to the organization.
Yikes. It appears to me that the board members who voted for this are misguided folks who understand neither the strengths and unique characteristics of SFGC nor the practical limits of the group’s audience size. The SFGC is an incredibly strong organization which fosters phenomenal musicianship, profound personal/social development, and amazing performances. Not to mention eliciting world-wide acclaim through its amazing international tours, CD’s, and collaborations/associations with some of the best composers and musicians.
That said, SFGC will never ‘draw the sort of classical music audiences who regularly attend concerts of the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.’ It simply won’t. Not to take anything away from Chorissima but there are some key reasons why this goal of executive director Melanie Smith and the board won’t be reached:
- Chorissima is a choir, and choirs have smaller audiences than symphonies and opera companies — especially world class groups such as San Francisco’s.
- Looking for a local choir which has more “fame,” one sees Chanticleer. However, those members are fully professional adults, dedicating themselves to as many performances as possible. The girls in Chorissima are young amateurs and have very busy lives; expecting them to perform more would be detrimental and counter-productive.
- Chorissima is a youth choir, and a youth choir will never generate the same sort of adult buzz … unless they’re a novelty group like the Vienna Boys Choir which is steeped in religion and history.
So, no matter how much SFGC does to change the public’s assumption about what a “girls choir” can do, SFGC will never bring in the numbers of new audience members that the board envisions. To expect otherwise is akin to trying to turn a hummingbird into a bald eagle. Sorry, but it can’t be done. And attempting to do so shows that the person making the effort doesn’t understand the differences between the hummingbird and the eagle; both Chorissima and the San Francisco Symphony are excellent organizations with so much to be proud of … but they are birds of a different feather.
There is so much to appreciate with the phenomenal SFGC and Chorissima as it is right now. If only the board would see past their incredibly misguided vision of a “new direction” and realize what they have.
And keep the wonderful Susan McMane.