Toolkit: Start a Chorus

Frequently Asked Questions

Starting a Chorus

We’re in a rural area. How should we go about finding a music director?

Our Start a Giving Voice Chorus Toolkit provides information about music director qualifications. Check with churches, schools, community centers, and performing arts organizations in your area for leads on potential candidates. Also check the website of your state’s chapter of the American Choral Directors Association.

What qualifications do we need to look for in a music director?

The music director must have a solid understanding and commitment to the Giving Voice Chorus principles outlined in the Toolkit and an understanding of dementia and its varied effects on behavior and communication. He or she should have technical skills similar to those of any other choral director, but also a willingness to adapt his or her techniques and style to suit the needs of the chorus (see staffing). Additional “soft” skills will make the music director more effective: patience, openness to new ideas, a sense of humor, ability to establish a rapport with the singers and also to challenge them without overwhelming them.

As we consider how we want to implement and adapt the GVI toolkit, are there any restrictions on its use that we should know about?

We are providing the Toolkit information and recommendations so others can learn from the experience and successes of the first Giving Voice choruses. Some practices may not be right for your particular community, or you might have a better idea that you try. If you do, please let us know so others can benefit from your experience!

If we start a chorus, are we expected to “join” GVI or be associated with it in some way?

GVI has no membership program and does not collect dues or membership fees of any kind. We hope you will let us know if you are planning a dementia-friendly chorus and will freely share your ideas with us and others.

Initial Assessment & Planning

Can we use the words “Giving Voice” in the name of our chorus?

“Giving Voice Chorus” is a registered trademark of GVI. At this time, GVI has no process in place for licensing the trademark for use by others.

How many singers must we have to move forward with starting a chorus?

There is no magic number of voices required for a chorus. It’s important that the participants enjoy the rehearsals and concerts and they feel good about what they are creating. Don’t forget that in addition to singers with dementia and their care partners, singing volunteers are also an important part of every chorus. We recommend that you try for at least 25 singers including volunteers, care givers, and individuals with dementia. If the chorus is too small, the participants will feel too exposed in singing their parts.

What things should we consider if we want our local assisted living or nursing home to be the host organization for the chorus rehearsals and concerts?

GVI’s priority is to meet the needs of people with Alzheimer’s who live in the community, outside of care facilities, because they generally have fewer opportunities to socialize and be creative. Please review the Toolkit’s Initial Assessment and Planning section carefully. You may determine that the nursing home is the best available host organization and offers the best available facilities.

Is GVI available to advise us as we plan our chorus? Is there a way for us to communicate with other choruses like ours, to share experiences and exchange ideas?

Currently, GVI does not have the staff to provide consulting or advisory services to startup choruses. We developed the Toolkit to provide useful information and extend its reach via this website. Please use the Forum to exchange questions and ideas with others.

Choral Experience

Why does Giving Voice choose to focus on chorus members with dementia who live in private homes?

GVI’s priority is to meet the needs of people with Alzheimer’s who live in the community, outside of care facilities, because they generally have fewer opportunities to socialize and be creative. Similarly, their care partners often feel isolated and alone. GVI is directing its limited resources to where it believes the greatest need exists.

How is this different than music therapy?

A Giving Voice chorus is not a music therapy program. Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

How is this different than a sing-along?

A Giving Voice chorus offers a unique depth of learning and participation. Sing-alongs use well-known songs and the participants sing only the melody. A Giving Voice chorus involves both experiential and sequential learning. Most of the songs are in SAB parts. And, like sing-alongs, fun is a big part of a Giving Voice chorus!

Why does GVI host a performance of the chorus at the conclusion of each session?

The performance gives the participants a venue to demonstrate their achievement and joy to family members and the community at large.

Does GVI use outside musicians in the performance?

GVI has enhanced the performance experience by hiring outside musicians to accompany the chorus. The outside musicians are optional and have included violin, guitar, drums, and mandolin.

How do you maintain a calm, structured environment during rehearsals?'

Everyone understands the challenges singers are facing. Volunteers help singers keep track of their music books, follow the music director’s instructions, find their way to the restrooms, and generally keep things moving smoothly. The rehearsal environment is flexible, inclusive, and focused on the music, so singers can relax and simply enjoy singing.

Do rehearsals feel like “Groundhog Day,” with the chorus having to re-learn everything each week?

Like a rehearsal with any chorus, there is some repetition from week to week, but there is also a learning process that occurs over the entire span of weeks. Most singers practice at home during the week to retain what they have learned and to be prepared.