BY KENNETH W. OSBECK
After the music director has made the congregation aware of the possibilities of the music ministry and has laid the proper foundations at the earlier age levels, the matter of organizing an effective Senior Choir should be a natural development. The goal of all church singers should be eventual membership in the Senior Choir. This group should epitomize the efforts of the entire music program. These members should be the most spiritual, loyal and thoroughly trained of all of the church’s singers.
There are, however, specific problems that confront directors of church senior choirs. These problems can be categorized under two broad headings–problems of administration and problems involved in developing group musicianship. Both of these topics as well as the choice and use of appropriate materials will be considered in this chapter.
A. Recruiting and Selecting New Members. Church senior choir memberships generally begin with the high school graduates or possibly with high school seniors. Socially it would be more ideal if the church were large enough to have a separate college age group, but again this will depend upon local church circumstances. Whether a choir admits members during their late teens or at post-college age makes little difference so far as the basic matters of musicianship and spiritual emphasis are concerned. Imperative, however, is the fact that every Senior Choir member must be a professing Christian–a worthy representative of the Gospel. There is also the matter of whether or not a choir member should be a church member. Again this will vary from one church to another, and the director must recruit his members in accordance with the existing church policy on this matter.
Although pulpit and bulletin announcements are important, nothing replaces personal contact in recruiting new members for the choir. The director must try to instill this ideal in all of his members and especially in the choir’s officers. Even so, final arguments such as “not having enough time” must be subdued by the director himself. An ideal Senior Choir membership should be approximately ten percent of the active church membership. To achieve this goal, the director should meet at the beginning of each new season with his music committee, pastor and choir officers to make a list of available and prospective members. After this list is agreed upon by all concerned, a letter of invitation should then be sent out with a return card to be filled out by the prospective member stating his intentions regarding choir membership. This same procedure is then repeated each year, thus assuring the director that he has not overlooked any new talent in the church and that spiritual and musical or social undesirables are not included in the membership. Many directors then require a personal interview or a group conference with all potential members before the first rehearsal.
Other methods for recruiting a new supply of choir members include having a definite recruitment drive, possibly for two weeks, once or several times throughout the year when everyone in the church is aware of this emphasis. It should be cautioned, however, that a certain prestige must always be maintained for the choir.
Never should a person be begged to become a choir member. Rather, it should be thought of as a privilege to serve God in this special capacity. Also, survey cards can be passed out periodically throughout the entire congregation to determine musical interest and potential. Further, mention should be made about the problem of getting enough male singers for the choir. Frequently, most choirs have difficulty in securing a sufficient number of men. A director should do all possible to cooperate with the various men’s groups in the church–men’s Bible classes, brotherhoods, etc., in order to interest as many men as possible in the choir program.
B. Development of Spiritual Attitudes. After the director has assembled his new group each year, generally shortly after Labor Day, he then faces the task of molding old and new members into a spiritually effective musical organization. Members must be taught and impressed with the importance of their ministry. Each member must be made to realize that he has a vital place in one of the great heritages of the Christian church. It should be pointed out to him that from the time of Hebrew worship and throughout church history, choirs have been one of the important factors in group worship and in the proclamation of the gospel message. He should be taught to realize that the main purpose of a choir is not mere entertainment or the display of individual talent. Rather, it is the blending of many talents and personalities into a composite force that has unusual possibilities for providing spiritual inspiration, warmth and unity to a service. Each member should be made to realize that during a service his decorum should serve as an example to the congregation as a leader for attitudes of reverence and worship; a leader of enthusiastic congregational singing; a leader with regard to general alertness, attentiveness and respect to the pastor and his message. In general, each member must be made keenly sensitive of his privileged ministry–that of a leader in the worship and praise of Almighty God, and he should seek to use his musical ability to accomplish the spiritual aims and purposes of his church.
Since the spiritual effectiveness of any church choir is directly proportionate to its loyalty and morale, a director must work constantly against the factors that can undermine this. Some of these are:
1. Erratic attendance at rehearsals.
2. Habitual tardiness at rehearsals.
3. Missing the service after attending the rehearsal.
4. Singing in the service without attending the rehearsals.
5. Unrelated foolishness and lack of attention during the rehearsals.
6. Unfriendly attitudes toward other members or the formation of little cliques within the choir.
7. Ill feelings that are voiced publicly rather than privately to the director, such as immediate dislikes to new music, new ideas or suggestions, etc.
8. Members who are concerned about displaying their individual talent or satisfying personal interests rather than working for the good of the entire group.
9. Voicing opinions to others regarding one’s disrespect for the director or the organization, especially to those outside of the organization.
10. In general, any action or attitude that dampens the enthusiasm of present or future choir members.
C. Developing and Maintaining Group Morale and Interest. Although the chief means of maintaining group interest throughout the year is the music a choir sings–music that consistently inspires, challenges and interests each member–there are other specific factors that also play an important role in this respect. Even though a director should purposely try to maintain a relaxed, friendly relationship with his choir, yet each member must be able to sense a spirit of seriousness and businesslike attitude on the part of the director. This attitude should be evident in the way a director begins and ends rehearsals on time; the way he makes the most effective use of rehearsal time; his supervision of proper records, seating arrangements, robe distribution, follow-ups of delinquent members; distribution, collection and care of music, etc. Not only must a choir member experience spiritual, musical and social satisfaction from the choir, but he must take pride in the feet that he is a member of one of the most vital, progressive and interesting groups in the entire church.
Every church choir should have its own spirit of Christian fellowship. The choir social chairman is especially important in this area of activity. In addition to planned social functions such as parties, after rehearsal refreshments, banquets, etc., the social chairman should lead in welcoming new members and visitors to the choir. This can be done by having periodic socials or receptions for new members. The matter of sending birthday cards, get-well cards, we-miss-you cards, sympathy cards, flowers, etc., to choir members is also a most important item. Other activities that can do much to promote choir interest include: a choir dedication or recognition service at the beginning or close of a season, monthly news letters, weekend retreats, summer camp programs, an annual church music instruction week, an occasional list of new choir members in the bulletin, exchange programs with other church choirs, participation in church choral festivals, and the preparation of special cantatas or programs.
D. Organization. Every adult choir needs to adopt a plan of organization. The constitution and by-laws of the group should be clearly stated and easily accessible, especially to the new members. The various details involved in successfully administering a church choir are far too complex for any director, requiring, therefore, a democratic form of organization. This organization can be as simple or as elaborate as is desired. Generally, however, most senior choirs will need at least the following officers: president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, librarian, social chairman, and robe chairman. The president coordinates the various activities and acts as group administrator. The vice-president takes over in the absence of the president and is usually directly responsible for the promotion and enlistment of new members and the encouragement of absentees to attend rehearsals and services. The secretary is all-important in that she keeps the attendance records and informs the director and officers of the faithfulness of each member. The treasurer is responsible for all finances. In some choirs this is on a small dues basis for each rehearsal while in other organizations a collection plate is passed periodically to meet the various expenses of the group. Often a choir will undertake a special financial project for the church and will attempt to raise funds through special programs and other means. The librarian should see that the music to be used gets into the hands of choir members quickly, is properly returned to the files after its use, and checked out to members who desire to borrow a copy. The librarian should also see that all of the music is stamped, catalogued and filed according to a definite system. It should be the additional responsibility of the librarian to see that all numbers have a minimum reserve supply and that all music is in a state of good repair at all times. The social chairman, as previously stated, should be responsible for all details involved in the group’s social functions, sick details, etc. Larger choirs should have section chairmen to aid in the matters of faithfulness. Robe chairmen, usually one for the ladies and one for the men, are very important. These leaders are responsible for having the robes cleaned and repaired as needed. Robe chairmen also keep robe assignment records and assign robes to the new members and visiting soloists. Some choirs have a program chairman, who assumes responsibility for the composition, printing, and distribution of choir programs on special occasions. Often choirs have a publicity chairman to handle all details regarding advertising and promotion of the choir’s activities. There may also be a historian appointed to keep a permanent file or scrapbook of programs, clippings, and other interesting memoranda.
E. Church Library Maintenance. One of the all-important financial investments in the church is the music library. When one considers the individual cost of each number, plus the hours spent by a director in choosing new music, one soon realizes the importance of maintaining an efficient library. Since most church budgets are rather limited for musical expenditures, it means that all new music must be wisely purchased and the old music ought to be kept in good repair, so that it can be repeated periodically. Occasionally it is wise to spend part of a choir rehearsal in letting all of the members repair the old music. Not only does this get the music in shape, but it also impresses upon the members the need for the proper care of their music.
