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How l-o-n-g do we go?

For you church choir directors....I am interested as to how late into the spring/summer you continue{unless of course you don't} with your choir rehearsals, activities, etc., and Sunday morning anthems.  I've been told to keep going 'til the 1st of July this summer.  But, frankly, choir attendance is on the wane...(you, too?)  
I have a great bunch of people to work with, and if were up to me I'd have full choir year-'round...but summer calls...know what I mean?  Your thoughts appreciated. 
Have a great summer!
Replies (27): Threaded | Chronological
on May 10, 2012 10:06am
We go until the first Sunday *after* Memorial Day.  Here's how it works:
during the academic year I have 2 different groups that lead music weekly (plus 3 other groups that are involved intermittently).  Those two different groups are at two different services.  Starting on Memorial Day our worship schedule changes so instead of having 2 different services with music, we only have 1 service with music for the summer months (we also have a spoken service year-round).  So on Memorial day both of my "weekly" groups sings a few of their "favorites" from the year in that combined service.  Then on the following week we have our big "Music Ministry Sunday" (still a combined service) in which all of the groups participate.  After that we're done for the summer.  We start back up with rehearsals the week prior to Labor Day, and they come back to worship the week following Labor Day.
Personally, I could not myself maintain the energy required to go beyond what we do.  We still have lots of great music in the summer, soloists, small groups, summer choir a few times, etc - we have some sort of "anthem" every Sunday;  but I need a break from the regular groups and they need a break too.  I've never had a choir sing into the summer, so I can't provide insight into how the attendance would change. 
on May 10, 2012 10:15am
Hi, Tom,
     My Adult Choir actually sings all year round. Our final Thirsday evening rehearsal is always the second week of June, so we are rehearsings all the summer anthems starting now. Attendance stays pretty constant for us. We have 30 people and average around 25 on a given non-Summer Sunday. During the summer it varies between 15-20 per Sunday. 
on May 10, 2012 10:37am
Boy, Thomas, you strike a nerve with me and I'm sure many. 
Historically, once we get past Easter my choir's attendance drops off some.  Springtime brings more opportunities for outside activities like sports (singers participating themselves or coaching their kids), weekends at the cabin, etc.  To some extent, I accomodate this by programming either somewhat easier anthems, anthems that we're more familiar with (from past or even recent usage) and thus needing less prep time, or doing only one anthem during worship rather than our customary two.  Being in a liturgical church, I hold things together through the Festivals of Pentecost and Holy Trinity, and then break for the summer until starting up again after Labor Day.  Summer is catch as catch can with vocal or instrumental soloists, small ensembles, and the like. 
I say all this even though I too have a great group of people who love to rise to the challenging music we do and who understand full well the blessings and fulfillment that come from our vital music ministry together.  Nevertheless, it is sad but true that for most church choirs, the members' level of commitment is lower and more diluted than in the past.  I guess it's just the times we live in of activity and information overload.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 10, 2012 10:43am
Thomas:  My wife's Youth Choir was keyed absolutely to the school year, and around here the end of the school year depended on how many snow days had to be made up.  (NONE this year, for the first time ever!)  So it usually ended in the 1st or 2nd week of June.  And the first weekend after school was out they traveled to Colonial Williamsburg for a Lessons and Carols at Bruton Parish Church followed by a day at Bush Gardens theme park.
I THINK (although I can't remember for sure) that the Senior Choir followed about the same schedule.
I'm curious, though, as to the rationale you've been given for continuing through the end of June.  It certainly doesn't seem to line up with any other major transition points in a family's annual schedule, and will absolutely interfere with family vacations, summer camps, and workshops, among a number of other things.  Or rather those will interfere with extending the year for your choir, since I suspect that such an arbitrary decision will lower choir to the bottom of people's priority lists.  And it does seem rather arbitrary.
