Meet A Member: Anne Longmore, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir director of marketing and community outreach Anne Longmore has an unusual dual career—college professor and arts administrator, thanks to a big move.

“I worked for a year and a half in Dubai with my family, and taught some marketing classes at Canadian University Dubai where my husband was working,” recounts Longmore. “When I came back to Toronto, I wanted to work in the arts, but also look for an opportunity to teach part-time.” She teaches at Humber College, which offers a post-graduate certificate program in public relations, in addition to her work with TMC.

After obtaining her master’s in arts administration and working for some of Toronto’s large cultural institutions, Longmore was happy to combine her personal passion for singing and working for an arts organization that makes a difference in society. She also increasingly enjoys opportunities to lead seminars and webinars where she can share practical advice for those just starting out with a stretched budget or staff. Says Longmore, “I love to help other professionals understand how to make the ideas that you read about actually happen.”

Longmore spoke to Chorus America president and CEO Catherine Dehoney about trends in marketing and arts administration programs in our latest edition of ‘Meet A Member.’

What got you hooked on choral music?

AL: I took the requisite piano lessons when I was younger and played the flute in junior high. Then I joined the choral program at my high school and just loved it. Since then, chorus has been a big part of my life. I sang in the chapel choir at my university, I sang at an American church in Paris when I worked as an au pair there.

How have arts administration programs changed from your time in school to now as a teacher in the field?

AL: What I've found is that today, organizations are looking for someone who has a very specific degree and experience in exactly what you want them for. Students finish their undergrad programs, and they're having pick a post-graduate certificate or other program in a certain field to be employable. Unfortunately, I think the hyper-specific approach is a real shame both for those hiring and particularly for students. We seem to recognize less that it's vast experiences in other areas that can bring depth and breadth to a position. And in small organizations, which most choruses are, you want people with the attitude to embrace or at least deal with roles that can change quickly.

A big project that I've been leading at Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has been our webcasting. I do not have a webcast or broadcast degree—I just did it! You talk to people who know more and you learn on the fly. I think there are benefits to that approach, too. 

How has the approach to marketing changed in the time that you have been in the field?

AL: Of course, the tools have changed. I started my career before the rise of the internet and social media, and the decline in readership of print publications. But the way you need to think about your audiences and all those core ideas are still the same. What I see from my students is that they can be very focused on the tools, and not as much focused on the strategy. What I try to teach them is that what they need to learn for their career is how to evaluate what you're trying to accomplish, and what tools available are the best right now. I date myself and tell them that while I was at the Royal Ontario Museum, they got their first fax machine. Every other technology since then I've had to teach myself—I didn't learn it at school.

The online tools have allowed us to be far more connected with our audiences and speak more directly to them. The changes since I've started have certainly more of a focus on relationship building, and now we have some of the tools that will actually help us do that efficiently. I certainly rely heavily on email marketing, and at one Chorus America Conference, I attended a fabulous session led by Ceci Dadisman, who has helped me be more personal and tied into the interests of different segments of our list, while still using email as a mass tool. Certainly having a database with those tools to help you make and keep track of those online connections is a big change, and something that I use daily now. And also, having marketing strategies that activate our choristers’ own networks and get them to share information is a key factor. Because of all the online tools, it’s so much more important now to get a personal recommendation.

What are the big challenges facing choruses in marketing in this new age?

AL: The fabulous thing about chorus is that it is such a popular activity. There are so many people who sing. The challenge that comes is that I don't think people are as quick to recognize the artistic excellence that choruses can offer. You can be part of choruses on many different artistic levels, and it's a great thing that lots of people interested in choral singing. But how do you explain and show to people that your chorus is performing at a level equal to your local symphony, which you would recognize as having that artistic expertise? The popularity of choral singing is a double-edged sword when the question is, why are you charging [fill in the blank] dollars for a ticket. 

What it means for us is that we've put a focus on professional-quality publicity materials. Your branding is so important and has to speak to that excellence of the ensemble. With our webcasting, we've been able to pull more clips and become far more active on YouTube, so we have an ability to actually show people what we sound like. People have far more opportunity to sample our product before they might make that commitment to a ticket.

In Toronto, we're also challenged by the increasingly awful traffic and parking situations. Our really passionate fans are going to come to our concerts. But it's a bigger challenge for the people who would consider coming to a concert, and are thinking about what it's going to be like to get to the venue. It adds another layer of decision-making that we're aware of but have no control over. I would imagine for that general audience, we're having to pull from a narrower geographic radius based on our venue. We feel outreach is more and more important. For two years we've taken the choir out to different venues for free 20-minute pop-up concerts during lunch or right after work that were received really well, and we're looking at possibilities of other venues that are a bit farther afield as another way to make us more accessible.

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

AL: What I'm proud of is some of that moving outward more. It's been fulfilling to see the growth of the choral conductor symposium that is in its seventh year. We accept five conductors from the US and Canada, and our participants have told us that we offer more podium time than many of the similar conducting symposia that are out there. Our artistic director, Noel Edison, is such a gifted instructor, and to see him working with these emerging conductors looking to find their identity and go further is absolutely amazing, and reminds me every year of the skill and musicianship he has. To see these five young conductors work together, support each other, and grow over the five days, it's incredible. And we're able to stay connected with them as they pursue their careers, and they've stayed connected with us, which I think is a real testament to the program. I've been thrilled to watch this program grow, and think about the impact that TMC is making towards the health of choral music through this program.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your chorus today?

AL: One big challenge we're facing is recruitment and retention, because of the intense schedule we have, and the incredibly busy lives of choristers. We are blessed with choristers who are so committed to the artistic product. When we're performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, that's a week of nights. In the earlier years of the Choir, there were probably some differences in work lives. Now we have more younger people in the choir who are active in their careers and may have young children, and the time commitment can be really hard for them. Our recruitment and retention is good, but we'd love to get more people (and people who can stay) as well. We're realizing it's becoming more and more of a challenge for the way choirs like ours have operated in the past. 

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

AL: Our participation in the Intrinsic Impact Audience Project was wonderful. It gave us the data to confirm some our thinking, and in other ways stretched our thinking. It gave us great research that we could provide to our board members, and certain elements to donors. Part of our focus going in was to figure out some of the educational components of our concert programs—which ones were having an impact. We found out that having texts and translations was very important to the impact of our concerts on the audience. Program notes were less important, except that people really wanted curatorial perspective—or the thinking behind why the artistic director picked certain works. We started to add some of that.

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

AL: My church choir and involvement in my church here in Toronto is very important. I'm actually at a bit of a transition because I have a daughter who just graduated from the university and my two sons are now in universities, so my husband and I are suddenly realizing there might be time for us! I don’t have to drive anyone to swim practice at 6:00am, or have dinner on the table. Up until this point, I hadn't done much that was just for myself besides my church choir.

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