Meet A Member: Victoria Buchy, Toronto Children's Chorus

Victoria Buchy is someone you might call an administrator’s administrator. “I’m passionate about the people who work in the arts, who serve the artistic vision and mission that cultural organizations bring to life,” says the Toronto Children’s Chorus executive director.

Her passion shines through in a story she told from the Chorus Management Institute hosted in Toronto last month. “Here we were with this lovely woman from Detroit who told us she wanted to start a choir as the administrator. And I thought, that’s amazing, to start a group with artistic and administrative leaders at the same time! Usually the administrative side is just the afterthought.”

Victoria, who has been with TCC for 18 months, talked about her current work with the choir and getting acclimated to the Chorus America community in the latest edition of our ‘Meet A Member’ series with Chorus America president and CEO Catherine Dehoney.

What brought you to TCC?

VB: I’ve been working in arts administration for about eight years now, and the opportunity here just came up. The reason I applied was because I’m a singer myself, and I’ve participated in many choirs as a youth and a young adult. So it was a natural fit for me that as a growing cultural manager, I would go to an organization that was about singing.

You recently attended the Chorus Management Institute in Toronto. Was there any particular takeaway that you felt was particularly valuable?

VB: I thought the CMI went very well and was very important for Toronto. I think there are fewer opportunities in Toronto (and Canada in general) for administrators in the choral field. What is really neat about the CMI is that it’s also a crash course in nonprofit management in general, but it’s tailored to choirs. It’s unique—I don’t know how much of that exists for opera companies or symphony orchestras. You could tell that everyone was really pumped to be there. It was a welcome opportunity.

Do you think being a member in Canada gives you a different perspective on the choral field and/or the Chorus America community? Are there unique challenges that choirs in Canada face?

VB: I think it’s an interesting question, especially for a newish administrator in the choral field. When I went to the [2015] Chorus America Conference, not only was it a huge injection of energy for arts administration, but it was specifically for choirs. I had no idea that existed! I was blown away by how many choirs are out there, and the histories were really fascinating.

In some ways, it’s not that different. There are similar legal and tax structures. I think there’s a lot of parallels, and we’re all trying to find our audiences and excite new people about choral music. What has struck me so far is the sheer size. In Canada, our population is much smaller and we’re much more spread out. We don’t have the same number of cities with the same cultural capacity outside the usual suspects of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. I don’t feel like arts administrators have the same level of mobility in Canada.

Tell us about one big success in your chorus that you’re really proud of.

VB: Something I’ve personally set out to do here is cultivate a team of professional arts administrators. We have a lot of graduates coming out of arts management programs here, and for me, the success is that in these short first 18 months that I’ve been here, when there has been an opportunity on our team, bringing in someone with expertise who understands as much about the administrative needs as they do about the music. When you have the budget to do that, as we do, it is a privilege.

Singers from the Toronto Children's Chorus.

I’m also really proud of the high standard of excellence that all our choirs consistently produce. This is [artistic director] Elise Bradley’s tenth season, and I noticed right away that I was arriving at a time where everything that Elise had implemented was really flourishing. And it took eight years to start up and refine certain parts of our program. I could step back and look at pieces coming together and say, wow, it’s taken a number of years to get here, and now this is really coming into its own. It’s exciting to be coming in at a time when we’re reaping the benefits of her entire tenure.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your chorus today?

VB: There are two things that come to me. A lot of arts organizations, including us, are transitioning out of relying on big corporate funding. The corporate philanthropy scene has changed a lot in the last five years, and corporations’ funding models and funding choices are continuing to change right now. We need to transition from relying on the obvious players to the less obvious players in the corporate world.

The second is that I’d like us to be more front and center in our community. We have a great international reputation, but we are comparatively less known in Toronto. This is a world-class choir, and I don’t think that’s something often attributed to a children’s chorus. Your everyday person is not going to realize that this is a chorus that can, for example, sing Bach professionally.

I feel that it’s part of my mission to let our city know that they are home to one of the world’s best. In Toronto, we have a great symphony orchestra, we have an amazing opera company, and we also have one of the top children’s choruses. That message hasn’t been brought out, and I think that’s our challenge.

What’s one exciting thing you have planned for the future?

VB: Our Chamber Choir has been invited as one of 24 presenting choirs at the International Federation for Choral Music’s World Symposium on Choral Music in Barcelona this summer. We were very excited to be selected. I believe this is the second time that TCC has performed at this event.

Why did you decide to join Chorus America?

VB: First of all, it just seems like the thing to do! Certainly I knew I was tapping into a like-minded community. I knew I would have access to set of resources that was very specific to administrators—perhaps even the most or only specific resources—and I could connect to peers, and learn about others’ successes and struggles, specifically in choral administration.

Can you tell us about a time where your Chorus America membership has helped you?

VB: I was so pumped with “Audiences Everywhere” with Matt Lehrman at the Boston Conference. That was one of the best seminars I’ve ever sat in on, and I came out of that seminar saying, “We’re going to change the choral world!” We just hired a new marketing coordinator on our team, and one of the first things I said to her is, ok, we’ve got to look at this thing called Audiences Everywhere.

Just to know this tribe of ours exists on such a major level, and that you have this resource is so important. For me, it was comforting to meet other children’s choir leaders in the states, and find that there were a lot of parallels.

What got you hooked on choral music?

VB: I was just always singing. I grew up in a household where the radio was always on (I can tell you an embarrassing number of 90s songs that I still know the words to). In addition, maybe the community aspect of choral singing, when you have that group sound and you get goosebumps, and you feel that you are part of this great team. That’s a pretty magical feeling. I was welcomed by choirs, and it was one of the most formative experiences of my teenage years.

When you take off your choral hat, what else is an important part of your life?

VB: I’m serving as a board member on a completely different nonprofit organization. I am on the board of directors for the Institute for a Resource-Based Economy, or IRBE. What is really important to me outside of the work that I do here at TCC is building a sustainable future. I’m one of the founding members of one of our projects: the Toronto Tool Libraries, a resource-sharing program where we share tools. Instead of having to buy or rent tools, you buy a membership and we give you access to thousands of tools across four locations in the city. We’re trying to find that place where economy, innovation, and sustainability all intersect.

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