The two main methods of storing music are keeping it in individual box containers, such as those sold by the Gamble-Hinged Music Company, or keeping the music in individual folders, preferably the three-enclosed-side folders sold by the Educational Music Bureau, No. 120. These may then be filed alphabetically or in individual file drawers according to voice arrangements — SSA, SATB, SA, SAB, TTBB, etc. With whatever method used, music must be kept dust free and in a dry storage space.
With either of these methods it is wise for the director to keep a card file system so that he can get at a glance the information he desires about each number. This information should include such items as title, composer, arranger or editor, occasion for which useful, whether or not a cappella, difficulty, voice ranges, tessitura problems, and a brief word about that number that will help to give it recall at some future date.
It is also good for the director to keep his personal file of individual copies of music. This is invaluable to a director, although it soon becomes cumbersome for finding music quickly. As with the church card file, it is wise for the director to keep a card file on his own personal music. The information desired should be similar to that mentioned above. Although this filing work may seem at times to be tedious, in the long run it saves many hours for a director when he urgently needs a particular number for a special occasion.
F. Rehearsal Techniques. Another of the important areas of choir work to which a director must give careful attention is that of making as much of his limited rehearsal time as possible. Since most church choir rehearsals range from only one to two hours in length each week, one can readily see that if a director has one or two special numbers to prepare, responses to learn and perfect for each service, as well as special programs or cantatas to give several times throughout the year, he must make effective use of every available minute. Although some numbers require more time than others, most directors generally like to have at least four to six weeks for each new number. This means that each rehearsal should include numbers in three stages of development: the introductory stage, the learning stage and the perfecting stage.
The matter of introducing or, better yet, selling new music to a choir is always an interesting challenge to any director. With many people, the old songs are always the best songs, and often there is a great deal of inertia that must be overcome with any worth-while new song. Is there a director who has never experienced the letdown that follows when after singing through a fine new song for the first time, some dear member caustically remarks, “Oh, I don’t like that”? This attitude on the part of even one person can often become contagious with the entire group.
Directors have various ways of introducing new music to a choir. One of the newer methods is that of using a professional recording when this is possible. It should be cautioned, however, that never should a choir strive to be mere imitators of the recording Some directors like to talk about the number and point out in advance some of the musical and textual highlights. Again, it should be cautioned with this method that it is possible for a director to talk so much that the choir members soon are lost in a maze of details. Many directors prefer to get into the song quickly and merely have the choir listen and follow while the song is played by the accompanist. In the final analysis, whatever is said or done or regardless of what method a director uses to introduce a song, the members must catch something of the same interest and enthusiasm that a director himself has for that number. If a director does not feel that kind of interest for a new number, he has no right to expect his members to respond differently.
After the song has been introduced and sung several times in its entirety so that the members have gained an overall impression of the number, the director must begin a more concentrated effort on the individual problems within the song itself. In this stage of development the song is seldom sung in its entirety; rather, each of the various problems is worked out in slow motion tempo. A director should be able to foresee in advance these troublesome spots in a new number and give these places the most emphasis and drill. Typical problem places where average singers will make mistakes include:
1. Difficult melodic intervals–i.e. jumps of Augmented &as, 4ths, etc.
2. Abrupt changes in melodic and rhythmic patterns.
3. Altered chords and chords of 7ths and 9ths.
4. Chromatic melodic passages.
5. Changes in mode–major to minor, etc.
6. Changes in key or modulations.
7. High tessituras.
The third and last stage of development is the perfecting stage. Generally such work is done on the songs that will be used on the following Sunday. After the number has been introduced and sung in its entirety, after the various details such as right notes, rhythms, entrances, intonation problems, etc., have been carefully worked out, there comes the final stage of putting everything together as it actually should be performed. Here must be re-emphasized the emotional understanding of the text, the interpretative possibilities of the song–phrasings, inflections, nuances, diction, etc.
For every rehearsal a director must keep in mind that a change of pace is mandatory. Voices must be eased; minds, nerves, emotions relaxed. This can be done by changes of activity, by contrasts in styles and moods of songs sung, by time-outs for discussing future plans and organizational business, as well as time-outs for just plain fun and fellowship.
Many of the mere mechanics of a rehearsal often are time consuming. For example, the transition from one number to the next can be a time for dissipating conversation while the slower members find new music. The services of a good librarian are needed in this regard to insure that all music is passed out or in the folders before the rehearsal begins. It is also helpful if the director writes on a blackboard the order of the numbers to be rehearsed. It is important that the accompanist can play all new music accurately and confidently. This means that a director should make every effort to give the accompanist new music at least one week in advance of the actual rehearsal. This not only saves time for the entire group but also spares the accompanist much personal embarrassment.
For a rehearsal, most directors prefer the use of a piano rather than the organ because of the piano’s greater percussiveness. It is also felt that it is better to practice in a smaller room than in the church chancel, especially where the seats can be arranged in such d ‘ parts can hear each other more readily. Occasionally it is wise for a director to use a tape recorder during a rehearsal so that choir members can hear for themselves such items as diction, blend, tone quality, attacks and releases. Directors often disagree on the matter of the place and importance of formal vocal drills and exercises in rehearsals. This entire problem of group drill will to a large extent be governed by the seriousness of the group itself. For an amateurish group, formal drill should be kept to a minimum. However, for a group more desirous of improvement, much more time can be spent in gaining finer tone quality, precision and control. Many directors like to use the Sunday hymns, responses, or familiar songs as a way of “warming up” the voices and for emphasizing the basic vocal concepts such as vowel consciousness, open throats and body support. Further, formal drill and the teaching of vocal concepts need not be limited to the early part of the rehearsal. A director should be able to improvise easy exercises to correct particular problems whenever the need arises within a song itself.
There is also the matter of the actual order or arrangement of a rehearsal, especially with regard to utilizing the singers when their voices are at their best and their minds the most alert. Some directors like to work on new numbers during the early part of a rehearsal; others like to use this time for perfecting numbers, still others feel that this is the ideal time for working out particular problems. With experience, however, a director should be able to realize when a group is the most productive and concentrate during that time on whatever needs the greatest emphasis. With any plan, though, a director should never allow his rehearsals to become stereotyped.
A sample rehearsal could be planned as follows:
1. A brief devotional time–Scripture reading, prayer, generally by the choir’s president.
2. A time of warm-up–vocal drills, work on the hymns, responses, familiar songs, etc. An emphasis on vocal concepts, blend, sensitive listening. An instruction in some phase of basic harmony.
3. Sing through and perfect this Sunday’s numbers for final performance.
4. Introduce and read through several new numbers for future use, although some of these numbers might be thought of 1215 merely sight singing practice.
5. Intensive practice on just the spots that have various musical problems from the music that was introduced in previous weeks. 5-10 minutes:
6. Break–announcements, discussion of future plans, organizational details, etc.
7. Sing through Sunday’s numbers again from the choir loft. This provides the director with a good opportunity to listen to the choir from various parts of the auditorium in order to check the balance between the choir and accompanist, etc.
8. Closing devotions followed by periodic social times.
Several miscellaneous suggestions regarding rehearsals are listed briefly as follows:
Listed briefly as follows:
1. Thoroughly “think through” and plan each rehearsal in advance. Keep things moving and interesting during the rehearsal. However, members must have a sense of accomplishment when finished Keep a record of all rehearsals. After each rehearsal analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the rehearsal.
2. Always have more to do than it seems it is possible to accomplish. A major project is always stimulating–cantatas, special programs, preparing a record, etc.
3. Be able to have fun with the choir. However, don’t strive to be a “funny person.” Let the humor be spontaneous. Be patient with mistakes. It is always better to make a joke of the mistake rather than to scold, become sarcastic, or to embarrass anyone. Keep in mind that these singers are amateurs–singing primarily because they wish to serve God and to enjoy the pleasure of singing. Don’t destroy these desires!
4. Be generous with the compliments, yet at the same time keep higher goals for the choir to attain.
5. Be considerate and thoughtful of the accompanist. Acknowledge her contribution often before the entire group as well as privately.
6. Be sure that your rehearsal room is well ventilated and well lighted.
7. Be conscious of sparing the voices whenever possible. For example, high passages for tenors and sopranos can often be worked out in drill an octave lower, etc.
8. Practice in such a way that the inner parts are close to each other and the outer parts close to each other as well.
9. When practicing larger works such as cantatas it is wise to do some of your practicing from the last number to the first rather than always starting from the beginning. This insures confidence for the ending or the climax of the work rather than having confidence only for a good start.
10. End the rehearsal on a “high note”–have the members go home feeling good.
G. Matters of Performance. After the director has prepared the choir musically as thoroughly as possible, there still remain certain details of conduct to be learned by the choir for the actual performance itself. Not only should the various mechanics of performance be taught and discussed in the rehearsal, but a director should strive to have approximately fifteen minutes before the Sunday service to take care of a number of last minute details. After the choir members have been robed and assembled, the director or the choir president should give final instructions regarding seating arrangements, the order of the service, etc. This pre-service assembling should also provide enough time for a sufficient warm-up as well as a brief review of the numbers to be performed. However, if the numbers are not well enough learned by Sunday, too much intensive practice and cramming will generally tend to make the choir tense for the service. It should also be customary for the pastor, board member, choir president, or director to lead in brief devotions before going into the service.
