“A former Artistic Director once told me that the Phoenix Girls Chorus was to create space for girls for whom ‘choir was their thing.’ A place where people encouraged each other to work hard because they loved it,” said Walter Lindsay, Acting President of the Phoenix Girls Chorus. A father of four daughters, all of whom participated in the Phoenix Girls Chorus program, Walter has seen the impact of creating space for comradery and sisterhood around the art and craft of singing.
The importance of maintaining the legacy of these groups has been the driving focus for both the Phoenix Boys Choir and Phoenix Girls Chorus in their respective 75 and 40 years of being nonprofits. Both the Phoenix Boys Choir (PBC) and the Phoenix Girls Chorus (PGC) are elite organizations who have competed on the national and international stages and have given their members a space to grow, learn, and mature. “It’s not just learning how to sing and read music,” said Cheryl McNeill, Chair of the PBC Executive Committee. “The Boys Choir also teaches music theory, leadership skills, and how to connect with others. I’ve seen the changes in my own son, in his growth and ability to learn. He’s better at math, and his ability to understand and learn languages is impressive.”
For a long time, there were good reasons to keep the organizations separate. One reason is physical, “The arc of a boy’s participation in a choir is different because their voice changes so dramatically,” explained Walter. “If a boy wants to achieve success in an international competition, you need to work with them earlier. Girls, by comparison, can perform all the way through high school without any real interruption.” The other reason is more practical. “Creating grants or funds are applicable to men’s or women’s groups, but not both,” shared Wendy Cohen, Board Member and former Interim Executive Director of the PGC. “Before the pandemic, there wasn’t a strong business reason to actually join together.”
“COVID decimated the PBC, and the PGC was even worse,” shared Cheryl. “We were able to keep some of the kids who were already in, but we couldn’t recruit, we had no pipeline.” It was out of both need and clear mission alignment that the two organizations came together. As Cheryl explained, “Protecting both organization’s legacies was the most important mission for us.” Both Walter and Cheryl stressed the importance of instilling brotherhood and sisterhood in the respective choirs. “It provides an outlet for young men,” said Cheryl, “It’s a place where boys can be boys, where they meet other boys of diverse backgrounds and build something together.”
Once two organizations began the exploratory process, they were able to come together in just over ten months. Rather than fully merging the organizations the PBC and PGC agreed on a parent/subsidiary relationship, where the PBC manages the operations for both organizations, but they remain separate 501c3 organizations. This allows both organizations to maintain their names, their missions, their ability to apply for separate grants, and, perhaps most importantly, the legacies the two organizations have built over the last 40 and 75 years.
Today, at the end of the ten-month exploration and implementation phases, the organizations are turning their sights towards rebuilding. “We are testing the waters through a joint neighborhood chorus, which is a new venture for both organizations, because it is both organizations,” said Cheryl. “We are working to set up multiple neighborhood choirs across the Valley, and we can start having Saturday sessions in the PBC building to have kids rehearse with the entire choir.” “We’re creating a place where people could finds birds of a feather and share in what they love, build comradery around the art and craft of singing,” reinforced Walter. This new way of combining organizational resources while maintaining separation is how they can achieve that continued mission and legacy.