One of the biggest challenges facing any choirmaster is the task of choosing the right music for their choir. When I am putting together music lists I take the following factors into account:
1. Current range of voices and strengths / weaknesses of the choir
2. Forthcoming Concerts and the type of audiences they might attract
3. What music works well with this choir?
4. What music have they recently learnt?
In reference to the third point this may seem strange at first sight but one thing I have noticed over the years is that there is no “one piece fits all”. I’ve known 2 otherwise similar choirs produce almost entirely opposite results from the same piece. To know what will work best with your choir, you need to understand the people in it and know what they enjoy singing as well as where your “best” singers are.
I’ve written many times on the subject of making sure your choir enjoy rehearsals. Those paying attention will remember that a lot of this enjoyment stems from the choice of music. The most important thing is to know when to quit! I don’t mind admitting there are some pieces which I have stopped teaching the Pewsey Belles. Is this an admittance of failure on their part or mine? No, I don’t think so. It’s not so much they aren’t capable of learning the piece, but just, for whatever reason, the majority of the choir don’t “get into it”. In the few cases where I have abandoned music, it is often because the arrangements are quite poor or do not work well with the range of voices in the choir.
When choosing music, therefore, one of the fundamental things is to always check the arrangement. Not just for the vocal range but also to see which voice parts are given the tune predominantly, or indeed whether the tune is shared around. Whilst Soprano’s like to think they always get the tune, personally I think it’s a good idea to share it amongst the other parts from time to time. Lets face it, there will come a point where your altos (or basses in a mixed choir) will get fed up of just singing “Ah”. I will be writing in more detail about how to find music and decide on the best arrangement in a future post.
As with many things, planning is always the key to success. You often hear of choirmasters putting together repertoire for Christmas concerts in July. This is largely because time must be allowed to source, learn and polish the music well in advance. To help my choirs learn new music I always prepare and record rehearsal tracks for each voice part. The intention is to help those choir members who cannot read music with learning their part.
Most Community Choirs will often have a wide ranging repertoire. I always try to explore different types of music with my choirs and sometimes it’s a good idea to take them slightly out of their comfort zone. For example, I know a lot of members of the Pewsey Belles are not keen on learning sacred music. On the whole that wouldn’t be that appropriate anyway, but I have gradually introduced a number of “popular” sacred pieces to broaden the repertoire. This is particularly useful when we are asked to sing at a Wedding or Christening for example.
In the end, as always, it comes back to the central theme of enjoyment. The best music your choir can learn is music they enjoy singing. And if they enjoy singing it, this will come over in performance and even if it’s not note perfect the enthusiasm of the singers will always win over the audience every time.