The goal of all choral performance should always be that of inspiring an audience with some truth of the gospel message. Many church choirs perform with adequate technical facility but leave little spiritual impression upon their listeners. Choirs of this type actually appear apologetic about having an audience listen to their songs. Individual choir members appear visibly surprised when an audience does show a favorable response to a number. Few members show with their faces any of the spirit and mood of the song hey are singing. Even the spontaneity and aggressiveness that as theirs at the rehearsals is now completely lacking. Somehow d in some way each director must find a way of instilling individual leadership in each member. The choir must be constantly challenged with an intense desire to communicate the message of each song to every listener.
Other basic concepts regarding performance that a director must try to impress upon each member are listed briefly as follows:
1. Keep your attention concentrated on the director at all times. Don’t let your eyes wander around the audience. Don’t get into the habit of simply staring into the music when it really isn’t necessary.
2. Hold your music at eye level so that you may easily observe and reflect the director’s facial and hand movements.
3. Be continually thinking ahead so that attacks, releases, special effects and climaxes do not catch you unaware.
4. Maintain your poise and keep going no matter what happens. Forget past mistakes. Make up in the new phrase what you have missed in the previous phrase. Remember, even though you have made a mistake or you hear the mistakes of others, the general effect may still be pleasing and the mistake unnoticed by the average listener.
5. Be natural and friendly with the audience, yet keep a poise and dignity in such matters as rising, sitting, conspicuous clothing or accessories, personal conversations, undue coughing or clearing of throats especially before or after a number, or any action that might attract attention to you rather than to your ministry.
6. Stay within the character of the song even when not singing-during the introduction, interludes, postludes, rests, solo parts, etc. During these times center your attention on the director, not on your music or on the audience. Breathe deeply during these times, look relaxed and poised, and be anticipating the next entrance.
7. Guard your voice carefully. Do all that is possible to keep it in the best condition at all times. Refrain from excessive yelling or straining, drafts, undue physical fatigue, or heavy eating just before singing.
II. GROUP MUSICIANSHIP
In addition to the above mentioned administrative problems that confront church choir directors, there remain the more technical musical problems that must be dealt with in developing group musicianship. These include the following: Lack of sight reading ability; lack of confident singing; poor intonation; poor blend; poor diction; lack of proper balance; ineffective interpretation.
It is good for a director to know in advance something about these musical problems that he is certain to find with any amateur group, and to have definite procedures in mind for lessening and resolving such problems. There are, however, certain general principles to follow for working out any of these musical problems.
One of the first of these principles is that of simplifying the problem to its lowest common denominator. For example, if the problem for a certain passage is a rhythmic one, the director should find ways of working on this problem without employing other factors such as words or pitches. Another important principle is that of repetition–making sure that the new habit or pattern is sufficiently impressed upon the mind to insure its permanency. It should be mentioned, though, that each repetition is always done with a purpose. The choir should always be aware of why they are repeating each time they are asked to do so. It should also be mentioned that in the initial stages of working out a problem, all such drill should be done in slow motion tempo with each repetition gradually getting the problem developed to its normal tempo.
A third principle that a director should keep in mind when working out various musical problems with a choir is that of giving variety to all drill. This may be achieved by varying the tempo, the dynamics, or by varying the group working on the problem. For example, if the men have been working on a rhythmic problem, let the women try that same problem while the men listen, etc. Perhaps for the next repetition the words could be used rather than just a neutral syllable, with finally all the voice parts being added. To keep the whole choir studying and to provide harmonic background, it often is good to allow one or two parts to drill while the other parts hum. No matter what method a director uses to gain variety in his drill work, he must constantly guard against disinterest and mental fatigue. Continuous repetition without any variety will soon result in boredom, which in turn leads | to a point of diminishing returns for further development.
A. Lack of Sight Reading Ability. A musical problem common to most volunteer choirs is the lack of individuals who can read music with adequate facility. However, this musical deficiency should never create a hopeless situation. Choral music can be taught and learned by mere imitation and rote if the director will use suitable songs and approach the group in a helpful, patient manner. Further, directors must have confidence in the fact that individuals will acquire adequate skill naturally as they gain musical experience; and more formal sight singing techniques can be taught the average singer by a qualified director.
There are several basic concepts regarding sight-reading that a director should try to develop with his singers. Of utmost importance is the fact that amateur singers need confidence. They need to be encouraged and made to realize that the ability to read I music is natural and normal for anyone. It is not some mysterious talent, nor is it totally dependent upon a great deal of technical musical knowledge. Directors must also develop the proper attitude for trying new music. Singers should be encouraged to attempt new music with wholeheartedness and confidence even at the expense of gross error. Members should also be encouraged to take advantage of every opportunity to practice and improve their music reading ability. For example, this can be done during congregational singing or while other parts are rehearsing. Singers should also be constantly challenged to force their eyes to read ahead, to see groups of notes as well as only the direction of individual tones. However, in the initial stages of a group’s development, it is far more important that a director stimulate musical interest and desire with the group rather than merely teach formal musical information or conduct repetitive drills. In the final analysis, the best way to begin to sight-read music is simply to be exposed to a great deal of singing.
As a choir develops in its interest, desire and musical experience, a director should begin to teach his singers a more definite technique for reading music. This involves instruction in rhythm and intervals. The technical problem of sight reading is that of learning to coordinate a physical sensation of the rhythmic pulsations and patterns with the eye and ear recognition of the distance (intervals) between tones, so that any new music can be sung quickly and confidently.
The problem of rhythm is not merely having an intellectual understanding of the arithmetical divisions of a measure, although this knowledge is helpful and eventually needful. Foremost, rhythm must be felt physically. This means that each choir member must sense a firm, underlying beat or pulsation to the music. This assumes, then, that a director is capable of maintaining and conducting a steady beat to any song. It is well said that no conductor should attempt any interpretative conducting until he has first learned to maintain a steady rhythmic type of leadership. Directors use various methods for teaching this concept. Some choir leaders like to have each singer tap his foot during the early stages of learning a song. Often directors teach rhythm by having the choir clap the rhythmic patterns while beating the main pulsations with their feet. Other conductors have the choir chant the rhythm patterns, using a neutral sound such as “la,” “ta,” etc.
The teaching of intervals (the exact measurement of distance between any two tones) is part of the total instruction in a basic study of harmony that a director should try to teach his choir once their experience and interest warrant it. In addition to the study of intervals, this basic instruction in harmony should also include a study of chord construction. This involves such knowledge as: All chords are built on the interval of thirds (either major or minor thirds); every chord contains a root, third and fifth; an understanding of such terms as tonic, sub-dominant, dominant, chords with added sevenths, etc. Members should also be made conscious of the note of a chord that their part is singing, especially of thirds, sevenths, and dissonant notes. This is especially needful for the sake of good intonation at cadences. It is also helpful in the matter of finding one’s starting note for a song if members are taught to listen to the tonic note after the introduction and made to realize that their part will invariably be either this tonic note or a third of fifth above or below this tone.
The following is a suggested procedure for teaching a formal sight singing technique:
1. First Stage. Learn songs mainly by imitation and rote–going over the song enough times, practicing individual parts, etc., until the song is learned. Singers are made aware only of the general melodic directions of the music. During this time, the main concern of the director should be to develop interest and confidence in his singers, to create a desire for the singers to improve their individual abilities, and to provide an adequate musical experience for future development. Rhythmically, a director’s main emphasis should be that of getting the singers to feel the basic beat in music.
2. Second Stage. After a proper amount of time in the first stage (this will vary greatly from one group to another), begin teaching the following:
a. Notation–an understanding of the keyboard and its relationship to the staffs and the letter names of notes. Rhythm–the meaning of time signatures, arithmetical values of notes, etc.
b. A concept of half and whole steps. This can be done by first showing the choir the organization of the keyboard. Then, by ear, the singers should develop the ability to move their voices in either direction by these half and whole step movements.
c. A concept of scale building. All major scales are built by half and whole steps. The half steps are between the third and fourth degrees as well as between the seventh and eighth steps of the scale.
d. A concept of singing intervals. The ability to sing from the tonic or first note of a scale to any other degree of the scale. (Keep in mind that the ear must always be trained before the eye.) It is often helpful to use and associate familiar songs that begin with these intervals that singers can remember and use to find the desired interval.
e. A concept of the various names of intervals–Perfects, Majors, Minors, Diminished, Augmented.
f. A concept of recognizing the exact interval between any two tones. Think of the bottom note as the beginning note of a scale. If the top note is in the scale of that note it is either a Perfect or Major Interval, the Perfect Intervals being the eighths, fifths, and fourths. Seconds, Thirds, Sixths, and Sevenths, then, are Major Intervals. If the top note is a half step lower than it would be in a Major Interval, it is a Minor Interval. If the top note is a half step lower than it would be in a Perfect Interval, it is a Diminished Interval. A Diminished Interval can also be a Minor Interval that is further lowered by a half step. When either a Major or Perfect Interval is raised by a half step, it is known as an Augmented Interval.
g. A concept of measuring and singing intervals downward as well as up.
h. A concept of chord construction:
(1) A three tone chord known as a triad is the basic chord of all harmony.
