In my personal experience, this is the most successful long-term fundraising project. These events often yield several thousands of dollars that can be applied immediately to the needs of the choral department.
Like the schools of the group of directors interviewed, my choral department also hosted a competition, with the first event held in 2007. The first time, although a great deal of work for staff, parents and students alike, yielded almost $32,000 profit, nearly half of the choral department’s budget needs for the show choir ensembles. In 2008, the same event was held witha profit of $35,000. The information that follows is a brief synopsis of how a new director might go about hosting a show choir competition or festival at his or her school.
Publicity and Notification
The first step in hosting a successful competition is to choose a date that will fit in well among other well-established competitions, perhaps selecting a date either when no other event is already scheduled, or when something much farther away is planned-that way directors might entertain the idea of having more to select from when making competition decisions. Once the date is selected, a notice or letter should be mailed out to as many directors as possible-the idea is to get other groups to your school, so being too selective may not be a good approach for the first couple of years.
Carefully designed forms that include clearly marked deadlines and fees are essential. Ensure that the entry form clearly indicates a deadline for remitting payment as well as to whom to make the payment. Other important bits of informationsuch as the number of students (even broken down by categories of vocalists, instrumentalists and crew members), and the type of group are requested. This form even asks for each school’s colors and the color scheme of their costumes; this information can be used for decorating each school’s homeroom.
Preparing Director Packets
Once directors begin sending in registration forms and entry fees, and as the date for the event draws closer, it is important to send each participating director a packet that includes the following information: Very clear general information that includes important items such as where in the school the show choirs will compete; some schools host events such as this in their auditorium while others do so in their gymnasiums. Many directors are extremely particular about where they choose to have their groups perform, so in the interest of transparency, including information about the actual performance venue, the type of sound and lighting systems used, and what equipment will be provided will help directors make informed decisions about whether they feel a particular competition will offer an enriching experience to their groups or not. Equipment that is often provided by the host school most often includes risers (unless the group has an alternate riser configuration), bass and guitar amplifiers, drum set, and a piano or electric keyboard.
Clearly defined rules and regulations – Every show choir competition is different, and will therefore likely have slightly different rules. Over the course of the last several years, most competitions have made efforts to be as similar as possible-this makes for a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Schedule of events (including participating choirs) – Having the schedule of events that includes the line up of participating choirs is important-this allows the directors of the participating schools an opportunity to make travel plans for their choirs. Some directors may wish to arrive in your town the night before-especially if they perform early in the morning. As a courtesy, it is a nice gesture to make an effort to schedule those choirs who have the farthest to travel at a later time slot, which affords them more travel time in the event of bad weather, or they may not have the extra funds for an overnight stay.
Another advantage to having a schedule of events that includes the participating choirs is that each director has an opportunity to gauge the level of competition in which their students will engage. Although no one can truly predict exactly what may happen at any given competition, it never hurts to know what one could possibly expect. The schedule of the day is extremely important and the hosts and all participants (directors, staff and students) must be diligent in doing everything possible to stay on schedule. If a group arrives late, or is not ready to begin their rotation on time, the entire day is impacted, and those instances cause every other group that follows to be behind. Past competitions have fallen as much as sixty to ninety minutes behind; in those cases, competition coordinators and host directors had to make difficult decisions in how to alter the remainder of the day’s schedule in order to “catch up.”
When this is necessary, the most convenient time periods to be reduced are breaks and meal times. This may seem like an obvious action to take that will solve the problem, which is highly possible, provided there is enough time to make it work. However, with this solution also comes sacrifice-if meal times are reduced, there is less time for spectators and participants to buy concessions and meals, which will reduce the amount of profits to be taken in-remember, hosting a competition is also a fundraising event! Another negative circumstance to getting behind is that the participating groups are frequently rushed through the procedures of the rest of the day. Another area of the schedule that is often reduced, out of necessity, is each group’s warm-up time. Warm-up time slots are typically twenty-five minutes. If six or more groups are allowed only twenty minutes, instead of twenty-five, competition hosts can easily make up thirty minutes or more.
List of menu items, concessions, souvenirs (T-shirts, DVDs, etc.) –Teachers, students and spectators often “judge” or rate a competition by the quality and quantity of these very important items. Everyone will need to eat at least one meal while they are at the competition, and those groups (performers and spectators) that make it into the final round will have dinner as well. An important perk that the participating directors and their staff will appreciate is having access to the food that is served to everyone else, but they can be given a voucher, which allows them several visits through the line, but they do not have to pay.
List of activities for students and spectators (if any) –If at all possible, set up some fun activities for students and spectators-it will be a long day and they will want to have some fun things to do to break up the day. Fun activities could include a karaoke stage, some carnival type games with fun prizes, a photo booth, or just about anything else one can imagine.
List of adjudicators – Providing the directors of the competing choirs with a list of adjudicators is often extremely helpful. Each adjudicator looks for and listens for different things in each choir’s performance. Knowing who the adjudicators are, even a few days or a week in advance, can inform a director how he or she might structure the last few rehearsals before the competition. If an adjudicator has previously judged a group’s performance, and that same adjudicator is on the list for the upcoming competition, it would serve the director well to review that adjudicator’s score sheet from the previous event, so as to be sure any and all of the critical items have been addressed and that the group has made improvement. It is also important that the director take care to remain objective in this instance; one has to view these comments up against the work that the group is doing from the perspective of the adjudicator-NOT the director.
Notes on Scoring Your Competition
There are many different approaches to developing a system for scoring the show choir in a competition. After much discussion with directors across the country, and based on my own personal experience, it seems that most directors prefer the method shown on the Show Choir Score Sheet that utilizes a scale based on numbers one through ten, with a score of ten recognized as the highest level of achievement and artistry, while a score of one represents the very lowest level of achievement and artistry.
Another area of scoring that is intensely debated is consistency between one judge and another, which is why it is important to carefully select adjudicators that are known for being fair, objective and consistent. Also, it is a good idea to help establish a point of reference for the panel of judges from which to base their personal scoring for each group. This is something the host director should give to each of the judges in order to establish a base line for consistent scoring. Although this is helpful, one still has to take into account that every judge will still have a different impression of each performance, and what he or she believes to be “excellent” may not be the same as the next judge.
Other Important Information
When hosting a competition, it is most helpful to communicate often and provide directors with as much information as possible. Even if it may seem like too much information is being shared or some of it may seem terribly obvious, they will appreciate having it. Also every director will have several questions- some of the questions will be the same as many of the other directors, but some will be unique, and it is never a bad idea to be prepared; the more one can anticipate having anything come up, the better the experience will be for the visiting directors, their students, and supporting fans.