Choosing Choir Literature Based on the Size of the Choir

Based on my research, no more than 25 percent of church choirs in America have more than fifty participants. Even the major evangelical publishers are attuned to this fact because many offer choral music options for the smaller choir. I don’t see this trend in school choral groups, however, but the disconnect between school choral programs and church choral programs is REAL. I’ll write more on how we can bridge these relations soon.

Regardless of the size of the choir, there are non-negotiable traits of good, healthy singing. Tone, intonation, pitch, rhythm, tempo, articulation, expression, interpretation, etc. are some of the hallmarks of any good choral group. Having worked with both large and small choirs, I have noticed there are definitely some distinctions worth noting between the two sizes. Taking into account these difference can help the leader choose more appropriate literature for the size choir he or she leads. Here’s a selected list of some observations based on my own experiences:

Large Choir
1. Able to produce a large sound-especially if singing with orchestra
2. Less confident singers can find confidence in stronger singers/readers
3. Larger possible pool of soloists
4. Able to sing most songs with lots of divisi
5. Sing songs with more extreme ranges
6. Able to sing longer phrases (stagger-breathing becomes easier)
7. Easier to blend parts because no one has to “carry the section”
8. More difficult to sing especially rhythmic (syncopated) tunes (can be more difficult to get the train moving fast- so to speak)
9. Can have more strong sightreaders, which expedites learning

Small(er) Choir
1. Most have to pull their own weight, confident or not. (My first choir had excellent singer/sightreaders because the fewer singers had to step up and be confident)
2. Members feel more obligated to attend due to numbers–Greater chance of huge holes in sound if certain ones aren’t there
3. Can be more difficult to blend
4. Can be easier to sing more rhythmic tunes due to the weight of the larger number of singers
5. Literature choices can be limited by range, phrasing, etc.
6. Often part singing is limited based on availability. (We see this in the ever-present doubling of soprano and bass lines of popular church choral music geared for smaller choirs)

This is definitely just a start. What would you add to these lists? If 75 percent of evangelical churches with choirs have fewer than fifty participants, then how do we overcome obstacles the smaller choir has?  Let me hear from you.

 

 

Why Leaders Value an Intergenerational Choral Ministry

Most leaders of churches that are intergenerational usually have a philosophical reason to value them. Even those leaders that are organically intergenerational and not always intentional about celebrating the diversity of ages in the church, still value that the generations are worshiping together in their church. When asked why these leaders, who already serve intergenerational churches, value not only having an intergenerational church, but having a choir that is intergenerational, they responded with the following answers in rank order:

  1. The choir reflects the age diversity already present in the congregation. Over 70% of those interviewed stated that they simply want the choir to be a reflection (generationally) of what is already present in the congregation. Makes a lot of sense!
  2. The choir is the easiest/best way to involve multiple generations in the worship service. These leaders have realized that the music ministry is an excellent way to get all ages involved in  serving in worship. What other ministry of the local church involves the youngest and the eldest members of the church (possibly even simultaneously) on a regular basis?
  3. Older and Younger Members should learn from each otherThese leaders have identified what I call mutual submission or mutual learning. As I’ve mentioned before, there is something to be learned from young people. Likewise, the older members can pour into younger members the wealth of knowledge they’ve gained along the way. Each generation must learn to be submissive and respectful of all as the intergenerational church learns to co-exist and aim for unity (think Phil. 2).
  4. It’s Biblical. What surprised me was that only about 20 percent of those leaders I interviewed even mentioned the biblical model for intergenerational worship (family worship/worshiping in unity). Of the 20 percent, the leaders overwhelmingly were older Millennials and leaders from Generation X. My research did not indicate WHY this was the case, but my thought is that our younger music leaders are being encouraged to consider the biblical model because they grew up in the “worship wars,” while the older leaders never were taught many years ago (and they didn’t have to) why they should be intergenerational. They desire to return to a purer form of worship which promotes a “family” worship style.
  5. Leader’s personal preference or experience. A few of those interviewed (actually most of these, not surprisingly, were from organic intergenerational churches) indicated that they felt the church should be like it always “was.” By this I mean, several decades ago there wasn’t the need to be discussing this topic and their churches are still operating in that same mode of “family” church.

    The choir has the opportunity to pave the way/model intergenerational behavior throughout the rest of the church. The choir must work together to overcome music style differences, traditions, and preferences in order to lead in worship. Because they are the “leaders” who must strive for unity musically, choir members are in a strategic position to model unity for the rest of the church IF we leaders teach the biblical mandate to worship together. Failing to have the “driving” factor of biblical precedent as our guide seriously diminishes the value of intergenerational ministry in the first place. I long for a time where the most frequent response to the question of why value intergenerational ministry is for biblical reasons, and not simply a pragmatic reason.

Using the Gradual Release Model to Develop Next Generation Leadership

One of the core values of any intergenerational church should be developing new leaders. While all generations are valued and important, perceived value must be shifted during the development of new talent and leadership. Often seasoned leadership must take a “back seat” to let emerging leaders develop the necessary skills and traits to be able to lead forward. However, each person (the “teacher” and the “student’) still have valuable roles, albeit at times different generations will be more visible than others.

Because we value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s an intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for congregational participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We accomplish this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way, especially if something the emerging leader does something that might be perceived as a mistake or cause embarrassment to themselves or others.

Here’s a practical example of how we are using the Gradual Release Model. One of my personal piano students has a desire to use her gifts further in accompanying for choirs and worship services. Currently, we’re using the model with her and using our Youth Choir to give her a safe place to test her wings. Our pianist for the Youth Choir is an excellent mentor herself. This fall, we had my student sit in on rehearsals and watch our pianist at work. During rehearsals they would discuss important things such as playing parts, anticipating director’s movements/gestures, playing techniques for a choir, etc. (Focused Instruction). By Christmas they had moved to Guided Instruction, both sitting at the bench, working together. They even played a four-hand accompaniment to one of our songs for Christmas. Since January, they’ve entered the Collaborative Learning phase. Our student has learned the parts and accompaniment to one of our songs and she is taking “lead” in the rehearsal on that tune. Our pianist is sitting with her and helping make sure she doesn’t miss anything and is successful, but it’s basically the student playing for me. By the end of the Spring, I hope that we’ve moved her more and more to her to the Independent playing phase where she becomes our pianist for the Youth Choir by this fall.

This process helps the student be successful, but also keeps the pianist and me on our toes as we strive to make clear what we need from our student. It’s a gratifying process, especially if the student is quite good and practices before rehearsals! The value we place on investing in next generations will be evident as we develop new leaders who will “carry the torch” after we are unable to.