New claim: 1 in 6 Americans sings in a chorus

An extensive study by Chorus America claims that 54 million Americans sing in a choir.

Terrific, if true.

However, the small print shows this:

This research was conducted by Grunwald Associates. It is based on online surveys completed in November 2018 by 5,736 chorus participants and comparative surveys with a representative general population sample of 506 U.S. adults age 18 or older, and a separate representative general population sample of 600 U.S. adults age 62 or older.

That seems too small to be significant.


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  • In all likelihood (!), based on the central limit and related theorems, the sample size is adequate for the conclusion. Whether the sample is itself biased (dedicated choristers having little time to fill out online questionaires for example) is another question but I assume that has been addressed by Grunwald Associates, on the assumption they are experts in such matters.

    • Grunwald seems like your standard-issue marketing research company. Its website looks and plays the part — replete with corporate-speak language and the requisite stock photos …

      Barriers-to-entry in the marketing research business are next to nil, and nearly anyone who considers themselves an “expert” in the trade can hang out their shingle. Who knows if this outfit is good quality.

      Certainly the sample size as it is would be sufficient to have projectable results, but the bigger question, as you point out, is whether the characteristics of the survey sample are representative of the population as a whole.

      Some quick back-of-the-envelope math would be in order as a reality check. We know from other national surveys that approximately 20% to 40% of Americans attend church or synagogue services on weekly basis ( it depends on the survey and how the question is worded). So split that difference at 30%. What proportion of those people sing in a church choir? Figure that the people singing in their church choir are ones who attend weekly, and it would be no more than one out of ten of weekly church-goers (that’s being way-generous).

      So that’s translates into a chunk of people, but not huge — MAYBE 10 million. Now think about other choirs/choruses in your average town or city. How many are there? Perhaps one or two, up to as many as 40 or 50 in a major metro area. Being generous, it’s difficult to see how that could add up to another 40 million+ people.

      • I like the ‘back of the envelope’ maths! As a slightly tongue in cheek criticism of your nice estimate, and prompted by the photograph used by Norman in the article, ‘singing in a chorus’ might have a connotation other than the obvious one, in which case there is considerable scope to increase your estimate.

        Following the link, it appears that no one high up in the company seems to have a serious qualification in statistics. Surprising, given the well-publicised recent travails in related areas such as social psychology, resulting partly from misuse of statistics.

      • I think you’re really on to something here, and I’ll take it to a further conclusion. I sang in my synagogue choir for six years, in a congregation where the percentage of members (including all family members, excluding small children, of any membership “unit”) that sing in the choir would be something like 1% or 2%. But of course singing, however well or badly, is a natural part of religious services in any case. What I rather strongly suspect is going on here is that people are reporting themselves as somehow being part of a choir or chorus by virtue of having ATTENDED religious services. Or the survey was worded in such a way as to prompt that kind of affirmative response. Besides, with the strong historical tradition of religious attendance in America but its weakening over time, you actually start to get to numbers that imitate the proportion of population that the survey is talking about. After all, your 30% number is (only) about twice the 1-in-6 that the Chorus America results claim, and besides, I think 30% is high in 2019.

        Further hints are provided by the acres of correlation-without-causation statistics in the report (which they finally admit on page 22) and the key disclosure on page 26, which everyone in the field knows anyway, that “choral singers are more likely to be female and tend to be older, more affluent, and better educated than the general public.” So what are we saying – 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 relatively older women somehow belong to a chorus? How else would you get to the final results?

        I’m in the Washington area, where you run into this kind of thing a lot – ads on the radio where some interest group you didn’t know you cared about is spewing some important-sounding statistics and you don’t know why. In all likelihood they’re targeting not even members of Congress or individual committees but their staff members to set themselves up as the “good guy” in some legislative or funding matter, and the other 99.9% of the ears they’re reaching with their ads they couldn’t care less about. I doubt this survey will go quite that far in terms of publicizing itself, but the underlying logic of performing it is similar. And I certainly don’t have any problem with having some credible, usable information to promote additional musical activities and functions in everything from senior centers to the public schools (in the American sense of that term).

        But either the trade association or the survey research firm that they hired tried way too hard to generate a result, and the mistake clearly shows in various ways, included the way the report sometimes fudges the 54 million figure as people generically “singing” even as elsewhere it prominently claims that number of “choristers” or “chorus singers” or “participants.” In fact there are not 54 million Americans who sing in a choir or chorus, or anything like that. The result is absolutely and intuitively preposterous, and in my opinion it renders the usability of the survey basically nil.

  • A dreadful choir sang at the Barbican a few years ago, backing Hvorostovsky. They were all old men and funnily enough, not one of them was bald, lots of syrups! They were all white too which was surprising given over 30%of America is black or Hispanic but then the minorities probably had more sense. The singing was dreadful giving rise to many ribald comments in the interval.

  • A 1998 report by the National Endowment for the Arts concluded that 20 million Americans sang in choirs or other groups, 33 million took photographs for arts purposes, 24 million wrote creatively outside of school or work, 22 million played classical music on an instrument, 5 million acted on a public stage and 97 million attended at least one arts event (including jazz, opera, museum, classical concert, theater or ballet).

    That’s when the US population was about 275 million, so the number who sang in choirs was closer to 1 in 14. Still big numbers.

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