Hey guys, I posted about a week and a half back, asking for help about
basic tips and techniques for being a first time music liturgist. At the
time, I was being considered for a job at a local church, but as it turns
out, they called yesterday to tell me they went with someone else.
Unfortunate for me, but I know things will work out, and I hope the person
they went with does well for them.
Anyway, I just wanted to thank everyone for helping out, as I got a good
number of responses, and would like to post them here for anybody in a
similar situation. Again, thanks to everyone, and even though I didn't get
the position, your efforts were not in vain, as I did learn a lot, and now
hopefully others will too!
I would look for a graduate program in Choral Music. There's a whole
knowledge base you lack that you would not be able to pick up from a choral
list. If you think about the body of knowledge you've learned in theory,
form and compositional techniques and on top of that the practical time you
spent composing during your undergraduate work it would contain a pretty
wide body of knowledge. Conversely, a choral major would have the same
breadth of knowledge but in a subject that applies to a different career.
You could begin by attending one of the choral schools this summer. A week
of training is better than none.
Consider Rene Clausen's choral school in Moorehead. It's close and one of
the better ones in our state.
There are so many things to learn (and we all are constantly learning even
if we've done this for 30 years) -- but you've started at the right place
in asking for help and advice - and that is good. You will want:
1) to get resources for helping you conduct -- books; on-line stuff; and
especially join American Choral Directors and go to any/all workshops you
can -- both to learn new music, and also met people who can help/mentor
you. If you have not had a choral conducting class, you need to take one at
a university level or find a teacher. The classes are best, since you
usually get to conduct a chorus made up of the conducting students.
2) Since you are in Minnesota, and you mentioned 'liturgist' - I'll assume
this is a Lutheran church. In which case, you will find the materials from
Augsburg (ELCA) and Concordia (Missouri Synod) very helpful in planning
pieces to do for worship. Always meet with the pastor(s) and discuss each
service -- their themes, concerns, etc.
3) try this summer to read through every piece in their library so you know
what you have to work with before ordering new music. Pull out the pieces
you like. Create folders for times of the year (esp. Advent, Christmas,
Lent, Holy Week, Easter) Remember to look at range (too high is often a
problem) scoring (unison, 2-part, 3-part, 4-part) etc.
4) always remember your choir members are volunteers, who do this for the
love of it. You are their leader and teacher. You are also their spiritual
guide as it regards the music you are performing. Many will probably be
older. You can never be demeaning or a tyrant. If you have "attitude" or a
big ego - do something else.
Most important - Be patient. Start the rehearsal by singing gently,
using music the singers feel comfortable and confident with. Teach new
music slowly. Lots of repetition helps, and the first time you do an
anthem in a service won't be as good as the second or third time.
If the singers feel confident and happy singing the music, you've done
a good job.
Ask Axel Theimer for some warmups and stay in touch with him for the
rest of your life.
First, I take it you're a pianist, yes?
Did you ever have a voice lesson?
Is the church catholic or something else? Make sure you know as much as
possible about their musical traditions before the interview.
Here are some ideas, if you get the gig:
1. Take a few voice lessons, and read about the voice. Richard Miller's
The Structure of Singing is a great single volume, w. no b.s. (and there is
loads of that in the voice teaching world, alas).
2. Get in a good local community choir, and observe the director and
dynamics of the group. That's the best way to learn the craft.
3. Take a choral workshop with somebody sometime too.
There is so much involved in choral conducting -- it's wonderful that you
want to begin learning. My advice is to attend the Rene Clausen Choral
School at Concordia College in Morehead, Minnesota. Watching him conduct
has taught me more than any college course! You'll be singing with about
75 other choral conductors -- I've attended 5 sessions and wouldn't miss it
for the world!
Go to his website for more info. I have had success in receiving $$$ to
help with the fee from the church where I am employed.
I would emphatically advise you to get to a summer session on choral
techniques ASAP. In California, ACDA sponsors an excellent conference near
Yosemite every summer, addressing all the issues about which you are
concerned. I sounds as if you are a good distance from CA, however, but
I'm quite sure that there are equally fine offerings in most of the states.
I'm not sure of the path for you, but someone on this list will, I trust,
be able to provide the nexus to ADCA offerings which woud be of great help.
Purchase the following:
Building Beautiful Voices (Paul Nesheim)
and a book titled, "Working with the Older voice" (can't put my fingers on
it right now...)
Also, get yourself a good book on the history of choral music, and learn
the repertoire from the church files.
And, take voice lessons.
Also, check out ALL and ANY conducting workshops (Henry Leck, Butler
University; Rene Clausen, MN, and others). You need to know how to conduct,
even if you're by the keyboard. So many, many times, organists/MDs do not
know how to direct and then a great choir becomes discouraged. Knowledge is
great, and powerful, too. Earn their respect as their servant, as you
persue experience in conducting.
