Cantori New York is an award-winning chamber choir committed to excellence and innovation in the performance of vocal music, focusing on commissions and premieres of new works, lesser-known early music and fresh presentations of standard repertoire. Lead by internationally-acclaimed conductor Mark Shapiro (JE ’81) Cantori received 501c3 status in 1986.
Q&A with Cantori board member Sarah Graham, ES ’07.
Q: What is the organization’s mission?
A: Praised by the New York Times for its “spirit of exploration” and “virtuosity and assurance,” Cantori is committed to excellence and innovation in the performance of vocal music. We perform meritorious works from all centuries and styles, with an emphasis on new and neglected music as well as standard repertoire in fresh presentations. Cantori’s objective is to expand the repertoire and programmatic context for choral music in New York City and beyond.
Cantori presents an annual series of three concerts at various locations across New York City and an annual holiday concert. Cantori is frequently invited by other organizations to perform as part of their programming, including Marseille-based choral ensemble Musicatreize, World Financial Center Arts & Events, Gotham Early Music Series at Le Poisson Rouge, Great Performers at Lincoln Center, Park Avenue Synagogue, Carl Schurz Park Conservancy, Music at the Anthology and Teatro Grattacielo.
Cantori regularly premieres new music by current composers, having presented 120 premieres, including more than 40 brand-new compositions, in the last 20 years. We have collaborated with artists including Tony Award winner Maryann Plunkett, Drama Desk award winner Kathleen Chalfant, the PRISM saxophone quartet, Cassatt String Quartet, Met Opera singer Sasha Cooke, soprano Julia Bullock, and have performed at venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and le Poisson Rouge.What prompted you to found (or join) the organization?
Q: What prompted you to join the organization?
A: I joined Cantori a year after graduating from Yale. I had spent most of my life involved in the performing arts – beginning with ballet at age 4, realizing my love of music in high school, and pursuing both at Yale, where I was a member of the The New Blue, Yale’s first women’s a cappella group, and Yaledancers. My first job after graduating from Yale was in the Development office at Carnegie Hall, but while I worked in the arts I still craved an outlet to perform myself. When I auditioned for Cantori I learned that the Artistic Director Mark Shapiro was a Yalie too, and it seemed like Cantori would be a fun, artistically rewarding and musically challenging experience. After a year singing in the choir I was asked to join the Board, and several years later served as President for the 2012-2013 season.
Q: How did you set goals for the organization when you founded (or joined) it?
A: Because of my professional fundraising experience, I have focused primarily on improving Cantori’s fundraising operations and results. Cantori already had successful fundraising mechanisms in place, but I helped improve contributed income results by implementing new strategies around our annual spring benefit event, expanding the frequency, content and reach of annual appeals, and streamlining donor communications.
Q: How do you measure the impact of programs?
A: We measure impact through concert attendance, ticket sales, and feedback from audiences; continued collaboration with composers and artists and demand among artists to work with Cantori; and the growth of partnerships between Cantori and other nonprofit organizations. As three-time winner of the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming, and the frequent recipient of recognition from The American Prize, we also consider accolades and awards as evidence of the impact of our programs.
Q: What have been the greatest challenges?
A: The greatest challenge is expanding our audiences beyond our longtime regular fans and the choir members’ friends and family. New York City has an incredibly rich performing arts scene and even more specifically, boasts myriad classical choral music offerings. We face a lot of competition.
Q: What’s your top fundraising tip?
A: Personalize your communications whenever possible. Make a point to have in-person meetings and face-to-face conversations, send personalized emails to supplement mass e-appeals, add friendly notes to event invitations and solicitation letters—and always follow up!
Q: What’s the most critical lesson you’ve learned about nonprofit management?
A: Planning, and motivating others who work with you to become planners for your organization, is essential. Thoughtful planning and project roll-out can create positive change, while hasty decisions and slapdash implementation can lead to stagnation or even setbacks.
Q: What changes do you anticipate in the nonprofit landscape over the next five to 10 years?
A: I anticipate that partnerships among nonprofit organizations will become increasingly desirable, as organizations look to build capacity and expand impact, and donors seek to support causes they care about without feeling tapped out by too many organizations.
Q: How can others help support your organization’s mission?
A: Come to a concert, and encourage music-loving friends to experience the exceptional performance quality and innovative programming that Cantori has to offer. Make a donation. Ticket sales only support 20% of Cantori’s operating expenses.