Community Choirs in Australia

New research into Australia’s community-based choirs finds a diverse and active population of singers across the country, covering a wide range of musical styles, demographics, activities and sizes.

The research has been undertaken by the Music Council of Australia’s Music in Communities Network.

Reading music is a useful skill in almost two thirds of community choirs but in 92% of choirs it’s not essential, and four out of five have an ‘open door’ policy with no audition process. Also there are a wide range of genres covered by choirs, from classical to contemporary pop music, the ‘Sweet Adelines’ harmony chorus tradition, and much more.

The report puts a figure on what many in the sector already know: there aren’t nearly as many men singing as women. We found that only 30% of all singers in community choirs are men. Most choirs are mixed, about 6% are male choirs and 13% female choirs, but men and women are just as likely to sing in a mixed choir. There are simply far more women singing in community choirs and therefore they comprise a higher proportion of most mixed choirs.

Almost all choirs give their time to the local community, with about three quarters giving free performances and close to half performing at civic events and/or fundraising for charity. Local councils are the institutions most likely to support community choirs, with 56% of choirs receiving financial and/or in-kind support, but still 74% of the community choirs that perform at community and/or civic events do not receive any financial support from their local council.

The report also considered the training of choir conductors or leaders, the overall budgets and main expenses of community choirs, demographics, different forms of institutional support, and more.

Key findings:

  • Almost all Australian community choirs sing Australian music (Figure 2)
  • Most Australian community-based choirs have been running for less than 10 years (Figure 3)
  • There is a gradual increase in choir participation with each age bracket, 45-54 year olds being most likely to sing in a choir (Figure 5)
  • Over 80% of choirs are ‘mixed’ but only 30% of singers in community choirs are male (Figure 7)
  • Almost two thirds of choir directors/leaders have a degree related to music and most of those have a degree in music education
  • The number of choirs where ‘singers must be able to read music’ is only 8%, in 57% reading is ‘useful but not required’, and in 36% of choirs ‘singers don’t need to be able to read music’ (Figure 10)
  • Almost all community choirs give their time to the local community, with three quarters giving free concerts and even more performing at community events (Figure 12)
  • About a quarter of Australian community choirs have annual expenses of under $1000 (27%), a further 10% have between $1000 and $2500 in their annual budget.
  • Besides the choir director or leader, the highest expenses for community choirs are Venue Hire, Sheet music, Public Liability Insurance and Accompanists (Figure 13)
  • More than half of all community choirs receive some form of support from local government, 13% receive support from state governments and 5% from the federal government (Figure 14)
  • Besides local government, the next highest level of support for choirs comes from churches and religious organisations (Figure 14)


About the Survey

Australian Music

Participation, Concerts and Rehearsals

  • Age of choirs
  • Age of members
  • Gender

Choir Leaders

Entry to Choir Participation

  • Audition and Reading Skills
  • Participation Fees

Contribution to Community

Finance & Support

  • Overall Budgets
  • Expenses
  • Support from Community & Government

Appendix 1: How many choirs are there?

Appendix 2: Questions

Report published 4 December 2013

Survey design: Alex Masso and Tina Broad

Report author: Alex Masso

The Music in Communities Network is an initiative of the Music Council of Australia