(2) All triads consist of a root, third, and a fifth.
(3) All triads as well as larger chords (4-5 tone chords) are built on the interval of a third.
(4) Triads are given a Roman Numeral according to the degree of the scale upon which they are built. An Example of the Various Chords in the Key of F
(a) Other names by which these chords are known: I or Tonic Chord; II or Super Tonic Chord; III or Mediant Chord; IV or Sub-Dominant Chord; V or Dominant Chord; VI or Sub-Mediant Chord; VII or Leading Tone Chord.
(b) The most commonly used chords in music are the tonic, sub-dominant and dominant.
(c) When an additional interval of a third is added to a basic triad, it is known as a chord with a 7th. For example, in the key of F. a V Chord with the added 7th would be called a V7 Chord or a Dominant 7th Chord, and would consist of the notes, CEGBb. When another interval of a third is added to a chord with a 7th, it would be called a chord with a 9th, etc.
(5) Chords are often designated simply by their individual sound. Example, the above I Chord in the Key of F could simply be called an “F Major Chord”; the above II Chord in the Key of F could simply be called a “G Minor Chord”; the III Chord an “A Minor Chord”; the IV Chord a “Bb Major Chord”; the V Chord a “C Major Chord”; or with the added 7th, a “C7th Chord”; the VI Chord a “D Minor Chord”; the VII Chord an “E Diminished Chord.”
(6) In learning to recognize chord construction, think of the notes as though they were arranged in triad position (built on intervals of thirds). Then try to realize the note of the triad (root, third, fifth, seventh, etc.) as it applies to each part.
(a) In the first I Chord (FAC), the fifth of the chord is in the soprano and alto parts, the third of the chord is in the tenor part, and the root of the chord is in the bass voice.
(b) In the second chord, which is an inversion of a I Chord (FAC), the third of the chord is in the soprano, the root of the chord is in the alto, while the fifth of the chord is in the tenor and bass parts, at the interval of an octave apart.
(c) In the V7 Chord, (CEGBb), the fifth of the chord is in the soprano, the third of the chord is in the alto, the seventh of the chord is in the tenor, and the root of the chord is in the bass.
(d) In the last I Chord, the root of the chord is in the soprano, the fifth of the chord is in the alto, the third of the chord is in the tenor, and the root of the chord is in the bass.
(e) If the above chord progression had been played on the piano or organ as an introduction for a song, after the playing of the last chord, the tonic note F would be the one tone that would be predominantly heard. Upon the establishment of this tone, each member should immediately mentally sing to himself the FAC Chord. Then, to find one’s pitch for the first chord of this progression, the sopranos and altos would simply find the fifth of the chord below the tonic; the tenors would sing up a third from the tonic, while the basses would retain the tonic note. The next problem would be that of trying to retain the tonic sound throughout the entire song or until a new key is established, since all of the notes within a song are closely related to the tonic note.
I use the following syllabus in mimeographed form each year with my senior church choirs. Ideally, there should be a special week of church music emphasis each year when various subjects such as sight singing, song leading, tone quality, and hymnology would be taught all choir members and others especially interested. However, if this does not seem possible, it is still most gratifying to see the great improvement that can be made with a choir even in one year’s time simply by spending a few minutes consistently in each rehearsal on some phase of this subject.
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING ONE’S SIGHT READING ABILITY
I. An understanding of the keyboard.
A. Uses the first seven letters of the alphabet (A through G).
B. The note “A” is always the white note between the 2nd and 3rd black notes in each group of three black notes.
C. Composed of half and whole steps:
1. A half step is from a white note to a black note or vice versa, or from a white note to another white note when there is no black note between the white notes.–Example, between the “b’s” and . “c’s” and between the “e’s” and “f’s.”
2. A whole step is composed of two half steps.
a. Be able to sing a half step up or down from any tone.
b. Be able to sing a whole step up or down from any tone.
II. An understanding of the relationship of the keyboard to the staffs.
III. An understanding of the construction of Major Scales.
A. This is the scale for the key of F since the beginning note of the scale (the tonic note) is the note “F.” Hence, the key of F will always have one flat (b) in the key signature, which will always be on the note “B.”
B. Every Major Scale is composed of eight notes, with the first and eighth notes being the same tone only an octave apart
C. Every Major Scale is composed of whole steps between each note except between the third and fourth notes and between the seventh and eighth notes, which will always have half steps.
D. Every scale must move diatonically. That is:
1. Must make some use of every successive letter. Example–in the scale of F one cannot move from an “A” to an “A#,” but rather it must be notated as an “A” to a “Bb,” etc.
2. Can make only one use of each successive letter of the scale.
1. A Sharp (#) raises a note a half step. A double sharp (x) raises a note a whole step.
2. A Flat (b) lowers a note a half step. A double Flat (bb) lowers a note a whole step.
3. A Natural destroys the effect of either a flat or sharp. IV.
IV. Intervals–the distance between any two notes.
A. A note that would move from F 1 to F8 would be an interval of an eighth or an octave.
B. A note that would move from F to E would be an interval of a seventh. F to D would be an interval of a sixth, F to C a fifth, F to Bb a fourth; F to A a third, F to G a second.
C. Intervals of 8ths, 5ths and 4ths are technically known as Perfect Intervals.
D. Any interval other than a Perfect Interval where the top note is still in the scale of the bottom note is technically known as a Major Interval.
E. When the top note is a half step lower than what the Major Interval would be it is known as a Minor Interval.
F. When the top note is a half step lower than what the Perfect Interval would be it is known as a Diminished Interval. A Diminished Interval can also be when the top note is a half step lower than a Minor Interval.
G. When the top note of either a Major or Perfect Interval is raised by a half step it is known as an Augmented Interval.
H. Helps for hearing and singing these intervals:
1. Major 2nds–just up a whole step.
2. Major 3rds–“My Jesus I Love Thee.”
3. Perfect 4ths–“Stand Up for Jesus.” .
4. Perfect 5ths–the top note of the Tonic Chord–“There Is a Fountain.’
5. Major 6ths–“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”
6 Major 7ths–half step below the octave.
7. Perfect 8ths–octave.
I. Helps for recognizing intervals. Identify and sing each of these intervals:
1. A Major 3rd up from C
2. A Minor 3rd up from C
3. A Perfect 4th up from D
4. Major 6th up from E
5. A Minor 6th up from G
6. Major 7th up from B.
7. A Minor 7th up from Bb
8. A Perfect 5th up from A
9. A Minor 2nd up from F#
10. An Aug. 4th up from Ab
11. An Aug. 5th up from Db
12. A Minor 7th up from C#
13. An Aug. 4th up from F.
14. A Dim. 5th up from C
15. A Dim. 4th up from F
16. An Aug. 6th up from E
17. A Dim. 3rd up from F
18. An Aug. 4th up from C#
19. A Dim. 7th up from C
20. An Aug. 3rd up from E
The Tonic Chord for any key consists of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a scale.
L. Helps for hearing and singing intervals downward:
1. A Minor 2nd down–just a half step down.
2. A Major 2nd down–just a whole step down.
3. A Minor 3rd down–the second tone of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
4. A Major 3rd down-“Cleanse Me, O God.”
5. A Perfect 4th down–The 5th of the Tonic Chord only an octave lower,
6. A Perfect 5th down–the third tone of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
7. A Minor 6th down–the 3rd of the Tonic Chord only an octave lower.
8. A Major 6th down–“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
9. A Minor 7th down–“On a Rugged Hill.”
10. A Major 7th down–a half step from the octave.
11. A Perfect 8th down–octave.
V. A Word of Encouragement. Even though all of this seems involved and complicated to you now, you will be surprised how with a little study and practice all of this can be readily learned so that your ear and eye become correlated to make all of this practical for improving your sight reading ability.
