Can You Hear Me Now?
Social media, email, text messaging, and more. Within the changing landscape of technology and communication methods, how do leaders of children/youth choruses navigate the most effective strategies for maintaining communication with choristers, parents, and alumni?
At a roundtable discussion at Chorus America’s Annual Conference in Seattle led by Robyn Lana, founder and managing artistic director of the Cincinnati Children’s Choir, choral leaders who work with young people shared how they personally respond to these communication challenges. Afterwards, we asked Lana to elaborate on some of the most commonly discussed themes.
Q: The two generations most children/youth choruses spend time working with seem to be Generation Y and Generation iY. How are they similar and how are they different?
Members of Generation Y were born approximately between 1982 and 2002 and happen to be the parents of many of our singers. They are global, career-minded, and optimistic about the future.
Generation iY is defined by technology, most notably the Internet—which is why its members are commonly referred to as “screenagers.” Born in the 1990’s and afterward, this generation has grown up engulfed in technology and depends on it to navigate much of the world. They have absorbed the major changes in technology over the past five years, and now use newer inventions like video-streaming, social networking, and instant music delivery regularly. Facebook and texting have become more common than emails.
Generation iY is energetic, confident, and capable. Research shows, however, that Generation iY is also overwhelmed. More than 10% of iYers report that they have contemplated suicide in the past year. Pressure comes both from parents and internally to compete and be the best. Many are over-protected, as they watch life happen rather than experience it for themselves.
Q: Which methods of communication are most effective in dealing with young singers vs. parents?
Depending on the age of the singers, social media is how we reach them most effectively. We communicate regularly via Facebook; however, we do see an increase in popularity of Twitter and Instagram. We are going to be adopting a text messaging system that alerts our choristers by way of text as well. But despite all this new technology, one of the best methods is still verbal communication and reminders in rehearsal. Everything else is “follow-up.”
On the other hand, for the parents, they need it in writing so we use email. We also use social media for the parents and they can opt in to our text messaging service. When something is really important, we make sure a hard copy goes home as well. That way, we have covered every possible avenue of communication. Because there are families that do not have access to a computer or the internet, we’ll try to track who those families are and make sure they get everything in writing or a personal phone call.
With each new opportunity to reach out via social media, some singers and families jump on the new band-wagon. Others are comfortable with more traditional methods of communication. Therefore, every time we add a new way to communicate, we simply add onto the old rather than eliminate something we are already doing.
Q: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to communicating well?
Staying current is the biggest challenge! But we’ve found that new technology makes it easier on our parents and young singers. Parents appreciate that they can find information digitally on our website as opposed to looking through the color-coded hard copies that we used to have to send home. In the resident choir parent meeting that starts each year, the parents are walked through the website and how to find everything. When they call with questions, rather than simply answer, CCC staff tries to walk them through finding the information on the website.
Another way we are making it easier on parents is by launching videos that serve as the “parent welcome meeting” for our satellite program. This will be the first of many online forums that will help answer questions and “train” the parents.
Q: Allowing young singers to have cell phones on tour is a hot button issue for a lot of children/youth choruses. How does the Cincinnati Children’s Choir deal with this?
Cell phones provide alarm clocks and digital cameras now, so eliminating them from tours is becoming more and more difficult. We will allow them with restrictions like allowing singers to use them to call home only at certain times. We never allow phones to be on during choir activities or rehearsal. It is extremely important to set clear guidelines from the start. Cell phones are the first line of communication for many, so taking them away, or even limiting their use, can become an issue for many families.
Q: Another important group to stay in touch with is alumni. What are some strategies for keeping them engaged?
We find eblasts somewhat effective but, again, using social media (including Facebook alumni groups) is the best way to communicate and connect. We care what they are up to and want them to know we care. We have begun to invite them to the final concert of the year, even joining the choir in a performance. Keeping the feeling of “CCC family” alive and in their hearts is what keeps them coming back to support the choir.