All the best,
on May 10, 2012 1:59pm
As to why our Sanctuary Choir sings thru June is anyone's guess.  Apparently there are even quite a few actually in the choir who want to stay on thru June...go figure.  The only explanation I can get from the powers-that-be is..."that's the way we've always done it"...I have pulled some choral favorites from past months/years to get us through June. This particular summer the church will be getting a new pastor... who arrives on Sunday, July 1st.  The choir has been asked to stay on for that service and present special music.   My Sunday AM choir attendance isn't's getting the singers out for Thursday PM rehearsals. I have a wonderful group, but the attendance issue is very frustrating for me.
I am a retired HS choral director and have directed church choirs for years in my community. Last year I was asked to be the interim director at the church at which I now serve. (not my home church). As you can see, the interim is still on board. For how long...I just don't know.
Thanks for the reply...
on May 10, 2012 12:15pm
I've arbitrarily taken us through the first Sunday in June, since that usually gets us through our Confirmation Sunday and Pentecost, and then have 2-3 "show up on Sunday and we'll sing something" weeks spaced throughout the summer. Choir attendance is a little on the wane, but we still manage, even on Memorial Day weekend, to get a sufficient number of singers.
I think that the "summer" calendar is basically understood to be all of June through August, and that dictates a little of how things are commonly done, in addition to cues from school schedules, and if or worship schedule changes in the summers (we drop one of three, but keep the times of the other 2, which is when the choir usually sings)
I would offer that it's summer time for us as well, and if having a weeknight free (when we all still work on the weekends) is a plus for your emotional and spiritual help, then you ought to listen to that angle too.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on May 10, 2012 12:56pm
Here's what I did at  the last 2 churches I served...
We rehearsed through the end of June, and performed anthems through the end of July. I had the choir show up a "little' early during the summer, so we had time to"remember" the anthem before we sang it in church. I learned to pick the easiest anthem I could that would fit the texts for the day. I also had the choir "sign out' on a clendar for any Sundays they knew they would not be present.
August was covered by soloists, instrumentalists, duos, trios.... whatever would work.
My present church goes to Summer schedule beginning the third Sunday in June... and they have no history of the choir singing during the summer at  all. When I sketched out my usual practice a few weeks ago... they looked at me like I had 2 heads, or had lost my mind (or both!)
Maybe next year...
Tom Andrew
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 10, 2012 2:19pm
When we had an active choir, we would sing through Trinity Sunday as that is our annual meeting and combined service.  We never knew if we would have one singer or six when we had regular anthems, so it made planning rather difficult.  When a couple of faithful attendees moved to Florida, I decided to disband the choir for now.  The 1-4 members still sit in the choir area and sing the hymns during worship.  I have set a benchmark that if we have 5 regular attendees for one month then we will start up a more formal choir again...there are a few members of the church who are interested but say it isn't the "right time" just yet, so I am hopeful that we might have some interest in the fall.  It was liberating to finally decide to stop (much to the chagrin of the 4 faithful) as it was stressing me out when we had something planned and no one showed up on a given is much nicer to just concentrate on the organ music and congregational singing for the moment!
Jason Kamrath
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Essex, MD
on May 10, 2012 6:51pm
Jason:  Thanks for mentioning congregational singing, something that a few others have mentioned, but something that is quite a separate question from that of having a formal choir up in the front (or in the back, of course).
If I have my history straight (and I'd better, since I teach it!), in the early Church it was indeed the congregants who would sing what actually may have been sung, while the liturgical chanting was done by the clergy.  In fact the Psalm Tones may be not just the simplest but the earliest survival from those days, when it was completely understood that the purpose of music was to enhance the words and the lessons they carried.
At some point in history (and I'm not sure when, but perhaps in the 600s when monasteries began to be founded), the responsibility shifted from the congregants to the monks who were present.  And it was at the beginning of that same century when Pope Gregory I founded the Schola Cantorum ("Singing School") in Rome to start training professional church musicians.  (Not cause and effect, probably, but still a correlation.)
