Member Spotlight: Darren Dailey and the Jacksonville Children's Chorus

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The Jacksonville Children’s Chorus (FL) provides a high-quality choral music education for children of diverse backgrounds. In addition to their artistic and educational contributions to the young singers and their community, the JCC recently experimented with a new fundraising event—Jacksonville’s Dancing with the Stars—that was successful beyond the organization’s wildest dreams. Chorus America’s president & CEO, Ann Meier Baker, talked with Darren Dailey, the JCC’s artistic and executive director, to learn more about the project.
JCC- DWTS
AMB:  How did you come up with the idea for producing Jacksonville’s Dancing with the Stars to benefit the Children’s Chorus?

DD:  I’ve been a fan of the show Dancing with the Stars from the start. As a child I studies dance, so dance and choral music have always been part of my life. Since music and dance are so closely related, it made complete sense to me. 

AMB:  How did you identify the dance studio that became your partner in this project?

DD: I participated in another organization’s Jacksonville's Dancing with the Stars fundraiser as one of the community stars in 2010. The studio, A Social Affair Dance Studio, has been producing the local event and raising money for various nonprofits for the past six years. The owner's wife and event coordinator for Jacksonville's Dancing with the Stars, whom I met through the event that I danced, actually became the Chorus's administrative assistant. They also have a daughter in the Chorus and have been very supportive of the JCC.

AMB:  Please tell me more about how this works as a fundraiser.

DD:  We paired local celebrities with professional dancers who competed to be named Jacksonville's favorite dancer. The celebrity dancers were leaders in the business community, government, education, and the media. We were very intentional to invite a range of celebrities from all these fields, and who brought racial and geographic diversity to the competition as well. The celebrities were asked to find their own sponsors and each sponsorship dollar was worth one vote for them in the competition—the more money they raised the better chance they would win the competition. Those votes were then combined with votes from the public and from the competition’s three judges the night of the event, for a total that determined the final winner. As the competition got closer, the local celebrities started practicing two or three times a week. They got very competitive and really wanted to do well.

AMB:  How much money did you raise and what did the funds do for the JCC?

DD:  We raised over $43,000 including sponsorships, ticket sales, program ads, and online voting, which was double the amount we expected. These funds allow us to provide student scholarships to the JCC, and also provided seed money for us to hire our first development staff member.

AMB:  How many people bought tickets and how much did you charge?

DD:  We sold 700 tickets and prices ranged from $25 to 150. The top ticket price included a pre-show reception with refreshments and appetizers. They were seated on the stage near the judges. The event was held at the gorgeous Jacoby Symphony Hall in downtown Jacksonville. 

AMB:  Do you think this event introduced JCC to others who weren’t aware of it previously?

DD:  Very much so. That’s how I have programmed our concerts for many years as well. Our Bluegrass show last fall brought in people who love Bluegrass music and would never have known the Chorus otherwise.

AMB:  Do you think those first-timers come back to hear the Chorus on their own, even when there’s no Bluegrass? 

DD:  Some do and some don’t, but I’m happy to have them come just once, too. All of the people who hear us even once have nieces, nephews, neighbors, and other young people in their lives who sing or who want to sing. This is an important piece of our singer recruitment plan. By the way, the son of the winning dancer in our Jacksonville's Dancing with the Stars event is now a singer in JCC.

AMB:  If another chorus leader tried to replicate Jacksonville’s Dancing with the Stars in their town, what would you advise them?

DD:  Choosing the right community celebrities to be involved as competitors is the key. It’s important to have a really diverse group to bring in a broad audience. Also, it is important to think about all the elements of the final production. We created video clips of each celebrity dancer to show between sets during the competition. Of course, we also featured a video presentation and performance by the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus to illustrate our impact and value in the community. View video highlights from Jacksonville's Dancing with the Stars. Watch the video about the impact and value of the JCC.

AMB:  You have had so much success during your six-year tenure, Darren, growing the program from 60 singers to the 450 JCC serves today. If I could give you a magic wand for the Chorus, what would you make happen?

DD:  I would find additional funding to take our kids on international tours. We get invited all the time, but we can’t come up with the rest of the money. We have been very intentional about recruiting kids that really represent the city of Jacksonville, and 35 percent of our singers are on partial or full scholarship. 

AMB:  How has Chorus America been helpful to you?

DD:  My dual position as artistic and executive director is challenging. It’s tempting for me to think more about the artistic aspects, of course. Chorus America has helped me focus on the administrative issues of running this organization effectively. Although I'll admit that I don't like to hear it from others, when needs be I have no problem telling myself, "You have to wait on that, Darren!"