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.

Minority-Dominate Congregations are More Likely to be Intergenerational.

The other day I was rereading an article written by Michael Hawn “Singing Across the Generations: is there Hope?”and I came across this statement on page 20, “congregations that are virtually all African American or Latino most often worship together as multigenerational families.” He goes on to say that Anglo-dominated, middle-class congregations from 200-400 in attendance were more likely to offer two or three different patterns of worship (based on musical style). According to Hawn, minority-dominant congregations tend to worship intergenerationally. Hawn does not aim to explain why this data exists, but focuses on strategies for how churches can find unity in their musical worship.

I’m curious as to why. Why are Anglo-dominated congregations more likely to have multiple types of styles of services? The argument that a new, improved, more energetic contemporary service is going to bring the young families in doesn’t necessarily apply if the church isn’t an Anglo-dominated church. Many of our minority-dominated churches are thriving. The African American and Hispanic dominated congregations I’m familiar with aren’t dying…in fact they are growing! I’ve been to several Latin American churches (all intergenerational) that are THRIVING and the gospel is proclaimed and received.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking, praying, strategizing about how to bring musical elements that transcend generations into our worship context. I’m very interested how minority-dominated congregations have managed to avoid the “worship wars.” This post is not designed to find ways to bring multi-ethnic elements into a content. Anyone with Google can find hundred of articles and books on the subject. However, to begin the conversation, I want to discuss some traits I’ve found in minority-dominated churches that might give a few clues as to why these types of churches have chosen to worship intergerationally. I have a few ideas I’d like to share–all anecdotal although observed many times. As always, there are doubtless others. I’d appreciate feedback so the conversation may continue.

  1. Minority-dominated congregations are made of families that VALUE being together. Go to any Latin American country and you’ll see multiple generations living together. They value all; church is no different. Most non-Anglo cultures are ultra family-centric. The “it takes a village” mentality is evident. My observation is women in minority-dominate churches are taking care of many generations of children and raising in a “pack-mentality.” It’s not uncommon to find many Hispanic and African American grandmothers helping raise their own grandchildren.
  2. Minority-dominated congregations are not afraid of emotionally-driven, passionate times of worship. One of the reasons many Anglo-dominate churches have decided to add “contemporary” services alongside their “traditional” services has been that some feel that traditional worship is stuffy, uninspired, boring, and lacking passion. Those who find comfortable in the predictable liturgy of a traditional service find contemporary services irreverent. Minority-dominate churches just don’t have (my opinion) boring or dispassionate music. It’s always been passionate and will continue to be. Ergo, there is no need to separate services based on style.
  3. Minority-dominate churches cling to their ethnicity while embracing new.  The musical worship in these churches is rooted in who they are historically. While they aren’t afraid to embrace new styles of music, they would never create a worship service that excluded one musical style over another.
  4.  Participation comes from all generations in minority-dominate churches. Some of this is due to the size of the church. Many are small churches that need everyone to work together. However, my experience has been that even as these churches have gotten larger, (some of our largest churches in America are African- American dominated) they have not lost their intergenerational nature. All have a role in worship leadership.
  5. Choir participation in minority-dominate churches is still HIGH. I can’t think of an African-American dominate church today that doesn’t use a choir. This could be said for many other non-Anglo ethnic groups as well. While authors of the “National Congregations Study” (Chavez and Anderson 1998 and 2008) reported that choirs in churches has decreased from 72.3% in ’98 to 58% in ’08, I do not see evidence of decreased participation in minority-dominated congregations. In fact not only does it remain common, it is intentionality intergenerational (not just choirs of members with with white hair)! These churches have figured out how important a choir can still be relevant.  In fact many leaders of these churches depend on the energy that the choir brings to musical worship, an energy that cannot be replicated by any other means.

I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface and there are always exceptions to these comments, but I can’t help but notice that it seems to me that only Anglo-dominated churches (and generally in America) think creating separate worship events which contains only one style of music and liturgy is ultimately healthy for the church. This can lead to generational separation, but more importantly, separate services also prevents the fusion of multi-ethnic musical variety. It is only through cooperation and inclusion of multiple styles that we may paint of picture of how heaven will truly be—all peoples worshiping together in many different ways, but worshiping…together

1Liturgy, 24 (3), 2009: 19-28.