When Extreme Weather Threatens a Concert

Choruses share stories about making decisions and contingency plans when faced with inclement weather on concert days.

Has bad weather caused you to scramble at the last minute to cancel or salvage a performance? If you have never been forced to react to this type of scenario before, it is a good idea to have a plan in place should it ever occur. These choruses shared their first-hand experiences of dealing with major complications brought on by Mother Nature.

Central Dakota Children’s Choir

Karen Traeholt, former executive director
“Bismarck, North Dakota has certainly seen its share of extreme weather. For our Bismarck concerts, we have never had to cancel a concert due to a blizzard. We have held our December concerts in blizzard conditions and subzero weather.  When we had extreme weather like that, we called the out-of-town families, and told them to use their judgement in regard to making the trip on hazardous roads.  Under those extreme circumstances, our staff and volunteers have moved equipment in high winds, heavy snow, and frigid conditions.  Then, when the choral risers were set up, we had to wait for the risers to warm up because they wouldn’t snap into position.  In spite of the inclement weather, we still had excellent concert attendance.

We also had a satellite choir in Dickinson.  We did have to cancel our December 2012 concert because of a regional blizzard.  One-third of the choir lived out of town so performing wasn’t a viable option.  They had an extra rehearsal before Christmas so they could perform their Christmas music once.  The same year, we postponed the Dickinson concert/fundraiser—another blizzard.  In that instance, we were able to reschedule.  For the December 2014 concert in Dickinson, the weather was fine in Dickinson, but the Bismarck staff made the 100 mile trip on glare ice.  There were semis and cars in the ditch.  It was nerve-wracking, but we successfully navigated the slick roads.  CDCC has had many discussions in regard to where to draw the line.  It is still an ongoing conversation.”

Chamber Singers of Iowa City

David Puderbaugh, music director
On May 22, 2011, Chamber Singers of Iowa City was performing the final concert of its 40th anniversary season. That afternoon, tornado warnings sprouted all over the region surrounding Iowa City. Two times, just as the concert was to begin, the auditorium was

Bad Weather on Tour

Traveling long distances introduces a whole new set of obstacles to overcome when dealing with the weather. Brian Hinman, tenor and road manager in Chanticleer, recounted a particularly memorable story from touring:
"One fateful April day, Chanticleer needed to get from Stamford, Connecticut to Bowling Green, Kentucky for a concert the next day. We left our Stamford hotel around noon for a 3:30 PM flight out of Newark, sun shining. The plan was to fly to Nashville and drive the two hours to Bowling Green. Our flight was delayed by an hour and a half; we then sat on the runway for an additional five and a half hours after boarding, while thunderstorms and a lone flight attendant made it their respective missions to keep us from leaving the ground or staying fed or hydrated. All other flights were overbooked, so nine of our group stayed in Newark to fly out early the next morning in order to land in Cincinnati instead, and drive the four hours to Bowling Green. Meanwhile, the remaining four (including our music director) drove immediately to Philadelphia, spent the night there, got bumped off the flight they were given to Nashville the next day, got re-rebooked on a different airline, and arrived at the venue with enough time to glance at the stage, put on white tie and tails, and sing a concert. These were our only options. It was exhausting, but we powered through, reached deep for our technique and respect for each other, drew an indescribable energy from our audience, and gave a show we found to be incredibly cathartic and fulfilling. Then onward to another town with another concert the next day, thunderstorms conquered."

ordered to be evacuated, and the choir and audience spent a lot of time mixing and mingling in a hallway adjoining the performance space. Finally, about 30-40 minutes later, the concert commenced. The first half of the concert came off without a hitch, although the sound of hail and heavy rain on the roof supplemented the choir’s sound. In the second half, we were not as lucky.  We were about a dozen bars into the beginning of J.S. Bach’s G-minor Mass, BWV 235, when all the lights went out, plunging the hall into complete darkness and bringing the performance to a screeching halt. The performers and audiences didn’t panic and remained stationary; after a couple seconds, I just sat down on the podium and we waited. After about a minute or so, the lights came back on, we began anew, and the concert came to a successful close!

Boston Gay Men’s Chorus

Steve Smith, former executive director
We came up with an effective promotion several years ago. A snowstorm was predicted for a Friday evening show of our holiday concert run at Boston’s Jordan Hall. TV forecasters had been hyping the storm as a foot or more for a couple of days. It killed advance sales and we knew walk-ups would be nonexistent. On the morning of the storm, we concocted a “Save by the Inch” email to our patrons that offered a walk-up discount equal to the number of inches of snow on the ground. Hence, if the 6pm reported snow total at Logan Airport was 8 inches, we’d offer an $8 discount; if 12 inches, $12, etc. The email got some media traction, made a lot of cranky patrons laugh even if they didn’t care to venture out, and we did have 60 walk-up sales that were better than nothing. As I recall, the storm topped out at a manageable (at least for Bostonians) 7 inches.

Oratorio Society of New York

Richard Pace, chairman and president
During its 2012 season, the Oratorio Society of New York programed The Blizzard Voices by Pulitzer prize-winning composer Paul Moravec.  The oratorio uses texts by the former poet laureate Ted Kooser, based on testimonies from survivors of the sudden storm that brought blinding snowfall to the Great Plains on Jan. 12, 1888. Ironically, this oratorio about a tragic set of weather events was programmed for the week after Superstorm Sandy hit New York City. A construction crane had broken free from its moorings and was left dangling from the roof of a building on West 57th Street, and this in turn caused the closing of Carnegie Hall for 10 days. The concert, originally scheduled for November 5, was forced to rescheduled to the following February. The Oratorio Society had just recently reorganized its programming to include a November concert instead of a March concert because the New York weather in March was viewed to be too variable!