B. Lack of Confident Singing. Another musical problem with which a director must deal is lack of confidence. A non-confident choir can be easily detected by even the most casual listener. It is reflected in the members’ stoic faces, in their listless bodily attitudes, by their lack of contact with the audience, and by their general appearance of timidity. Musically, a non-confident choir will be characterized by the following:
1. Sluggish tempos.
2. Hesitant attacks and releases.
3. Poor diction.
4. Scooping and slurring up and down to tones.
5. Thin tone quality.
6. Lack of contrasts in interpretation–singing everything at the same dynamic level.
7. Lack of attention to the director.
One of the chief tasks for any director to overcome is self-consciousness in the average singer. There are several basic fears that most beginning singers have. They are:
1. The fear of the sound of their own voice.
2. The fear of the congregation.
3. The fear of singing wrong notes.
4. The fear of singing wrong words.
5. The fear of not being accepted by the other more experienced members.
6. The fear of not singing in tune.
7. The fear of singing when they are not supposed to sing.
With volunteer choirs a director’s attitude should always be that wrong notes are never as important as the overall performance, nor is a mistake as important as the self-confidence of the members of the choir. Directors should avoid any gestures that might add to the singer’s fears–scowls of displeasure, flatting or sharping indications, etc.
There are several fundamental concepts that a director must teach his choir regarding looking and sounding more confident. For example, singers should be taught the importance of good posture not only for better tone production but also for good appearance as well. They should be taught to stand with the weight of the body on the forward part of the feet, with the arms slightly out from the body thus reflecting the buoyancy of their posture.
They should also be taught to hold their music with uniformity at eye level so that they may easily observe and reflect the director’s facial and hand movements. The ability to project sincerely the spirit and mood of a song with the eyes and facial expressions can come, however, only as members are completely aware of and impressed with the meaning and mood of a song. In the final analysis, then, it can be said that basically a choir’s personality is merely a reflection of its director’s personality and leadership.
Choir members must constantly be challenged regarding aggressiveness in their attacks. There often is the tendency to wait for someone else to begin, with the result that many church choirs usually get started with a full tone on about the third beat of each phrase. There are several possible explanations for such poor attacks. It may be that the director is not giving a sufficiently clear preparatory or breathing motion. It may be that the director has not commanded the complete eye attention of the group before starting; or the director may never have taught the choir the importance of knowing the first few notes and words of each new phrase sufficiently well so that they don’t give in to the natural tendency of looking into their music just as they are about to sing.
Directors should teach their members that good attacks are basically the result of proper physical and mental preparation just prior to the actual singing. This, then, involves the following:
1. Hearing the pitch mentally.
2. Preparing one’s bodily support.
3. Preparing one’s jaw and tongue positions for the vowel sound to follow.
If this preparation begins after the tone begins, poor attacks are inevitable. Technically speaking, good attacks are the result of what many vocal teachers call the “shock of the glottis.” This merely means that at the moment of the air passing through the larynx to make a sound by means of the vocal cords, these cords are firmly stretched at just the right tension and the note struck is exactly the pitch required without any pitch adjustment being necessary. This then involves the problem of synchronizing two factors–breath and vocal cords.
When releasing a tone, members should be taught that there should be a feeling that the jaw is maintained in a relaxed position throughout the duration of the tone while the necessary tongue action and bodily support coordinate to accomplish the final cut-off.
This keeps the throat open and the cut-off free from any harsh “barking” sounds. The higher the pitch of the note to be released, the greater the problem of achieving this type of smooth cut-off, necessitating ever greater use of one’s bodily support.
The problem of scooping and slurring from one tone to another usually can be attributed to the following lazy vocal habits: spending too much time on initial and final consonants rather than getting into each new vowel quickly, and not maintaining proper bodily support so that each vowel sound is held with intensity for its complete duration. In addition to making people vowel conscious, one of the best ways of overcoming this problem is to practice singing each note with a slight staccato attack.
Since truly effective interpretation for most amateur singers generally seems overly exaggerted, audiences usually must condition themselves to sluggish, uninspiring choral singing. This problem no doubt accounts for the fact that programs entirely choral are not usually well attended and do not have the inspirational appeal that they should have. Directors, then, must teach their members that effective interpretation can not be based on what may seem right or normal while they are in the process of singing.
Effective choral singing must have marked contrasts in tempos and dynamics as well as real rhythmic vitality if it is to have audience appeal. Members must be taught the importance of such concepts that every word within a phrase does not receive equal importance, but rather the unimportant words must give motion and lead to the important words. They must also be taught that even every syllable of a word is not sung with equal importance. This implies a realization that syllables of words are sung in the same proportion of stress that the syllables have when properly spoken and that in vocal music the treatment of words takes precedence over the treatment of the music. For example:
Fa – ther; com – pas – sion; be gin
All these suggestions can be summarized by saying simply that the mind as well as the voice must remain alert throughout the entire song if the song is to be meaningful and worthy of an audience’s attention.
C. Poor Intonation. The inability to sing exactly on pitch or in tune is another musical problem common to most singers. The answer to this problem is basically that of developing a proper technique for tone production and that of listening sensitively to each tone sung so that necessary adjustments are made quickly.
Proper vocal technique for tone production, whether for choir or solo singing, is dependent upon three main factors:
1. A relaxed lower jaw, which in turn produces a firm, open throat.
2. A relaxed, arched, forward tongue, which in turn gives high arched resonance and forwardness to a tone.
3. A feeling of good bodily support, which in turn gives steadiness to a tone.
If any of these factors is lacking, intonation problems will result. For example, if the jaw is tight and the throat restricted, this will cause a squeezed, harsh tone which is likely to sound sharp. If the tongue position is poor, the tone will likely sound breathy, throaty and flat. If the bodily support is lacking, the tone is likely to be thin or “white,” unsteady, with an over-abundance of vibrato which in turn produces a tremolo or indefinite pitch.
With respect to the importance of bodily support or the use of good breathing habits, singers must be taught and impressed with the fact that this type of breathing is nothing more than the development of their most natural breathing. This can be pointed out by drawing their attention to the deep body breathing of an infant lying on its back. This process of simply relaxing and enlarging the entire intercostal muscle area around the ribs, lower chest and abdomen is often compared by some directors to the playing of an accordion. As the body is filled with new air there must be an expansiveness in the body to make room for that air. As the air is used there will be contraction in that same area. Singers must be taught always to take more breath than is needed each time they breathe, with a feeling that this breath originates in the stomach rather than in the chest. The control and use of that breath is accomplished with a feeling of a steady pull in and up from the upper stomach or the area between the cavity of the chest and the abdomen, technically known as the diaphragm. With volunteer choirs, however, it is better to approach the entire matter of breathing in a natural way rather than in a more formal or abstract manner. More can be accomplished simply by talking in terms of “lift,” “pull,” “support” than in more technical terms or by the use of various exercises for making the stomach region protrude or the diaphragmatic muscle move quickly. Basically, whether sitting or standing, adequate breathing and support will be achieved by amateur singers simply by having them maintain a buoyant posture and by having them keep a raised chest (yet free of tenseness).
Another basic vocal concept that has a definite effect on in tonation is an understanding of the difference between closed and open vowel sounds. The main closed vowels are oo and ee. All other vowel sounds are open. Except for soprano voices, all voices in their upper registers should sing with more of the oo or ee resonance while in the lower registers there should be more of the Ah and O resonance. The soprano high tones should naturally take on more of the Ah resonance, without, however, sounding harsh or “bratty.” In the high register the sopranos should not let the articulation of consonants interfere with this Ah resonance. Tenors often are the cause of much poor intonation when singing high, simply by singing their tones with an open or chest tone quality rather than with a closed or head tone quality.
There are other factors, too, that can contribute to poor intonation. It may be that certain singers are trying for too big a quality, thus losing the control and focus of their tones. Again, this is especially true in the upper registers of voices. Some directors work on this upper register problem merely by having singers imitate their own examples of proper and improper tone quality.
Others teach the natural change in vowel color as voices move up and down. For example, in the upper registers, the “A” vowels tend to sound like the “ee’s”; the “Ah” sounds more like an “Uh”; the “O” more like the “oo.” Some vocal teachers speak of this upper register quality as the “covered voice,” while others approach it by first developing a head-falsetto tone quality and then gradually amalgamating the lower register with this head resonance until a full resonant quality is developed throughout the entire voice.
A director may find it necessary to experiment with the various acoustical properties in a room or auditorium in order to improve a choir’s intonation. Such items as draperies, the relationship of the choir to the accompanist, the size of the audience, all have a great deal to do with this problem. Poorly ventilated rooms can also affect intonation. Often poor intonation is caused simply by the lack of mental interest or proper stimulation for a certain number, which will result in flatting, while over-excitement or extreme nervousness may result in sharping.
There are several ways in which a director can encourage keener listening habits and in so doing achieve better intonation from his choir. Basic is the necessity of practicing a great deal unaccompanied. Another good rehearsal technique is that of singing a rather sustained number slowly, holding the chord on each beat until every individual makes the necessary vocal and ear adjustments for exact pitch.