As polyphony was introduced into church music from about the 9th century on, not to replace chant but to enhance it on special occasions, it became more and more the job of trained church musicians to provide music for the services.  In fact the reason Guido d'Arezzo invented chant notation in the early 11th century was to speed up the time it took him to teach his choirboys all the chants of the Mass and Office from 10 years to 2 years or less, making them available that much earlier.  (Although he sold the idea as being a way to regularize the chant throughout Christiandom.)  And in fact until roughly the 15th century the polyphony was handled by soloists rather than the choir, which continued to sing the monophonic chant.  (We all know that the clergy were SUPPOSED to be able to hold their own in chanting, but we also know how well that often works out in practice!)  And by the early 16th century, at least in the Catholic Germanic Kingdoms, it was the trained and skilled Kantorei who provided the service music.
One of Luther's most far reaching reforms (in terms of church music, at least) was to bring the congregation back into the picture, not only giving them their own music to sing but making the Lutheran Hymn (the Chorale) a very important part of his services.  And that's really the beginning of the modern Protestant approach (which as far as I can tell has also been adopted by the Roman Catholic Church) in which the Kantorei or "choir" sings special music keyed to the lesson of the day while the congregation sings the hymns, likewise chosen to match the day's lesson, and in theory "led" by the choir.
Which sort of brings us full circle.  There's absolutely nothing WRONG with depending on congregational singing of hymns (and service music in liturgical churches) without the added decoration of special, non-liturgical texts provided by the choir--the modern Anthem, which replaced the continental Motet in England in the 16th century but served exactly the same functions in the service.
As a musician I applaud the good church choir that can enhance and beautify worship for the congregation, but I also applaud the less-professional church choir that can simply lead the hymns and service music with dedication and vigor, in parts if possible but in unison if that's what works best.  (A function that can be accomplished by a good youth choir, or even a very well trained children's choir, come to think of it.)  And even in the most important churches (usually measured politically rather than religiously) with the best music that have attracted the best composers over the centuries, we have to remember that in those same countries (including our own) the small, country parishes or churches have NEVER had the access to fine professional singers or organists (or even organs!) that the big boys have, and it doesn't hurt their spiritual message in the slightest!
(The status of organs, banned by the early Church because of their association with the Coliseum and only much later admitted back into use, and of church orchestras and church bands and their modern descendents, praise bands, is quite a different discussion.  In fact I'd guess that if there's any possible variation in church music that can be imagined, someone, somewhere, has tried it at one time or another!)
All the best,
on May 11, 2012 5:59am
Easiest rule of thumb in any church I've been a part of:
When the church moves to its summer worship schedule, the choir stops.
Our liturgies are normally 8 and 10:30.  8 and 9:30 in the summer (Memorial Day Sunday through Labor Day Sunday).
In the summer I've had three "pickup choir" Sundays (one each month, June, July, August), where I have an open rehearsal at 9:00 AM prior to the 9:30 service.  We rehearse an easy anthem and then the singers come up to the choir stalls during 'The Peace.'  No robes, very low pressure.  I've actually gotten some new recruits this way!
Best of luck
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on May 11, 2012 6:39am
I don't direct in a church, but I do sing in one of our church choirs and am assistant to the director of the church orchestra.  Everything goes until the end of June -- chancel choir, the select choral ensembles (big church), and orchestra. Orchestra is actually going until July 1st.  Unfortunately, attendance does start to wane in early May, for reasons stated above. Our chancel choir goes from averaging 60 on a good weekend, down to about 45 in the warmer months.  Even our pastor jokes about the parking lot situation -- it's hard to find parking after 8:15 (for the 8:30 service) or 9:45 (10:00 contemporary service) between November and April. 