Singers in Accord

Dan Digre, president
In February 2013, Singers in Accord performed as scheduled on a Saturday night, but the weather turned snowy and icy on Sunday for that evening’s concert. A foot of snow would fall and temperatures would be under 20F. Many events that day were being cancelled but some were not.

Singers in Accord has a unique operating model: It has no permanent director and the ensemble is led organizationally by the singers themselves who hire different conductors for each project. Many decisions typically made by the conductor or executive director are made by singer/leaders themselves. The decision to do the concert or not, while made in consultation with the conductor, was the singers’ to make.

What about snow in Alaska?

Do Alaska's brutal winters wreak havoc on choral concerts? Here's what Alaska Chamber Singers conductor and artistic director David Hagen had to say:

"I'm sorry to say I don't have any particularly good stories for you. We have had our share of winter storms during our Christmas concert, but everyone takes it in stride. Good luck with your project."

Whether or not to cancel a concert is never an easy decision and even less so when input is sought from other singers. For some, snow and ice is just a part of living in Minnesota. For others, it can be a real barrier to getting around by foot or in a car. We considered many things: the safety of singers and the audience, the likelihood of having an audience at all, the trade-off between wanting to perform works that we had spent so much time preparing and wanting to sing again, and the concern for everyone getting there and back home safely.

In the end, we chose to cancel the concert.

At our project wrap-up gathering, the entire choir discussed this critical decision at some length, knowing we may be faced to make it again. Was it the right one? Could we have done anything different? Had the process of getting input from so many people helped us make a better decision?

While a few thought the concert should have gone on, the vast majority of singers supported the decision and were grateful they were not asked to venture out in such bad weather. Many told stories of similar past concert evenings in which the director had made a different decision, and how that put them in conflict with being seen as a very committed choir member and a “hearty Minnesotan” or following their instinct to stay off the roads and be safe. Singers reported they felt valued as individuals, not just as singers with a concert commitment to keep.

Rehearsing and concertizing in January and February in Minnesota is a risky proposition. Singers in Accord has decided not to rehearse in January and part of February in part because of that challenge and the conflict singers feel on trying to make it on a night they may have no business travelling. For our model of “Singer-led means singer-responsible,” it’s a decision that has made sense.

The Washington Chorus

Dianne Peterson, executive director
The first of the run of The Washington Chorus 2009 Christmas concerts was on December 19th at 1 PM. On the afternoon of the 18th, my husband encouraged me to come home, pack a bag and check into a hotel near the Kennedy Center; heavy snow was predicted and we lived in the burbs of Virginia. I very reluctantly took his wise advice!

Same Storm, Different Result

An Alternative Outcome in Washington

A few hours can sometimes make all the difference when dealing with weather. Just after The Washington Chorus held their concert, the Kennedy Center closed, thereby canceling the Choral Arts Society of Washington's performance later that evening. Former chorus manager Lyndsey Gore recounts her experience from that day:

"The first call came around 9:00am, from a bass whose Annandale neighborhood was impassable with drifts. This was the first "flake" in an avalanche of snowbound chorister calls over several hours. I finally grabbed a seating chart and started marking off names with each call, to give myself an accurate picture of what we were in for that evening.
CASW Snowstorm Seating Chart
This picture was taken about halfway through—there were more Xs to come. Once we hit 40% absentees and falling, I alerted Maestro Scribner and the staff to the issue, and with similar reports from the orchestra and Kennedy Center box office, we deliberated on whether to cancel. Thankfully, the Center made that decision for us!"

The morning of concert day began with a long series of calls from the Kennedy Center, wondering if we were going to cancel our concert, as we were the first show of the day. My answer was “not unless you close the Center,” and we went through this routine for several hours until it was clear—the show needed to go on, or we would still pay all the bills and refund a sold-out house of 2300. We somehow emailed the singers and brass, encouraged them to be safe, but get there.

The big snag was the organist, whose car was hopelessly buried in the snow—but, by luck, he’d left the music in his church that was not far from the Center. Thirty minutes before the concert began, we managed to get the church opened, retrieve the music, and hand it to music director Julian Wachner as he literally walked on stage. He conducted the concert from the organ with this back to the 400 or so brave folks in the audience. They loved watching Julian play with a full view of the console—he conducted and make up the registrations as he went along, as they weren’t in the scores. I’ll never forget begging the rector to open the church and fast! I was walking through knee-deep snow and had to get back in 15 minutes.

Blizzards happen. But, oh, the dedication of choristers—we had almost 150 singers on the stage! We were also singing Messiah that night, but the Center closed right after our concert. Many of us just went back to the hotel and partied, and these singers had to somehow get home. I was in One Washington Circle for 3 days.

We also dealt with many who still wanted refunds as they couldn’t image that we actually HAD the concert. We worked it all out in the end. Somehow, we managed to fit those that asked into other concerts, either Christmas of the rest of the season. Some we offered a pass for the following season, but tried to avoid that. We did give a few refunds but not many. Many congratulated us for going on with the show. All in all, it was a zoo but it worked out.

Weather emergencies and other crises can be few and far between for most arts organizations, but they can be incredibly disruptive when you are caught without a plan for dealing with the effects. For readiness resources and information on disaster preparedness, visit our partners ArtsReady.

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