Chorus America Releases First-Ever Study of Choral Music Audiences

A new report released by Chorus America provides the first-ever systematic look at what moves and motivates the people who attend choral music concerts. The study’s surveying tools and findings, all available for use by the field, will help choruses create even more meaningful and engaging experiences for their communities.

In partnership with leading research and consulting firm WolfBrown, the Intrinsic Impact Audience Project worked with 23 choruses across North America to survey their audiences. The participating choruses represented various sectors of the choral field, such as volunteer and professional choruses, children and youth choruses, and LGBTQ choruses.

Over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, 14,326 audience members at 136 difference concerts completed surveys about their experience. The results shed light on who attends choral music concerts, why they come, and how they are affected by the experience.

“We know from our research that over 42 million Americans sing in choruses, but even more people across North America have attended choral concerts as audience members,” said Catherine Dehoney, president and CEO of Chorus America. “Not only does this report have concrete data for choruses looking to understand their audiences better, it adds to our understanding of the full impact of choral music."

Major Findings

Personal relationships fuel the audiences for choral concerts. Among the children and youth choruses surveyed, four in five respondents have a familial or friendship relationship with a young performer. Among adult choruses, about a third of respondents reported having a relationship with a performer.

Social motivations drive first-time attendance. First-time attendees at a performance are the most likely to report attending because they were invited by someone or because they wanted to spend quality time with family members.

Audiences are deeply affected by choral performances. The study measured impact in six different ways: Captivation, Emotional Resonance, Intellectual Stimulation, Aesthetic Enrichment, and Social Bridging and Bonding.

Audiences want more information about program design and the performing experience. 32% of audience members surveyed reported leaving the concert with either “a few” or “a lot” of questions – primarily about programming choices and the experiences of the singers performing. Audience members are more interested in “curatorial insight” than they are in biographical information about the ensemble, composer, or soloists.

Audiences who feel they have connected with others have powerful experiences. Audience members who experience Social Bridging (gaining exposure to the beliefs and customs of a group other than your own) or Social Bonding (building a network of people within your own group) are more likely to have memorable, satisfying experiences at choral concerts.

Different artistic programs have different impacts on audiences. For example, full-length classical works tend to generate higher emotional and spiritual impacts. Culturally-focused programs, such as Martin Luther King tribute performances, tend to have social bridging and social bonding outcomes. And audiences at choral programs reflect the repertoire onstage. The report states that “In curating programs, artistic directors are not just selecting repertoire, but also curating their chorus’s constituency.”

Involved audience members report higher levels of impact. The study measured forms of audience participation including singing along, clapping along, talking to a stranger, or dancing or moving to the music. Audience members who danced or moved to the music reported the highest levels of impact.

Additional Resources

The full report, executive summary, and survey protocol design template are all available on Chorus America's website.

Participating Choruses

Bach Choir of Pittsburgh (PA)
Boston Children's Chorus (MA)
Cantus (MN)
Choral Arts Society of Washington (DC)
Cincinnati Boychoir (OH)
Cincinnati May Festival (OH)
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (DC)
Handel and Haydn Society (MA)
Houston Chamber Choir (TX)
Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia (PA)
The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh (PA)
Peninsula Women's Chorus (CA)
Pittsburgh Camerata (PA)
Pittsburgh Concert Chorale (PA)
Pittsburgh Youth Chorus (PA)
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus (CA)
San Francisco Girls Chorus (CA)
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (ON)
Seattle Pro Musica (WA)
Vocal Arts Ensemble (OH)
VocalEssence (MN)
The Washington Chorus (DC)
Windy City Gay Chorus & Treble Quire (IL)

Chorus America is the advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that advances the choral field. We support and serve choral conductors, administrators, board members, and singers with tools, training, peer networking, and access so that choruses are better able to contribute to their communities.

More than 2,000 choruses, individuals, businesses, and organizations are members of Chorus America and have access to a wide array of programs, publications, research, and personal services developed for their benefit. These services strengthen their ability to build strong organizations that foster quality choral performances.

WolfBrown is at the forefront of planning, research, and evaluation in the cultural sector with a long history of producing groundbreaking studies on audience development, youth engagement, and arts participation. Through its Intrinsic Impact program, WolfBrown supports the efforts of over 100 performing arts organizations across the US to collect high quality feedback and demographic data from audiences.

The Instrinsic Impact Audience Project was sponsored in part by ArtsWave, the Barr Foundation, The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, GALA Choruses, the Heinz Endowments, and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation.