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Innovative Recruitment Approach Yields Unprecedented Growth for the Townsmen Chorus
Len Matiowski is a happy camper
The President of the Kingston Townsmen recently saw his 25-man chorus increase by almost 50% over the course of six weeks following the most successful “Guest Night” event in the history of the Chapter.
So, what was the secret to their staggering success?
“Its easy to say that we did it through planning, preparation, and teamwork”, says Len “but we really started by examining our existing process for recruiting, orienting and retaining new members and concluded it simply wasn’t working.”
Len points to an email he received from the Chapter’s newest member who joined in August of last year. “He was an experienced Barbershopper, returning after a few decades away. In November, he took the time to tell me about his experiences in joining the Chapter; what he liked, and what he felt was missing. He pointed out several critical things that had gone wrong in his own onboarding to the Chapter and wondered if he would have joined had he not already been an experienced and enthusiastic Barbershopper. This guy really made us think.”
Matiowsky went on to describe how they learned that some of their processes were broken, and in some cases that they didn’t even have one. “It made us look disorganized and worse, it made us look disinterested in our new members.”
“So, we resolved to simply quit doing that”, he laughs.
Their first decision was to change the “Guest Night” event into a four week “Learn to Sing” program. “We wanted to offer our guests a opportunity to come out for reasons other than curiosity. More importantly, we wanted to put the idea into their heads right out of the gate that they should come out for four weeks,” says Matiowsky.
And thus began the planning and preparation. The idea was to create a recruitment event that choreographed the guests’ experiences from the moment they arrived on their first night through the four weeks of the program. The guest would see a well-organized chapter, and an excellent music program. They would get quality one-on-one time with top notch musical resources and they would experience the overwhelming fellowship that is the hallmark of the Barbershop Harmony Society.
This involved the development of promotional materials, guest packages, the creation of a continuous communication strategy, sheet music packages, a well planned musical program, an education program for the weeks following the event, temporary access to key learning tracks, and guidance on the administrative elements of the Chapter. This was a massive effort on the part of the recruitment committee.
The membership was mobilised to promote the guest night and the four-week “Learn to Sing” program using appropriate promotional material they could easily carry.
“The guest’s first exposure to our chorus was of critical importance,” says Chorus Director Andrew Carolan. “Our goal was to “wow” them. We set a number of key objectives. First, we focused on developing a program that created an opportunity for the guests to hear, experience and most importantly participate in that spinetingling feeling that comes when you ring a chord. Second, we wanted to show that learning Barbershop songs was easy.”
The program was structured as follows:
a brief chorus performance so that the guests could hear the robust sound even a small group could create.
a demonstration of the basics of the Barbershop style using “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”.
Integration of the guests into the chorus to learn the “Sleepy Time” tag, to have them experience and participate in the production of close harmony.
A performance from our very own Ontario Novice Quartet Champions, Perpetual Emotion.
Learning the short Barbershop song, “One More Song”, which was new to all including most of the existing membership to show how easy it was to learn a song from start to finish. This song is available for free on the Society website.
“Creating an environment for a positive musical experience was key in developing the program for guest night”, says Carolan.
“But easily the most important part of the event was how the membership stepped up to the plate to make all our guests feel welcome. No guest was ever unattended, and our members made sure that every single guest was pulled into an ad hoc quartet to sing the Sleepy Time tag. This was happening throughout the entire break, multiple quartets singing away happily. It was magical!” he adds.
The guest night attracted 12 prospective new members. All but one returned either the following week or the week after. Two additional guests who couldn’t make the guest night also started attending the week after.
“We kept communicating with the new guys throughout the coming weeks. Their guest packages told them what would be happening, but we kept reminding them and giving them more detail each week, sometimes twice a week” says Matiowsky.
“And they didn’t just come back. They were arriving 30 minutes early to participate in sectionals and our one-on-one music education program. They were hungry to learn!” he beams. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the guys!”
“It looks like we’ll end up with ten new members!” he says proudly. “Of course, this is a good news, bad news story. The good news is we got ten new members. The bad news is we got ten new members. We’re finding out quickly how much of a strain it is to absorb that many new members into a 22-man chorus in such a short period of time. It forces us to get better. To be better.”
Carolan echoes this sentiment. “It’s a great problem to have! Our sound is so much bigger now. With ten new guys on the risers, we’re going to have to work on innovative ways to get them up to speed on our repertoire. Our priority, however, is to teach them two songs in time for the Spring Convention in April. I met and assessed each one of these men. They’ll succeed and their success is our success.”
Len offers some final words, “This was a lot of work. But it was also energizing. Don’t underestimate the amount of planning it involves. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of how much, and how often, you must communicate with your prospective new members. This task alone requires a coordinated effort across the chapter. In the end, you need to make your guests feel like they are part of the chapter even before they are. That seems to have worked for us. It’s repeatable. We will do it again this fall!”