It's been made worse by the fact that Sundays are no longer as sacred as they once were. It used to be, if you ran children's sports, rehearsals, or scouts, NOTHING was scheduled on Sunday except a campout....especially on Sunday mornings. These days, our soccer and softball fields seem to go from 7 am to 7 pm on both weekend days.
on May 11, 2012 7:12am
My senior choir performs a big Christmas concert each year. Then comes Easter. To keep attendance up after that, I schedule a major anthem or larger work or something that they know they need to be there for. Then (being a United Church of Canada) we sing on the last communion Sunday of the season—this year June 10—and we're done after that until after Labour Day. During the summer people sign up for Summer Soloist (or ensemble) spots. As well, whoever shows up on a Sunday morning, we will sing a couple verses of a hymn in 4-parts a cappella for the offering. No robes after the communion. 
on May 11, 2012 7:52am
I usually ask my choir members about their attendance in June...trips and such that would take them away on a Sunday, and then pick the best populated of those Sundays to be our last Sunday for the regular year (June 10 this year).  However, I have my email list active and in addition to the solos, duets, instrumentals, etc. that often take place during the summer, the choir members who are around will come a few minutes early and practice a Call to Worship piece.  The anthem might be sung by the Volunteer Choir...whoever walks in the doors on Sunday can pick up the anthem piece (usually a hymn that isn't often sung) and join us in the choir transcept for the anthem.  Some of our choir members sit in the choir transcept when the come to church during the summer, anyway, becuase that is where they are accostomed to sitting.  Since we are on the side as opposed to up front or in the back, it works out just fine.  It is like our "family pew".
We usually have dessert at the end of our last rehearsal, and if I don't have enough music to fill an entire rehearsal, we might get a leg up on something for the early fall.
on May 11, 2012 8:03am
Gee, we're such wierdos at the Catholic Chapels at Ft. Belvoir.  We sing all the year through.  Doesn't mean we will have everybody in the summer; we won't.  But then, we don't have everybody, either, during most of the Sundays in the "academic" year, although we do well for the great feasts.  So we continue to do an interesting amalgam of approaches.  During the "academic" year (which has the majority of the major feasts, except for the Assumption of the BVM), we do as most folks do, and that'll carry us through Pentecost and possibly Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi Sunday (this year, June 9/10 - gotta remember that Vigil Mass on the Saturday, folks!).  For most of the Masses on base it's led by a cantor, so it's not a big deal; and if a cantor has prior obligations or family matters like vacations and visits, etc., one of the paid hands (my section leaders or myself) covers the Mass.  There are three choir-led Masses - and yes, John, they DO "lead" the congregation in song - the Hispanic 9:15, the Contemporary Choir's 9:30, and the "traditional" at 9:15 (all at different chapels - this is the biggest Catholic Community in the US Army, not just Stateside, but anywhere).  I don't know factually what the other two do, but I think they continue through the summer without pause.  As for the "traditional" choir (and why in quotation marks?  because the music is anything but stuck on "traditional" forms - but DOES use "traditional" hymns AND classical music AND contemporary music - i.e., written and published recently; but for lack of an easy handle, "traditional" kinda covers it), we do the "who's here today?" sort of thing, which affects ONLY an anthem IF I picked one - and I tend not to during the summer.  (The primary time for an anthem is actually as a Post-Communion Meditation; and I have focused our attention during the year on having any number of these available for the possibility we may need to cover the end of the Communion Procession and the cleansing of the vessels - things like "In the Lord" by Margaret Rizza; any one of the "Ubi Caritas" settings by Durufle or Proulx or Hurd; etc.)   We have the standard parts of the Mass which need covering; the four hymns (Entrance, Offertory Procession, Communion Procession, Sending Forth) and so whether we do it in four parts or unison, it still keeps the choir in the role of leadership "pour encourager les autres" (as Voltaire said about the hanging of a British admiral in the 1740s on his flagship, found guilty of "cowardice in the face of the enemy" - the French, grand Dieu!).  It works; has in the seven years I've been directing; the folks in the choir know that this is the route, and I tend to cancel Wednesday rehearsals and call for an "earlier" Sunday a.m. rehearsal at 8:30 instead of 8:45 a.m.; and I make sure I pick music that I know they know.  There are people who take their own "sabbatical" during the summer; they're volunteers; whaddaya gonna do?  It's happened seven years in a row and it'll happen this year as well, I'd bet.  I'm just happy I have them for as much as I put them through during the bulk of the year - and the community appreciates them, too.
