A new year brings great new opportunities, and we are excited to share this New Year with you. Many folks have already labeled 2022 as 2020, too. While this may be true for some, we are of a different mindset. We recognize two prevailing questions, “What shall we do?”, and “What would God have us do?” Are these questions any different than any other new year for believers? Probably not. Master Singers, Inc. has been responding to these two questions routinely, especially as we have shifted and repositioned our lives to navigate the recent and recurring pandemic. Many organizations have done and still are doing the same.
The music publishing world is once again in flux. But this time, it’s significant! Word Music’s parent organization, longtime music publishing giant Lorenz Corporation, filed for bankruptcy in 2021. Music publisher Brentwood Benson closed their doors completely shutting off sales from its entire music library in December, and Lifeway Worship went completely digital with their choral club subscriptions. In fact, the Baptist Press recently published an article about all of these strategic moves with a theme that the music publishing industry is indeed being “rearranged” – a wordsmithing on music arranging. The article also sites a Duke University study “showing that by 2012, fewer than half of all churches had a choir at all – a number that has only shrunk since then.” What does this mean for choral music, choral music publishing in the future, and the impact on choirs in our churches and universities? The situation is definitely fluid with monumental challenges. Nevertheless, it’s no secret that the 2020 pandemic put its foot on the neck of performing arts as well as continued to stifle choirs in the churches which is seriously crippling the demand for choral music. To build choirs in the churches and our communities can be an enormous undertaking. To maintain our choirs can often times be even more difficult.
In 2009, we created Central Texas Master Singers with a passion of bringing God-honoring music to the masses. The initial organizational vision, which hasn’t changed, is To enhance the musical experience within the church universal, with excellence and enthusiasm, by expressing God’s word in the contemporary choral setting, with a simple purpose of Enriching Lives Through Choral Music! As we take a look at these two positioning statements, both can be achieved with and without a large choir. Therefore, let’s revisit our earlier questions – “What shall we do?” And, “What would God have us do? Historically, we know people desire to sing groups, and singing in groups is still quite attractive – in fact, preferred by most. There is just something about harmonies that give us such an indescribable and intangible connection between the music and life itself – probably more so for the participant. Health studies even indicate and prove theories that heartbeats align when singing in groups. This causes us to ask the question “How many…?” How many singers are ideal; how many concerts do we perform annually or consecutively; how many churches and venues can continue to host an outside group of this size and nature; how many experienced singers can we recruit and retain to replenish the natural course of attrition required to maintain a heightened level of delivery; how many will continue to attend concert appearances and musical experiences; how many singers will remain healthy; and, how many new and unanswered questions will arise that continue to apply pressure to the cause in the wake of the recent pandemic?
Master Singers, Inc., the non-profit organization in which Central Texas Master Singers is organized, was one of the very first choral organizations in the county to temporarily shut down its choral activities, which was during the first week of March 2020 – three weeks prior to the governmental mandate to quarantine the nation. We rapidly developed a game plan to phase the choir back into action as soon as our Governor allowed venues to reopen. We had a phase-in plan long before phase-in plans and quickly implemented a multitiered process throughout the summer to get us back to singing. By implementing strict safety protocols which included self-certification of health conditions for participation and reporting of health conditions for contact tracing, regular weekly rehearsals resumed in September 2020. We also social distanced the rehearsal space as part of that process. These new measures proved successful which blessed us with the ability to move forward with a Fall concert and our annual Christmas concert series plans. Unfortunately, the rise in pandemic cases in Texas through the week of Thanksgiving caused us to reevaluate Christmas. A proactive decision was made to cancel the upcoming Christmas concerts. In our 12-year history, Central Texas Master Singers delivered had more than 200 full length performances without ever cancelling a single concert. It’s been a remarkable journey, and the decision was difficult. Weekly rehearsals resumed in January 2020, but several churches and venues were still not ready to host outside groups. However, we used the financial support from the cancelled Christmas concerts to initiate the production of a new CD album ("NOEL!") and secured one concert performance in April of 2021 to close out the season. It was then we realized it was necessary to rethink the future of Central Texas Master Singers. At the conclusion of the April concert, we announced that Central Texas Master Singers, in its current form, was fully suspended from all activities for a minimum of one year or until further notice. This would give us time to recuperate, regroup and revisit our plans for the future.
We huddled the board to focus on the two questions referenced earlier: “What shall we do? And, what would God have us do?” As our social norms have greatly shifted, rehearsing and performing in a socially distant fashion evidenced a new normal for singing in groups – at least for now and the foreseeable future. After all, it works for the singers, it presents well to an audience, and it is socially appealing. However, this posed a new problem. Although, we were down a significant number of singers due to the pandemic, the current number of singers were now staged beyond the capacity of most venues’ ability to host the group of this size in a such a distant fashion. Essentially, this new problem eliminates many, almost all, of the host venues within our traveling area – including the ability to maintain ideal rehearsal space. Therefore, we were faced with two options – shut down completely or reduce the size of the group. Shutting down would admit defeat – something we couldn’t accept. Therefore, a unanimous and conclusive decision was made to significantly reduce the size of the group to a chamber ensemble of less than 30 singers. This number allows the organization more mobility, flexibility, and a simpler form of management.
With new protocols and increased standards for musical excellence, we are publicly announcing that Central Texas Master Singers is now “Vineyard Voice” – A Vocal Chamber Ensemble of Master Singers, Inc. It is our sincere desire to continue to bring uplifting music to the masses of an even greater variety of music styles with a God-honoring and vibrant delivery. We pray and trust that you will continue to support us as we enter this new era in our journey. Although the name has changed and the number of singers is fewer, our goal remains the same – to Enrich Lives Through Choral Music!
May God richly bless you in 2022, and we hope to see you at an upcoming appearance.
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