A director should continually be aware of the voice part that has the third of the chord, especially when that chord is the last chord of a phrase. This voice part must be perfectly on pitch; otherwise, the entire chord will be out of tune. Also, it should be noted that the seventh of any chord, because of our system of keyboard tuning, will generally cause intonation problems as well. Many choral directors suggest the following formula based on the “mean tone” system of tuning: “Sharp the third and seventh degrees of the scale as well as to a slight degree the sixth degree of the scale. Flat slightly the fourth degree of the scale.” Chromatic passages, too, are difficult for many singers to sing on pitch, as tile natural tendency is to move more than a half step at a time. Repeated tones involving vowel changes are also likely to cause intonation problems, especially in the upper ranges. Often a director may find that intonation problems for particular songs can be eliminated simply by raising or lowering the key a half step, or by practicing the song in a slightly higher key than the one in which it will be performed.
D. Poor Blend. The problem of blend is closely related to that of intonation, since it too is basically a matter of training the choir in tone consciousness and in attentive listening habits.
Choir members must be impressed with the fact that a good tone has the following characteristics:
1. A quality of roundness, richness and pleasantness rather than one of flatness and harshness.
2. A feeling of flow, flexibility and ease rather than a sense of strain.
3. A steady, unwavering quality rather than one with a “wobble.”
4. A forward, projected quality rather than one that is throaty and breathy.
5. A quality of clearness and naturalness rather than one of distortion or affectation.
6. The quality of correct pitch–good intonation.
7. A sensitive, expressive quality–one that reflects the emotional meanings of individual words.
Achieving the fine balance between a spirit of enthusiasm and spontaneity and a controlled group tone is always a challenging problem for any director. Often the axiom is given by directors to their singers that if they hear only their own voice they are singing too loudly. If they can’t hear themselves at all, they aren’t singing loudly enough.
Although vocal production is basically the same for either solo or choral singing, and though it is generally agreed that proper vibrato and individual distinctiveness can be retained in choral singing, yet it is also true that each choir member must learn to color his voice in such a way that it will blend with the voices he hears around him. This does not mean, however, that a voice should be darkened to the extent that it sounds hooty, hollow, or lifeless. It simply means that good blend is not dependent upon hearing individual voices, beautiful though they may be; rather, it is dependent upon the convergence of all voices into one total group sound.
There are several important factors that specifically contribute to poor blend. These are as follows:
1. Lack of desire to produce a beautiful tone.
2. Problems of intonation as previously discussed.
3. Predominance of individual voices.
4. Faulty diction.
5. Lack of rhythmic precision.
6. Failure to listen to the other voice parts.
7. Uncontrolled vibratos resulting in a tremolo or a “wobble.”
A vibrato is natural and normal with correct tone production. A voice freely produced will of necessity have a vibrato of four to six vibrations per second. Faulty vocal production such as lack of breath support, throat restrictions, or throat muscles that do not have enough firmness will result in either a tremolo or a “wobble.” A tremolo will have eight or more vibrations per second while the “wobble” will have four or less vibrations per second. To correct these forms of faulty vibrato, work especially on the oo and Ah vowels, singing these sounds with as straight a tone quality as possible. This requires a sensation of actually over-breathing or using more breath than is necessary to produce the tone.
There are several techniques that directors use to improve a choir’s blend. Unaccompanied singing, of course, is basic. Also, it can be helpful during the rehearsal if the seats are arranged in such a way that members are able to hear other parts as well as just their own. When two voice parts have a close harmonic relationship, it is good to let these parts sing duets in slow motion with each other in order to get more awareness of the other part. The use of a good tape recorder can also be beneficial in this regard. Humming, “ooing,” singing a song on only one vowel sound at a time, unison singing, and singing in groups of quartets are other methods for developing ensemble and blend consciousness.
E. Poor Diction. “I enjoyed the choir but I could hardly understand a word they sang.” This typical response is a common experience for most church choir directors, and, unfortunately, it is usually deserved. It is difficult for amateur singers to realize the difficulty listeners have in catching and understanding what is being sung. Choir members must be made to realize that not only is good tone closely related to good diction, but there must be a certain amount of exaggeration in choral diction, more than that used in normal conversation, if the words of a song are to be understood.
Basically, the problem of good diction can be generalized for volunteer singers with two fundamental concepts: (1) a complete textual, emotional and musical understanding of the song with an intense desire to communicate that message to the listeners; (2) achieving rhythmic precision of the words.
In a more technical sense, choirs with more musical maturity should be taught that good diction is dependent upon: (1) correctness of the main vowel sound of each syllable for each word; (2) proper stress of the initial, internal and final consonants; (3) or, in some words, the right use of diphthong vowel sounds.
Since vowels give body and tone quality to words, it is vitally important that members be taught that every syllable of every word is composed of one of the following vowel sounds:
The Five Main Vowel Sounds
1. a (may)
2. ee (me)
3. ah (lot)
4. o (know)
5. oo (too)
Variations of the Main Vowel Sounds
1. ih (sit)
2. eh (set)
3. aeh (sat)
4. ueh (turn)
5. aw (God)
6. uh (used especially when there is an “r” sound in a word)
7. ooh (full)
Since consonants are necessary to give clarity to words, it is important to instruct choir members about these sounds as well. Consonants are classified in various ways. There are the explosives, so called because the current of air is completely stopped and then suddenly released. These explosives are further divided according to the place of stoppage of the air. They are:
Labials—p and b
Dentals–t and d
Palatals–ch and j
Gutturals–k and g (hard)
When the breath stream is only partly blocked, the consonants are called continuants. These are: 1, r, m, n, ng, th, f, v, s, z, y, and ski. Continuants may be lengthened or sounded continuously, as the word implies, in contrast to the explosives, which are uttered quickly. Other classifications of consonants are as follows:
Bi-labial–consonants articulated by the two lips–p,b,m
Labio-dental–consonants formed by the lower lip against the upper teeth–f,v
Dental–consonants produced by the tip of the tongue against the teeth or the teeth ridge–t,d,n,th
Sibilant–consonants accompanied by a hissing sound–s,c,sh,ch,j
The two main organs for articulating consonants, then, are the tongue and the lips. Good diction techniques require training in the independent control of these organs. This independent control is necessary so that the movement of these organs does not interfere with the relaxed down jaw, which is always needed in order to maintain an open throat and full tone quality. Never should singers be allowed to “chew” their words in order to achieve diction.
In developing diction consciousness, it is good for a director occasionally to study a portion of a song with the choir and to point out the vowel and consonant sounds of each word or each syllable of each word that everyone should be singing.
It is a helpful technique when working on diction simply to have the choir speak the words of a song with exaggerated articulation. In order to impress upon choir members the need for good tongue and lip action, some directors like to use various tongue twisters. Such expressions as: “tip of the tongue,” “church chaps chants cheerfully,” “the teeth and the lips,” “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” etc. Another good diction technique is that of having singers say the words with an intense whisper.
There are several basic concepts regarding good diction that choir members should be taught. These are listed briefly as follows:
1. Prolong the main vowel sound as long as possible. At the last possible moment add the final consonant just before the next initial consonant is about to be sung.
2. Change from one vowel sound to another easily, keeping as much smoothness, intensity and uniform quality of tone as possible.
3. When there is an extended passage of rapid notes on the same vowel, add a slight “h” sound (aspirate) before each note to make for added clarity.
4. Be careful not to get a thin “twangy” tone quality in words that have the “r” sound–such words as “father,” “earth,” “world,” etc. Rather, use the “uh” vowel sound, prolonging this vowel as long as possible before the final “r” is added by a final quick action of the tip of the tongue.
5. A diphthong is a union of two vowels forming a compound sound. It starts with one vowel and ends with another vowel sound. Treat the weaker part of the diphthong as a consonant by getting over it quickly, but sustain the main part of the sound.
Examples of Diphthongs
1. ee-u (you or tune)
2. ah-go (how)
3. ah-Be (my)
4. a-ee (pray)
5. aw-ee (oil)
6. When the explosive consonants come at the end of a word which is the last word of a phrase, articulate with exaggerated emphasis. When these consonants appear in words within a phrase, articulate with enough emphasis to make the word clear, yet do not destroy the smoothness and flow between the vowel sounds.
7. When consonants appear in the middle of a word, they should be allotted to the succeeding vowel sound in order to achieve greater smoothness. Example–“taken” is not sung as “tale-en” but rather “ta-ken.”
8. When “n” and “m” consonants appear at the beginning of a word, such as “my,” or within a word, “sinner,” or at the end of a word, “mine,” intensify and prolong these consonants slightly to make for added smoothness and glide between the words or between the vowel sounds within the word.