on May 11, 2012 8:13am
In the past we closed the choir season with a "Worship Through Music" major presentation on the second Sunday in June to motivate participation to the very end.  The main adult choir still concludes the season on the second Sunday in June but I moved the major work to the third Sunday in May because many seem to have graduations, weddings, and other "life events" on that second Sunday in June.  Moving the major work earlier has not reduced the end of year attendance.
The youth choir concludes with the first Sunday of June and the select chamber choir that comes from the main adult choir concludes the third Sunday of June.  "Summer Choir" (a "ya all come" choir that meets at 8a for 9 & 11a services) runs from the last Sunday of June through July.  Solos and small groups lead worship during August.
In other churches where I've served (southern California) the choir season followed the school year and concluded before Father's Day.  But here in the great Northwest, like some other places, as soon as the sun starts to shine worship attendance begins to wane.  For us that is usually the second Sunday in July to the third Sunday in July :-).  
on May 11, 2012 8:31am
We always sing until Pentecost. If that comes way early we would go to the first week of June.
Michael Wade
on May 11, 2012 9:03am
We do something similiar to Jan's church.  We have a big choir finale 3rd Sunday in May (choir, handbells, mini-orchestra) where we "talk-up" serving in Music Ministry.  Good time to use various arrangements of When in Our Music God is Glorified, How Can I Keep from Singing, etc.  Wednesday night rehearsals are done, but the Wednesday after the 3rd Sunday, when everybody is still in the going-to-rehearsal routine,  we have our Music Ministry appreciation dinner.  I will invite potential new singers to this.  In the summer we sing the first Sunday of each month, with the one in July for our patriotic worship services.  We rehearse for this 30 minutes prior to the first service.  Either something we've sung before and know well, or something easy enough to pull off in 30 minutes.
On an unrelated side note, I have as many social gatherings for the choir as possible.  It is here where they can bond with the choir "family" and feel like a needed part of the group.   Rob
on May 11, 2012 7:10pm
My church (with a choir of about 20 when they're all there) used to have the choir sing a couple of Sundays into June, and began to notice the diminishing returns in doing so.  So starting this year, music appreciation Sunday will be the Sunday before Memorial Day, and that will be the last choir Sunday of the year.  (And that decision didn't come from me, it came from the pastoral staff.)  A few of the choir members are wondering why we're not still singing in June, but very few.  And no one really seems to be complaining.  
on May 12, 2012 4:53am
1st or 2nd Sunday in June.    We follow the school calendar.  Once kids are out, so are parents and grandparents.
on May 12, 2012 3:57pm
As a Conductor, Staff Singer, and (in an earlier life ;) a volunteer, I have experienced/led several summer traditions.  Some point out that once they stop, some may not return, but I haven't seen that trouble.
I like the tradition of solos and ensembles during the summer - saves practice time, gives good growth opportunities for singers, and variety for the congregation.  By varying the ensemble size and anthem difficulty, you can give everybody a turn - if the schedules jive!
To make attendance a bit more predictable, I made a grid with members' names across the top (alphabetically within voice part)  and  dates (Wed. and Sun.) down the left side.  I passed it around during announcements/sectional work.  Once it is filled in, you have a horizontal picture of your choir over the summer, and you can plan accordingly, allowing for sudden "good-weather" trips... ;)
A nice "happy medium" schedule is to take the month of August off - or the last half of July and first half of August.  (Our schools here begin now in early August, so that matches for families.)