Go on the American Guild of Organists home site www.agohq.org and order
"Choir Care: Building Sound Technique." It is written for
keyboardists and other non-singers who end up teaching people to sing.
Others have told me that it has been very helpful.
If you are a "Johnnie", you have one of the best vocal/choral teachers
around in the person of Axel Theimer. I am sure he has told you about
VoiceCare Network. I would recommend you take the "Impact" course this
summer if possible. You will learn all kinds of things that will apply
precisely to the situation you are asking about. One thing in particular
has to do with the "aging" voice - something that you surely will be
dealing with in a church choir. You will learn how to teach voices like
this, and what the special considerations are for singers of all ages. You
will also get a huge amount of very practical ideas for warm-ups, ear
training, etc. It will be the best money you will ever have spent on your
From my personal experience, warm-ups deal with body alignment, breathing
and connecting the breath to the voice, and ear training (listening for
intonation, vowel color, etc.). I strive to teach the singers to hear
intonation without having to reference a piano or other outside source. I
also include a lot of unaccompanied singing - the choir that can sing a
cappella can sing accompanied, and makes them a better choir.
When rehearsing repertoire, I feel it is important for the singers to feel
that they have accomplished something in each piece rehearsed, and that
they finish the rehearsal with a feeling of progress (rather than defeat).
That, of course, takes real planning on the director's part. I also try
to make connections between the warm-ups and the repertoire. The warm-up
ups should not be "an island unto themselves."
I could go on, but the most important thing is: check out VoiceCare
Network. You will not regret one moment of it.
I experienced the same "nervousness" you have several years ago when I took
a job at a Methodist Church in West Newton, Pa. I was hired based on my
playing ability- I had never "directed" a choir before. Having attended a
good number of rehearsals as an accompanist, I knew what many other
directors had done and was able to immitate their actions. Quickly, I began
to pick up on the basic problems any church choir has- intonation, internal
pulse, wrong notes, etc.
In regards to warm- ups and activities, I've found that the simple scales,
up 5/ down 5, and arppegiated triads seems to work best on a neutral
syllable such as "ooh", etc. That's something you'll need to experiment on
and see how it works. In a church setting, I've often sung through Sunday's
Hymns to end the warm- up and then we'll begin to work on the anthems and
other choral works.
There are many different ways of doing things- my best advice to you is to
absorb the feedback you get from this posting and try to observe some choir
directors and then, experiment!
Best of luck in your interview. (Be confident in what you do) Hope things
work out- be sure to post and let us all know if you get the position.
I've been a Director of Worship and Music for the Catholic Church for many
years. One question you didn't answer was if you had any type of liturgical
experience. The liturgical experience is a very important point not to be
overlooked. As for rehearsal technique. You may not have time to join a
choir, but observing several choirs in rehearsal to see what is and isn't
effective is essential. Also, connect with National Association of Pastoral
Musicans: www.npm.org Attending workshops through npm is also a good
resourse. This may not be a position to walk into without training. You
should familiarize yourself with the General Instruction of the Roman
Missal. Here you will find the rubrics of the Mass and what is expected.
I've got some time tonight, so I'll give it a shot. With such little
experience in choral technique and programs, you've certainly got a lot of
catching up to do. However, church music is an enjoyable and fulfilling
career, so I would suggest doing exactly what you're doing - learn as much
as you can and put it to use.
I would recommend you do a few things for the next several years:
1.) Sing in a choir yourself. Since you're going to be in a church
setting, you obviously can't join another church choir, so get in a
community or college choir. Watch the director, find out what works (and
what doesn't seem to work) and write out a list of questions about
everything - rehearsal planning, music selection, baton (or hand)
technique, warmups, working with an accompanist, recruiting, etc. Then
invite him out to lunch (you pay) and ask him every question you can think
of, and ask him to offer whatever else he can think of. You might even
want to invite him to observe you a few times.
2.) Continuing education. Take classes at the local college, or audit
them or somehow get the additional knowledge and skills. There are
seminars, clinics, conferences and master classes all over the place -
spend the money and go, and attend everything you can, and ask questions of
everyone- teachers and fellow students alike. (St Olaf in Northfield has a
conference that is fantastic.) You will never know it all, and you will
never be good enough, so understand that, as far as you have to go at this
point, you will never stop learning how to be a better choir director.
Don't get discouraged, because you'll pick things up quickly and it's a
wonderful world of music.