9. When a word ending with a consonant is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, as in the words “night is,” the final consonant of the first word should be treated as the beginning consonant of the second word. Example– “nightiz.”
10. Words with two inner identical consonants should be treated as though there were only one. Example–“suffer” should be sung “suh-fuh . . r.”
11. In such words as “listen,” and “often,” the “t” is silent.
12. Sing “thee” when the word “the” appears before a vowel or silent “h” sound. Sing “thuh” when it appears before a consonant.
13. Be careful not to emphasize the sibilant sounds as these make for exaggerated hissing sounds. Especially when holding a tone that ends with one of these consonants, guard against anticipating in the slightest these sounds.
14. Sing each initial consonant quickly. Don’t slide up to the vowel. Try to sing the consonant on the same level as the vowel sound, or, if anything, have a feeling that the vowel sound is approached from the top,
A word of caution should be given about the possibility of an undue exaggeration of diction. Although this is certainly not the common fault with the average volunteer choir, yet there are directors who have made their choirs so conscious of this problem that their diction techniques become obvious to the listener. This style of singing is either showy or pedantic. Singers trained under this type of leadership usually try so hard to have good diction that their facial expressions take on unusual contortions. It must be emphasized that diction is never an end in itself but rather a mere tool for the purpose of conveying the sincere message and mood of the song to the listeners. With the exception of special effects, the basic principle of all music is always that of achieving a tone quality that has smoothness and flow between each of the sounds. In piano music this is known as the “legato touch.” Instrumentalists speak of this principle as the “slur or phrase,” while in singing this is known as developing a “line” to the voice. Since the idea of diction implies exactness of each individual sound, one can readily see that it is possible to achieve clear individual sounds and yet be lacking in the necessary smoothness or flow required of good singing. In other words, singers must have a horizontal concept of the words as well as a mere vertical concept. This “line” or flowing quality is achieved basically by developing the full resonance for each vowel sound and allowing this resonance to glide the voice from one sound to the next. This glide is also assisted by a slight intensifying of the continuant consonants when they occur, especially the l,r,m,n,ng,v, and z sounds.
F. Lack of Proper Balance. In working with a volunteer church choir, one soon realizes that there seldom is an ideal balance of voices. Theoretically, the proportion of women’s voices should be about five sopranos to three altos with the same proportion of basses to tenors. A choir of thirty, then, would have ten sopranos, six altos, nine basses, and five tenors. To be practical, however, a director must learn to work with the voices at hand and gradually strive for the “ideal” balance.
Generally most church choirs will have an over-abundance of second sopranos, first altos and baritones, a shortage of low altos and basses, and an acute shortage of first sopranos and tenors. One of the basic answers when working with a volunteer choir where the balance of voices is out of proportion is to choose music that is suited to that particular group. This may mean that in the early stages of a new choir a director may have to content himself for some time with SAB music until such time as enough real tenors and basses are found or developed.
It is often true that many so-called baritones and second sopranos may possess far greater range potential than realized and with a little encouragement and vocal help can be developed into acceptable tenors, basses and altos. The problem of lack of first tenors is often solved by using a few low altos on this part. Although this will not give the same brilliance as the real tenor quality, nevertheless it does provide balance, and satisfactory results can be achieved this way. It should be cautioned, however, that most voice teachers are concerned about the effect this practice can have upon the altos’ voices if they are kept on this part too long. These girls will fail to develop any upper register quality in their individual voices and hence will have unusually limited voice ranges.
Another answer to this problem of balance might be found in rearranging the seating plan of the choir. Generally, choirs sit with the sopranos and altos in the front sections of the choir loft with the men in the rear. Most directors place the tenors behind the sopranos with the basses behind the altos. Some directors prefer the basses behind the sopranos and the altos in front of the tenors in order to have the outer and inner voice parts close to each other. However, any seating plan must be governed by results. If any voice part is especially weak, the director can change the conventional seating plans and place the weaker part nearer the front. For example, if the men are over-balanced by the women, this problem can be solved by placing them in the front row with the women in the rear of the loft.
The final adjustments, however, for achieving a fine balance of parts in the choir are in the hands of the director. He must be keenly sensitive to chords and balanced progressions, of quick adaptability in bringing out important voice parts and lines, and able to push back those of less importance. This ability requires a thorough musical and textual grasp of each song a director conducts.
G. Ineffective Interpretation. One of the most common practices of volunteer choirs is that of singing a song without effective interpretation. It is possible to develop fine tonal quality, musical exactness, correct diction, good dynamic levels, and yet lack the intangible quality of conviction in the singing.
Well-intended musical effects are often performed merely in a mechanical manner. Choir members have been instructed simply to mark their music and to sing certain portions of a song loud, soft, fast, slow, etc., without ever having a real understanding of the emotional purposes of such interpretations. If the interpretation of any sacred song is to make a spiritual impact upon an audience (and if it doesn’t, the choir might just as well not sing), a director must in some way instill in each member the same understanding and emotional grasp that he has himself. It is good for a director to ask himself as well as the choir such questions as these about each song to be performed: “What is the over-all character and mood of this song?”; “What did these words mean to the author?”; “Whom are we supposed to be representing as the singers?”; “What effect should the message of this song have upon the listeners?” After the members have grasped this type of emotional concept of the song they are to sing, they must then be challenged to let themselves get completely into the mood of the song, despite any feelings of exaggeration and self-consciousness.
A good rehearsal technique in this matter of getting people to think of the emotional meaning of a song as well as to sing that song with musical correctness is to rehearse occasionally in opposites. For example, rehearse loud passages softly, soft passages loudly; fast passages slowly, slow passages in fast tempo; diminuendo passages with a crescendo, crescendo passages with a diminu, endo; ritard passages with an accelerando, accelerando passages with a ritard, etc. The purpose of this procedure is to impress upon the singers the need for right interpretation by showing them the ridiculousness of singing words that naturally call for a certain interpretative treatment in an opposite manner. There are several other basic concepts regarding meaningful interpretation about which choir members should be informed. These are listed briefly as follows:
1. Be able to express in your own words the meaning and emotional connotations of all of the individual words in the song.
2. Be aware of the possibilities of contrasts between words, phrases or verses of a song. Make these contrasts apparent and meaningful.
3. Make repeated words or phrases intensify and emphasize the thought by use of contrasts–making the repetition louder, softer, faster, slower, more emphatic, etc., but never letting repetition result in monotony.
4. Connect the thoughts between words, phrases, and verses when there is a relationship.
5. Be aware of a phrase with a series of descriptive words or thoughts, making sure that each word or thought within the series adds to the total meaning of that phrase.
6. Give sensitive expressiveness to individual words that have particular color and meaning.
7. Be aware of the question-answer relationships found in many songs.
8. Make quotations apparent when they occur.
9. Anticipate the climaxes in a song and be ready to them inspiring when they occur.
10. Don’t let loud or fast passages become uncontrolled in tone quality or in steadiness of rhythm. Don’t let soft passages become slow and lifeless. Loud singing does not necessarily mean fast singing; nor does soft singing necessarily mean slow singing. Soft singing actually requires more emphasis on bodily support, diction, intonation, etc., than does loud singing.
There are several general considerations that should be noted for the director himself. Basic, of course, is the re-emphasis of the truth that for any song a director conducts he must spend a great deal of study in grasping the musical and emotional possibilities of that song. He should devise his own methods for studying and marking his music so that when performing the song he can tell at a glance the highlights he wishes to convey. However, all of his interpretation should still be governed within the framework of style, traditions and good taste for that particular number. A conductor should never strive to be individualistic just for the sake of being different. This does not make for true sincerity in his conducting. Tempos must be set by the stylistic demands of the text and music, yet suited to the abilities of a particular group. Even the tone quality desired by a conductor will vary from song to song depending upon the style or mood of that song. For example, music of certain periods, such as the early polyphonic music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, would demand an entirely different tone quality from a dramatic number of the nineteenth century. In the former type of numbers the tone quality should be straight and childlike, as free of vibrato as possible. In the latter, the tone quality should be much more intense. A director should be able to hear mentally from his choir the tone quality that will best interpret the number to be performed.
It should also be cautioned that it is possible for a director to over-interpret any song. To avoid this danger a conductor must have an over-all man of interpretation for a song and relate the individual areas of interpretation to the total effect desired. This is generally known as “progressive interpretation.” It means that a conductor does not do much rubato conducting in the early stages of a song but rather saves any marked changes in tempo or dynamics for the later stages of the number.
