What constitutes a Choir?

In the last few days, I have flown to Berlin to run a choir workshop for a Global Law firm, taken on a new Choir in Gloucestershire, started a ‘pop up’ workplace choir in Bath and turned down a choir in Corsham.  This is all in addition to running my four regular choirs which meet weekly, and all the recording work I do at 4 Part Music.  The month ahead looks like it will be even busier, as I tend to get involved with a lot of school recordings at this time of year – all the schools want to record a CD to sell at Christmas, so I will once again be visiting all 4 corners of the country several times before the month is out.

Reviewing some of the work I have done recently made me consider the question ‘what is a choir?’.   Take the job in Berlin for example.  My brief from the client was to ‘form a choir’ made up of around 50 law graduates at the end of a 3 day conference.   In my mind, this was a bit like the ‘skateboarding duck’ item which often features at the end of the local TV news bulletin as a means of cheering everyone up after all the bad news which has preceded it! “And finally today, a duck was spotted…. etc”…

Now I don’t wish to belittle the work I did in Berlin – it was actually a great job and I had a lot of fun doing it. I’m rather hoping to do more work with this client.  I was given about an hour and 54 law graduates from various corners of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  The challenge was to get them singing.   In the end, after the ‘formal’ part of the proceedings(if you can call it that) we ended up singing a variety of folk songs around the piano accompanied with many glasses of beer.  It was certainly a lot of fun and something I would definitely do again.  However, would I have said I formed a choir?

I am currently involved with a brand new ‘workplace choir’, I think predominantly so they can sing at the Christmas party although the end goal is currently not that clear.  At the first rehearsal I had a total of 6 people show up.  Now I’ve started choirs with only a handful of members before now which have subsequently gone on to have upwards of 50 members.  However, in this instance I think these six people made up the whole company!  Can this small number of people be described as a choir?

To answer this I turned to my old friend Grove (20 volume dictionary of Music in case you wondered) and looked up the word ‘choir’.  The official definition is:

“A group of singers who perform together either in unison or, much more usually, in parts.”

So now we need to define the term ‘group’.  Checking this with my trusted Oxford Dictionary we discover that a group is “…a number of persons or things considered as a collective unit..”

So my conclusion from this little piece of research (using actual books rather than google, which was a very exciting thing to do!)  suggests that 6 people do indeed constitute a choir, as do 54 lawyers – particularly as they sang in harmony at one point!

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Jules Addison is Musical Director for The BlueBellesThe Pewsey BellesCirencester Male Voice Choir & Great Western Harmony.