When I was both a teacher and a Staff Singer, I always felt frustrated that our fall Broadway concert fell in August just as school was starting. (Too much to prepare at once - train-wreck affect from vacation...)  But the concert did raise retreat funds very well....
Continuing John's point, I also like the "congregation as choir" concept described by Elise Shoemaker in a workshop years ago: "Use some of the wonderful 'choral' hymn arrangements for the congregation.  Why should those belong only to the choir?"  Once I had a congregation sing "Be Still My Soul" to a recording of the Atlanta Youth Symphony's fiery-and-technically-advanced [ thank you, Director Jere Flint !] rendition of Finlandia.  I do believe it is our job to keep feeding life, creatively, into hymns.  Also, this gives  a chance for the choir to sit out and listen for folks you may wish to encourage toward choir.
on May 12, 2012 6:53pm
We conclude our season on Father's Day, and then break for the summer until, actually, the 1st week of October! (But we begin rehearsing again the 2nd or 3rd Wednesday in September.)
In summer, we have solos/duets/small ensembles.
on May 13, 2012 6:42am
I have not read all of the replies, but I'm sure they are all good.  We use to take the month of July off, but found the choir added so much to each service, we were ask not to do that.  SO, instead we just don't rehearse during the month of July.  I find it's freedom from rehearsing that folks enjoy the most.
I make a list of the anthems performed during the year and let the choir vote on their favorities.  I call it the "you pick 'ems".  Then with a little rehearsal during May, we are set to go for July.  In your case, this could also be used in August.  Good Luck
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 13, 2012 11:06am
Tom and Friends:  That may be the best suggestion of all those so far posted!  And it's interesting that our community band does exacty the same thing, although both our community chorus and our community string orchestra do stop for the summer (except for supporting our annual summer Broadway musical production).  With our formal Spring Concert out of the way in April, we're now rehearsing for our summer season gigs.  We will actually rehearse up through our big community concert on July 4th, but at the same time we're rehearsing for our summer season and will not rehearse again until early September, even though our last summer gig will be in August.
Now clearly this is different from church, since we can repeat virtually the same program througout the summer.  And a band is not the same as a choir, although we ALSO have the identical problem of not having a full roster of players available during the summer season for every performance (which is actually more difficult for a band because if an entire section is missing it limits what can be played).  But the principal is much the same and might interest some who are simply going to soloists for the summer.
All the best,
on May 16, 2012 5:03am
I guess my choir is similar to many already mentioned in that we sing through Confirmation Sunday. Last year we did not have any confirmands, so the choir was able to end following the Memeorial Day weekend. As far as summer music goes in my church, I used to not do anything as I was not ASKED to do anything. The last few years, however, I've been asked to simply post a sign-up for "Summer Music" where individuals can elect to perform solo or however. I usually end up taking the Sunday before 9/11 for my choir as I enjoy doing special tribute pieces for that occasion. I should mention that we have two seperate worship services during hte fall/winter/spring season. During hte summer, starting at Memeorial Day weekend, we combine. The praise band covers all the music with the exception of either the prelude or postlude and a hymn or two unless someone signs up for the "special" music.
I like the "You pick 'em's" idea and will bring htat up to my M & W Committee for next year.
on May 16, 2012 7:16am
Snarky Answer: We perform and rehearse until they stop paying me. (I only get September to June.)
Real answer: I coincide with the school calendar. Many congregants stop coming, because of vacations, which are often derived from their CHILDREN'S Vacations. So about 3 weeks into June will be our last Sunday.
I'm also a fan of rewarding the people who keep coming, even on so-called "Low" Sundays, So I often plan special music for that last week.
on May 17, 2012 12:09pm
My church choir sings weekly beginning the Sunday after Labor Day through the first Sunday of June, which is generally designated Graduation Sunday.  None of my choir members are solo singers, per se.  So, during the summer, instrumentalists may play selections during the Offertory when available.  
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