3.) Try new things. Don't be afraid to tell your choir that you just
attended a great seminar, and you will be experimenting with them. Maybe
you don't even need to tell them, but just go ahead and do it anyway, but
don't be afraid to adjust your current techniques to something that might
4.) Search the choralist archives, and you will find a number of collected
posts on all kinds of topics relating to church music. Remember that while
some ideas may seem far-fetched to you now, keep them in the back of your
mind, and be willing to give them a try later on. You may have a change of
heart once you've been in the trenches for a while.
OK, here's the top-of-the-head tips for you:
1.) Music selection - you need to know the abilities of your choir in
order to select music that is not to tough/easy, and is something they
enjoy or are at least willing to do. Don't force one style of music on a
choir that is not willing to sing it. So many churches start a
contemporary service only to find it fails immediately because the
congregation just doesn't identify with it, yet so many pastors are pushing
their musicians to do contemporary because they want to 'reach the young
people.' A pernicious lie that many believe. Just because someone is
young doesn't mean that they want that kind of music. Anyway, that's a
separate soap box, but the point is to fit the music to the choir (and
church), both in style and in difficulty level. I try and get at least 6
rehearsals on a piece - more if it's difficult, fewer if it's easy. It's
very important for a choir to feel comfortable with their knowledge of a
piece, and you have to take into consideration the busy schedules of many
singers, who can't show up every week.
2.) Music preparation - take the time to sing through every part yourself
before rehearsing the choir with it. You need to know where the difficult
parts are, and spend more time with them - know where the easy parts are
and spend less time with them. Your score should be completely marked up
with how you want the piece to sound, what they need to work on, etc.
Don't spend more than 15-20 minutes on a piece at the most. They will get
bored and frustrated. If you've got 6 -7 pieces per rehearsal, at 15
minutes each, that's nearly 2 hours, when you add in announcements,
warmups, etc.Also, it's a good idea to start off with something easy, then
move to the hard pieces, gradually working toward the easier ones. It
sometimes helps to space them hard-easy-hard-easy, if the hard ones have a
fairly high tessatura (average range of the piece). Speaking of which, you
need to know the voice ranges, how high they can (and can't) sing, and how
high to warm up each voice.
3.) By the way, be wary of the church that tells you a job that has 1 adult
choir, 1 handbell choir, 2 kids choirs, and 2 sunday services is only worth
10-12 hours per week. Nonsense! As you can see, that only covers the time
you spend at rehearsals and services, and leaves no time for preparation,
music selection, administration, paperwork, etc. I think there are
formulas that say there are 3 hours of preparation and paperwork for every
hour of rehearsal and performance.
4.) Have a rehearsal sheet that lists exactly what you want to do during
the entire rehearsal, and how long each thing will take. I always start
off with getting them singing a hymn. If it's a weeknight rehearsal, their
voices are warmed up enough to sing any hymn (because they've been talking
throughout the day), but for Sunday mornings, they need to start with a
lower hymn, and need more warmups. More on this later. Then do some light
warmups for a few minutes, then some announcements. Sometimes if I have a
lot of announcements, I will do a couple at the beginning, work on an
anthem, do a couple more, etc. The longer you do this, the less important
this becomes, but you must learn what the rules are before you can break
them, so do this religiously for the first few years. (I do hope you
learned that in your composition classes!!!)
5.) Always start the rehearsal on time, regardless of who is there. Tell
them right of the bat that you will do this, and will appreciate their
prompt attendence. (It is OK to fudge on this once in a great while, but
6.) Don't waste time. You don't need to explain things to the Nth degree
and waste time talking. For example, when they sing through a section that
needs some work, stop them and say, "Tenors, measure 6" then work on it.
Don't say, "OK, that needs some work. Let's go back to measure 6, and
we'll start with the tenors." They know when they miss notes, you don't
need to tell them. What they need to hear from you is how loud to sing, or
how much diction to use, or if they're a bit under the pitch, etc.
7.) Teach them correct singing posture. I like to call it the 'proud'
posture - if you're a patriot, think of the flag passing by on the 4th of
july. You stand tall and stick your chest out a bit. You don't jut your
chin, you're not 'tight' in the shoulders or chest, just 'tall and proud.'
The rib cage should be expanded, you should feel like the air enters your
belly (really it enters your lungs by the use of the diaphragm, which, when
it's pulling in air, pushes your intestines and 'guts' out of the way,
which is why it feels like it's entering the belly. Still, if that's where
it feels like it, then exploit it, and tell them to expand their bellies
when the enhale. Make sure they sing with their head looking straight
ahead. Don't let them drop their head to look at the music, teach them to
lift the music up to where they can see it. It should be laying somewhat
flat in front of them - not blocking their face so they can't see or get
the sound out.
Mouth should be open when singing - open tall, not wide. 0 rather than O.
