Sue Fink brought together a small group of 18 singers in 1993 to form the Angel City Chorale. The choir began at McCabe’s Guitar Shop with a mission of inclusiveness and a commitment to a united community. Since then, Sue’s leadership as Artistic Director and Conductor has fostered an environment that currently enriches the lives of more than 180 singers with diverse musical experiences, creating a world-class choral sound.
Fink studied conducting with Roger Wagner, then toured internationally with his Grammy award-winning chorale. She founded and conducted the Oriana Renaissance Ensemble and the Los Angeles Women’s Community Chorus, and as a singer-songwriter has released two award-winning albums.
Her twenty-six year career includes conducting worldwide, from Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles to Cadogan Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. Most recently, she conducted four performances on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, advancing to the semi-finals and receiving the coveted Golden Buzzer.
Additionally, Fink composes and arranges for choral organizations, and writes songs for TV and movie soundtracks. She can be found teaching in her private voice studio when not conducting.
Where did the idea for Angel City Chorale come from?
Most of us cannot be with family and friends for the holidays. We wanted to create an event where folks experience that crisp, joyous, warm, celebrating feeling that comes this time of year. Through our concert, we hope everyone will get charged with the spirit. Every year we have jumpstarted our audiences with our live performances. We know this virtual one will do the same. “It’s not the holidays ‘til the Angels sing”
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up each day to find my head on my pillow… I read the pile of emails waiting and do a catch up on the outside news. That gets me up and through breakfast. Then in various orders, I listen to mixes, teach a voice lesson or two, answer emails, attend countless zoom meetings, practice music, do research, try to get exercise and yoga in. Dinner with the family and off to nighttime meetings on zoom or a night of binge-watching tv until 1:00 am. I fall asleep to type A dreams of forgetting to take a class for which I am now in the final. Then I wake up with my head on the pillow and start over.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My biggest inner gift is my creativity… not my organizational skills. I rely heavily on my enthusiasm and ability to inspire others to embrace my ideas… especially those with know-how. I am always open to my cohort’s additions and amendments. I bring my ideas to people that would embrace the concept and take the reins. We have a small hired staff but are largely a volunteer organization. Our executive director, board, and operations committee often spearhead our many projects. I get to be creative throughout and give feedback and work with the team along the way as we meet and build.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I really like collaboration. We are prioritizing reaching out to commission composers and partnerships with other groups to expand our exposure, experience, and diversity.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Our organization is driven by volunteers. They need to be recognized and thanked for their efforts. I try to be conscious all the time that people are giving their time and energy freely but everyone needs to get something back for their experience. I want everyone to know what a difference they make and show appreciation for their effort.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell younger me, “Never let fear get in the way of your dreams. Breathe deep! Let your heart pound and still go for it with your eyes open and your whole self committed. Fight for yourself as hard as you fight for others.”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Although it is true that when I am on the podium conducting I know that there is only one conductor and everyone needs to follow, but off the podium, I have a very different attitude about leadership.
I think the success of an organization needs to be cooperative. A great idea can come from anyone amongst us. If there is buy-in from the participants and there are hands willing to do the work a project emerges.
I feel more cheerleader than the boss. Everyone in the group needs to feel like an owner, not an employee. one example: most conductors select the music the ensemble performs but in our group anyone can submit a song and can vote on our choice of repertoire.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I study hard- I practice and practice and practice. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I have a feeling it takes me longer and especially as I age. We have to keep learning!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My strategy is promoting ownership. If someone in the group says “your choir”, I know they are not invested. I work to make each person feel that their contribution makes a difference. The group feels part of a “we” and “I” matter. Listening, reacting, encouraging, engaging the group in decisions and carrying out projects, and then recognizing their contributions are crucial. Pairing buddies and a place for member feedback and engagement is rewarding. We all are Angel City Chorale, and our pride comes with belonging.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In 2016, I was conducting the first leg of a tour in England. We had a 200 voiced choir and orchestra. The macho concertmaster in York started picking on me with digging comments which culminated with “Your entrance cue was not clear.” Frustrated with him, I said to him “Well, maybe you could do better”. He grabbed my baton out of my hand and flourished it at the orchestra saying “That’s how it’s done.”
You could have heard a pin drop in that room. After rehearsal, he said privately to me “Look, women have no place being a conductor. Wait till you get to London. The Royal Philharmonic will eat you alive.”
He got under my skin and I practiced night and day for three days until I stood on the podium in front of the Royal Phil and gave it my all. In the end, the London concert master shook my hand and congratulated me for a job well done. Lesson learned; study until you can trust yourself without a doubt.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I am dreaming that someone could get rid of the internet delay. There must be an app out there that can make us hear each other and sing at the same time. That business would make a mint!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Ring lighting for my Zoom calls. I also spent $1.00 on an eraser!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Sibelius for score writing, and it also allows me to hear how music will sound. I remember the tedious task of handwriting music and copying parts while wondering if my music would sound as I dreamed.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Why do you say? good lessons.
1. The impossible just may become possible
2. Imagination is the foundation of all growth
3. Integrity and honesty are the elements of authentic lives
4. Sometimes leadership is thrust on us by circumstance. Step in with a lion’s heart.
5. There comes a point where we all have to choose the right thing (or not.)
What is your favorite quote?
I have two:
“If you don’t have a dream how you gonna make a dream come true” (South Pacific)
“Leave the world a little better than you found it” (me)
- The most important thing is building a community. How do we build a community from folks who are of different ages, ethnicities, religions, and political views? We find a common goal.
- We become greater than our differences and stronger than the sum of our parts.