The suggestions offered in this chapter can be had in outline form in the booklet written and published by Kregels entitled Pocket Guide for the Church Choir Member. This booklet can serve as a helpful study for new choir members with limited musical background, as a handy reference for the more experienced members, or as an aid for the director who desires to teach the fundamentals of musical knowledge to his choir. The topics covered are classified under the following headings:
I. Spiritual Concepts for a Church Choir Member
II. Basic Music Review
III. Suggestions for Improving One’s Ability to Read Music
IV. Vocal Helps
VI. Physical Sensations Involved in Singing
VII. Principles of Interpretation
VIII. Watching the Director
IX. Performance Suggestions
X. Organizational Reminders
A Glossary of 100 Musical Terms and Expressions
Another of the all-important areas for a church music director is that of knowing a great deal of worthy sacred music for his choir to sing. Many churches take the easy way out and simply subscribe to a commercial program whereby a publisher supplies them with a new number for each service. Some choirs get into a rut of singing the same music year after year. Either of these procedures is usually uninspiring for both choir member and listener. A director must be willing to pay the price of spending many hours going through publishers’ catalogues, examining new music, attending choral programs and workshops, talking to other choir directors to find the comparatively few numbers that are “just right” for his particular group. Only in this way will a director develop a knowledge of choral literature and cultivate a sincere enthusiasm for the music he presents to his choir and congregation.
A. Criteria for Choosing New Music. The following criteria are suggested as a basis for choosing new music:
1. Is the text worthy? Does it have a Scriptural, evangelical emphasis? Is the text in keeping with the doctrinal positions of the church?
2. Will the text have spiritual meaning as well as interest for the average listener? Is there a sufficient climax to the song?
3. Are the words simply stated yet stimulating enough to the imagination to place them above the level of the commonplace?
4. Is the textual repetition empty and meaningless or does it add intensity and emphasis to the message?
5. Is the music itself melodically, harmonically and structurally good?
6. Does the rhythm of the song fit the rhythm of the words? Is the rhythm free from “jazziness” and cheap sensational effects?
7. Is the music in the proper style of the composer or period from which it comes?
8. Is there a general, over-all union between the words and the music with regard to mood, meaning, accents, stresses, 3 climaxes, etc.?
9. Is the song technically fit for this particular group? Will the choir be able to sing it well? Will they enjoy singing this number? Will I be able to conduct it properly? Is this number appropriate for the occasion intended? I
10. Is the accompaniment good? Does it add something to the singing or does it merely double the voices? Is it overly showy so that it distracts from the singing?
B. Program Building. The following suggestions are offered for preparing special music programs:
1. Strive to have a central, unifying theme throughout the program.
2. Within this framework of unity there still should be variety and contrasts of numbers, moods, styles of music, presentations, etc.
3. Plan and pray for the program so that it leaves the audience with a real spiritual impact–not just entertains them.
4. The end of each section of numbers as well as the end of the entire program must reach a sufficient climax.
5. The length of the entire program should not be over 13 to 1 1/2 hours.
With the wealth of available sacred music, dating in time from the Renaissance to the present, it would be extremely difficult to prepare any kind of complete listing of mixed chorus music. The following is merely a representative listing of such forms of sacred music as gospel song arrangements, hymn arrangements and anthems, as well as a number of standard longer works that many church choirs perform especially for the Advent and Passion seasons. It might be added that many of these larger works have, complete orchestrations available. If a full orchestration is not possible for these occasions, often stirring special effects can be had by using just a few instruments such as a string enemble, harp, chimes, trumpets, celeste, etc.
C. Gospel Song and Hymn Arrangement Collections.
Choral Praises compiled and arranged by Osbeck. Distributed by Kregel Publications.
Tabernacle Choir No. 1,2,3. Published by Hope Publishing Co.
Gospel Choir Classics 1,2,3. Published by Singspiration.
Favorite Choir Arrangements compiled by DeVos. Published by Singspiration.
The Choir Master Collection by Hughes. Published by Zondervan.
Zondervan’s Choir Album by Hughes. Published by Zondervan.
Inspiring Choral Arrangements by Hughes. Published by Zondervan.
Choral-aires by Peterson. Published by Zondervan.
Choir Favorites. Published by Singspiration.
Don Hustad’s Arrangements 1,2. Published by Hope Publishing Co.
Chorus Choir Voices. Published by Lillenas.
Clayton’s Collection of Choir Melodies. Published by Gospel Songs, Inc.
Choral Album by Richard E. Gerig. Published by Ives Choir Library.
Song A Log. Published by Van Kampen.
D. Anthem Collections
Collection of Favorite Anthems, Vol. I, II, III. Published by G. Schirmer.
Concord Anthem Book by Davidson and Foote. Published by E. C. Schirmer.
Master Choruses. Published by Ditson Publishing Co. (Has a book with just voice parts as well as a separate book for the accompaniments.)
E. 25 Selected Anthems
“Almighty God of Our Fathers” by James. Pub. Wood, No. 569.
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Mueller. Pub. G. Schirmer,No. 8179.
“Beautiful Savior” by Christiansen. Pub. Augsburg, No. 51.
“Be Thou Near Me Lord” by Morgan. Pub. Kjos, No. 5114.
“Consider the Lilies” by Scott. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 9819.
“Create in Me a Clean Heart” by Mueller. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 8682.
“God Is a Spirit” by Bennett. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 2477.
“God Is the Light of the World” by Morgan. Pub. Wood, No. 653.
“Go Not Far From Me, O God” by Zingarelli. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 4889.
“God So Loved the World” by Stainer. Pub. Ditson, No. 332-08621.
“Hear My Prayer” by James. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 7739.
“I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked” by O’Hara. Pub, G. Schirmer, No. 8401.
“Jesus, Our Lord, We Adore Thee” by James. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 8311.
“Let Mount Zion Rejoice” by Herbert. Pub. Lorenz. No. 71.
“Open Our Eyes” by McFarlane. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 7275.
“Open the Gates of the Temple” by Knapp. Pub. C. Fischer, CM 6388.
“O Rejoice, Ye Christians, Loudly” by Bach. Pub. C. Fischer, CM 6600.
“Peace I Leave With You” by Roberts. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 4471.
“Seek Ye the Lord” by Roberts. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 3731.
“Thanks Be to God” err. by Cain. Pub. Boosey-Hawkes, No. 1756.
“The Beatitudes” by Evans. Pub. Remick, No. 5-G1307.
“The King of Love My Shepherd Is” by Shelley. Pub. G. Schirmer, No. 3125.
“The Lord Is My Light” by Allitsen. Pub. Boosey-Hawkes, No. 1339. 5.
“The Palms” by Faure. Pub. Lorenz, No. 916.
“There Is a Balm in Gilead” by Dawson. Pub. Music Press, No. 105.
F. Several of the Standard Cantatas and Longer Works for Passion and Advent Seasons
Christmas Oratorio by Bach.
Christmas Oratorio by Saint-Saen.
Crucifixion by Stainer.
Eastertide by Protheroe.
Holy City by Gaul.
Magnificat by Bach.
Messiah by Handel.
Olivet to Calvary by Maunder.
Seven Last Words by DuBois.
When the Christ Child Came by Clokey.
1. Discuss ways of starting a new adult choir in a church.
2. Discuss ways of reviving a church choir that has lost its enthusiasm. Point out various techniques that are helpful for any adult choir for maintaining interest throughout the entire year.
3. Discuss procedures and techniques for improving each of the following:
a. A choir’s sight reading ability.
b. A choir’s tone quality.
c. A choir’s blend.
d. A choir’s diction.
e. A choir’s balance.
f. A choir’s interpretation.
4. Discuss: “What constitutes good music for an evangelical
5. Prepare a complete 1 1/4- 1 1/2 hour rehearsal for a thirty-voice
1. Basic Principles of Singing by Rice. Published by Abingdon Press.
2. Building a Church Choir by Wilson and Lyall. Published by Hall and McCreary Company.
3. Choral Directing by Davison. Published by Harvard University Press.
4. Choral Director’s Guide by Neidig and Jennings. Published by Parker Publishing Company.
5. Church Music Handbook by Thayer. Published by Zondervan Publications.
6. How to Organize and Direct the Church Choir by Nordin. Published by Parker Publishing Company.
7. Technique and Style in Choral Singing by Howerton. Published by Carl Fischer Company.
8. Techniques in Choral Conducting by Jones. Published by Carl Fischer Company.
9. The Choral Conductor’s Handbook by Ehret. Published by Edward B. Marks Music Company.
10. The Training of a Church Choir by Sydnor. Published by Abingdon Press.
Familiar Quotes for Thought
“A choir poorly trained is worse than no choir at all.”
“One of the essentials of a good conductor is to know what he wants, and to see that he gets it.”
H. W. Richards
“Every great conductor is a great teacher.”
Glenn Dillard Gunn
“A choir is as good as its director; seldom better, never worse.”
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY KREGEL PUBLICATIONS, 1961, PAGES 111-151. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.