Empower Your Choral Program by Creating a Community Culture

Empower Your Choral Program by Creating a Community Culture

By Dr. Wendy K. Moy

Director of Choral Activities and Music Education

Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut


According to Morrison (2001), the music ensemble possesses its own unique culture. Therefore, as educators we need to be intentional in creating this culture so that it aligns with and promotes our ensemble’s goals. Toward that end, social capital provides a framework with which we can take the temperature or assess the health of the social workings of our classroom.

chorus, choir
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“Social capital refers to the features of organization, such as networks, norms, and social trust, that facilitate cooperation and coordination for mutual benefit” (Putnam, 1995). There are three types of social capital:

  • bonding capital exists between your students;
  • linking capital exists between the ensemble and the teacher; and
  • bridging capital exists between the ensemble and the greater community (Moy, 2015).

My upcoming session at the NAfME National Conference will look at all three types of social capital. This blog post, however, will focus primarily on strategies to build bonding social capital within an ensemble. By creating a community culture in our choral program (in addition to quality teaching), we can create stronger bonds between students that will result in greater retention and recruitment rates.


  1. Create shared norms and values. What are your ensemble’s goals and priorities? Creating an overall vision and communicating that vision will help your students “get behind” the energy and hours they are devoting to the ensemble. The vision will also provide direction when there are competing priorities for the ensemble’s time. For example, some programs have music literacy or high festival ratings as their goals, while others value the conforming of individuals into a unified entity. Understanding what goals or priorities are innate in your choir’s culture can help you capitalize on those bonds among your students.


  1. Create opportunities for fellowship. Fellowship can be thought of as an elevated version of having fun. It involves creating experiences that help deepen the respect and appreciation students have for one another. While singing at times can innately create fellowship, there are also non-singing activities that can augment these bonds. It can be as simple as wearing nametags and enjoying treats after a rehearsal or as complex as an off-site overnight retreat or week-long tour.
music students, fellowship
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  1. Create an environment of trust and reciprocity. Create a judgment-free zone where students feel free to share their voices and insights. Involve them in the learning process as co-collaborators. Empower your students by creating section leaders who are responsible for helping their sections achieve success. You may also want to create a leadership team in which there is a shared responsibility for the success of the rehearsals and concerts.


  1. Facilitate the creation of close networks. Encourage your students to work together outside the rehearsal on music and other tasks, such as homework or service-learning projects. Point out how the ensemble can serve as a support system outside the classroom. An ensemble president or leadership team can also be of great assistance in this area. For example, perhaps one of your students is a physics whiz and would be willing to tutor younger students with math. Or perhaps a subset of your choir also loves ballet. Or perhaps you group your singers together into quartets to go perform for different nursing homes and to report back on the experience.


While social capital should not be the main focus of your ensemble, it is a “free” resource that can aid in the musical and social development of your students and ensemble. If cultivated, your ensemble will create strong bonds that will allow them to have a fulfilling social as well as musical experience thereby increasing commitment and retention. There is no better recruiting tool than an ensemble full of students who love to perform together and for the community.


Interested in knowing more about empowering your ensemble to greater heights through social capital? I invite you to attend my session at the 2015 NAfME National In-Service Conference (Sunday, October 25 at 12:30 pm) where we will also explore the research behind social capital, as well as strategies to create linking and bridging capital in your ensemble. The combination and balance of the three types of social capital help to create a thriving choral program.


Morrison, S. J. (2001). The school ensemble: A culture of our own. Music Educators Journal, 88(2), 24-28.

Moy, W. K. (2015). Come together: An ethnography of the Seattle Men’s Chorus. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from Proquest. (3688950)

Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy, 6(1), 65-78.

About the author:

chorus teacher

Wendy K. Moy originally hails from Washington State where she taught secondary choral and instrumental music for 12 years and her ensembles frequently performed at the regional and state NAfME Conferences. She is currently the Director of Choral Activities and Head of Music Education at Connecticut College and is active as a clinician and guest conductor. Wendy’s research focuses on the culture of singing communities and the factors that contribute to successful choral organizations. She has given presentations on this research and integration across the arts at College Music Society Regional Conferences, American Choral Directors Association State Conferences, and NAfME conferences. Wendy is also the co-founder and president of Chorosynthesis, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform the culture of American choral music through collaboration, sustainability, innovation, and excellence. 

Wendy presented on this topic at the 2015 NAfME National Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Register today for the 2019 NAfME National Conference.


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