(An excerpt from the interest session, “Where Ten or Twelve are Gathered: Strategies for Small Church Choirs,” by Matthew Caine. Presented during the 2013 ACDA National Conference.)
I have one final resource to mention in regard to repertoire, one that is readily available, free to use, but, I imagine is seldom accessed in the ways I will mention: your mind. Yes, I promise I did have my three cups of coffee this morning. Your mind holds several keys to opening additional repertoire to you, if you will but allow these keys to be used. We will find these by taking a quick walk through the music history floating around in your mind. First, channel the spirit of the Renaissance. Your situation may very well be in need of a re-birth anyway! We know that often one or more “voice” parts in Renaissance music may have been doubled by an instrument or even played by an instrument without having a singer sing it. Why should such a practical and wonderful performance practice be limited to the Renaissance? Take a look at Renaissance repertoire, as well as repertoire from other historical periods, which you would like to teach your choir if you had sufficient singers. Then see if there is a way you can reduce the piece by one or more voice parts and still preserve the textual integrity, and have those remaining voice parts played by instrumentalists. This is a wonderful opportunity to involve instrumentalists from your congregation who may otherwise never use their talents in worship.
Second, channel the spirits of Bach and Handel. Not necessarily in regard to specific repertoire, so much as their spirits of practicality. If Handel did not have a great contralto at his disposal, he would have a bass sing the alto solo (think of the various Messiah performances he conducted and how he would change soloists). Almost all of Bach’s sacred music was meant to be functional church music. If his resources on a particular Sunday or Holy Day did not quite match what he needed, I am certain he would have made an adjustment. You should, too. We have become such servants to the score and to the composer’s wishes that we often leave pieces unperformed, doing the composer, our singers, and our congregations a great disservice. Consider reassigning sections to different voice parts.
(The ACDA National Conference is just one of the many benefits of membership in the American Choral Directors Association. Join ACDA today.)
A week from now, Christian churches of all stripes will be filled to capacity with parishioners attending services in celebration of Christmas. It is not hyperbolic to state that more people will hear live choral music and raise their own voices in song early next week than at any other single time of the year, save perhaps Easter.
As choral conductors working in a church setting, we have an obligation both to our specific church and to the larger choral art to frame our craft in the best possible light at this important time. Church choirs are every bit as capable as are any other choral ensemble of presenting great art – and they are able to do so in an environment that underscores a larger ministerial role.
Here is a performance by a church choir from a past ACDA National Conference. Imagine underscoring the message of next week’s holiday with this level of performance.
During a recent conversation, a new acquaintance introduced himself as being “Just a church choir director.”
Excuse me? Just a church choir director . . . !?
Creating satisfying choral art with a college choir that meets five days a week is comparatively luxurious next to the herculean task of producing beautiful sounds with a volunteer church choir.
Most church choirs are populated by dear folks who gift their time to the choir as a part of the church’s larger ministry. The talent range in a church choir is massively broad. Resources are frequently limited. On top of all of that, the church choir director has perhaps an hour or an hour-and-a-half a week to rehearse (and the rehearsal is separated from “performance” by days, not hours).
A church choir is just as capable as any other ensemble of singing beautifully. As proof, enjoy this performance of O Magnum Mysterium (César Allejandro Carillo) by the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church Chamber Singers. This was recorded during the Worship Session of the 2009 ACDA National Conference.
Taking the lead from Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir, a church choir from New Jersey is putting together their own technology-driven choral music this Christmas:
Liquid Church of New Jersey is inviting people around the world to participate in the first virtual Christmas choir, utilizing webcams and YouTube. Singers from around the world will be united by the iconic Christmas song “Silent Night” as the church will put technology to good use to synchronize the army of individual singers into one unified, harmonious group.The sizable New Jersey church has put together something that is not only unique but something that will help make a global Christmas experience. “We’re creating a unique experience for singers across the globe to come together as one voice this Christmas,” said Liquid Church Lead Pastor Tim Lucas.Whether a service member is overseas or a mother is too busy with the responsibilities of the day to take time out for choir rehearsal, participants will have the opportunity to come together virtually and make this Christmas not so “silent.”
One of the non-musical tasks every choral conductors has to perform is recruiting singers. Okay, I know there are a couple schools in the country where a staggeringly high percentage of student sing in choir, the rest of us poor mortals have to sell, sell, sell! It’s even harder in a church. In an educational environment, choral ensembles are generally part of a curricular offering – a church has no such motivator.
Lee Barrow might have formulated at least a partial recruiting solution for the church choir director. In his article “‘Choir Lite’ – Less Time, Just as Filling!” (ACDA Southern Division Newsletter, Fall 2008), Lee shares his method for recruiting singers for a limited time – it seems rather like ‘trial offers’ so many firms use to motivate consumers to try their services.
As Lee puts it, “I developed several yearly invitations to join the choir with a short-term commitment which I designated ‘Short-Term Choir’ or ‘Choir Lite.’ At least twice each year, I advertised the idea, which included a six-week period leading up to a major performance occurring most often at Christmas and Easter.”
Did it work? Lee said, “The short-term commitment got them in the door, but the camaraderie and sense of fulfillment kept them coming back. This method of recruitment was far more successful than all of my previous efforts combined.”
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