Choir leader contracts - do you need one?

A Total Choir Resources subscriber contacted me recently because she had been given the task of draft a contract for a new choir leader. It got me thinking about the whole subject of contracts and choirs, which has led to this article.

Some of you will know that I used to be a lawyer in another life. Old habits die hard, so before I go any further, I going to state the obvious and say that this article is my opinion and does not constitute legal advice.

What is a contract?

Jurisdictions vary, of course, but the basic elements of a contract are pretty universal. There has to be an offer, an acceptance of that offer, consideration (which means, essentially, that value has to be exchanged), and an intention by the parties to be bound by the contract.

The thing that differentiates an informal agreement from a contract is that a contract is legally binding, which means if you break a contract, the other party to it can enforce it through the courts.

Do choirs need contracts?

No one needs a contract until something goes wrong. A contract between choir and choir leader can be helpful in setting out explicitly what is expected of each party. However amicable and productive you think a relationship is, it's possible, even likely, that different people will interpret their responsibilities and entitlements differently unless everything is written down explicitly.

It's certainly possible to manage without a contract, but it's worth thinking through exactly what everyone is expected to do.

What form should a contract take?

My instinct is to keep any contract very basic and only stipulate things that really need to be explicitly agreed, eg how much the choir will pay to the leader and when. There’s bound to be give and take between leader and choir. I would set out minimum requirements and agree everything else on an informal basis.

Think about what it is that you want the contract to do. Does the choir intend to employ the choir leader? If so, there are often numerous responsibilities and regulations surrounding employment that don't apply to freelancers. If the leader is self-employed, you need to be careful not to create a de facto employment relationship (which in the UK would have tax and employment law implications).

Also, if you agree contract terms, you also have to know what happens if those terms are broken. If, for example, a choir were to stipulate that a choir leader must rehearse the choir 40 times per year, and they don’t fulfil that requirement, what will you do - sue? If you can’t envisage any circumstances in which you would seek to enforce the contract, what’s the point in having it?

Get some advice

If you’re planning to enter into any contract, it’s advisable to get legal advice before you do. The law of unintended consequences can very easily kick in when lay people, however well-meaning, attempt to draw up legally binding agreements.
Taking a break from choir? How to get the most from your time off: Part 2
Helping your choir to understand melody

1 comment

Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Laura. I suggest you talk to the people asking you to sign the contract and request that the clause be removed. It might not be a dealbreaker for them. If it is, and they insist upon it, you'll have to decide whether you're willing to agree to it or walk away.
Read more
Read less