(hopefully that shows a difference in the text on your computer!) They
should enunciate clearly - spit out the text.
this is a fairly controversial topic, so let me preface this by saying this
is all my opinion of what some good principles of warmups are about. Many
will agree, many will disagree, but I've got a Master's degree in Vocal
Performance, and have studied with a wide variety of pedagogists, some who
knew what they were doing, and some who didn't. I feel like I've got a
good grasp of the essentials of vocal health, but there are wiser heads
than mine, so take it all with a grain of salt, as the saying goes.
Sunday Morning warmups need to be longer and more careful, since the voice
is also just waking up. It's a good idea to get the body going first -
roll the head around (or move it around properly - some say it shouldn't be
rolled), move the arms, bend over and touch something, give each other
backrubs, massage face, chew as if you've got taffy in your mouth, yawn,
stretch up with one hand and both hands, etc. The more they do this, the
higher the heart rate, the more the blood flows, the more ready they are
for anything. Get them pumped up, and they will sing much better. Don't
skimp on this. They aren't instrumentalists (I'm also a pianist and a
trumpeter), their body is their instrument, and the better they feel, the
better they sing. The more energetic they are, the better they sing. When
the weather is stormy, the better they sing. (Has to do with the
low-pressure. Kids are more goofy then also). It's always better to
channel the energy of a hyper group then to try and drag along a half-dead
Next do some breathing exercises - this warms up the diaphragm and the
related muscles. Start with a good deep breath in through the nose as full
as they can. Emphasize the breath coming in and filling the tummy - don't
let them raise their shoulders. Have them inhale on 4 counts (at about
mm`), then exhale (or hiss) on 8, in on 4, exhale on 10, in on 4, out on
12, etc etc. This teaches them breath control as well as warming up the
'gut muscles.' Other breathing exercises - sing "My Country Tis of Thee"
in one breath (sit when you run out to see who does it best), or sing it
with a steady pulse on every eighth note "my-hi coun-un-tree-he tis-is-is
of thee-he,") then do triplets, then 16ths.
Keep in mind, that the voice is a hidden instrument. Unlike piano, you
can't see if their technique is bad. You have to know what to listen for.
This means you should take voice lessons from a qualified instructor who
is also willing to teach you the inner workings of the voice. Not all
voice teachers are created equal. Many of them know what motions to go
through, what exercises to do and all that but don't really have a good
understanding of the voice. Shop around! Even PhD vocal pedagogy
instructors don't necessarily have a clue. (I studied 2 PhD's who didn't,
and 1 who did. Also with several Masters who didn't, and a couple who did.)
Oh, have them stand and sit during the rehearsal. Don't make them do one
or the other for more than 5-10 minutes - keep them moving up and down.
Generally have them stand when something is fairly well ready to sing well,
either an entire anthem or a few measures, and have them sit when they're
working hard for the first time on something.
OK, onto sound-making warmups. You need to understand a few basic
principles of warmups.
#1. The vocal cords are like rubber bands stretched a certain length. When
you twang them, they vibrate at a certain pitch. You can then tighten or
loosen them to change the pitch. However, since there is only so much room
in the throat for this, then voice, when it needs to go higher, will
shorten the length of the cords that are vibrating. Take the rubber band -
say it vibrates at 400 bps at a certain length. If you pinch it in half
and dampen one half, the other half will vibrate at 800 bps. This is
exactly what the voice does. Thisis the difference in timbre between your
'chest voice' your 'head voice' your 'mixed voice' and your falsetto voice.
Men have 4 of these 'breaks' (passaggio) and women have 5-6. The breaks
for basses are lower than those of tenors. When a voice sings, it's easier
to sing from a higher range down to a lower range. Try singing a scale up
and switching into different voices as you go - it's much easier to start
high in the falsetto and work your way down. SO, it's better to do warmups
that start high and go low. You can raise the exercise a 1/2 step each
time, but the exercise itself should start high and go low, especially the
first few warmups.
#2. Different vowels will have different effects on the voice. Find a
copy of a 'vowel chart'. It should look like a large V. On the upper left
will be the bright forward vowels. As you move to the right, the vowels
will be come darker. As you move down, the vowels will become farther
back. So there's brighter-darker (left-right) and forward-back (up-down).
This is also sometimes called a "vowel modification chart." Anyway, void
using forward vowels (ee, ih, eh, and oo) for higher warmups. Stick with
the ones at the bottom of the chart.
#3. It's good to use consonants and different vowels for each pitch of the
warmup. If you stick with one vowel for the whole exercize, the voice
tends to also 'freeze' in position, not letting it move freely about. If
you've got a 5-note descending scale, sing it on "ya-ya-ya-ya-ya." or
"ah-oh-ah-oh-ah" (or a combination thereof). Also, you can use the
brighter vowels (ee, ih, eh) in tandem with the darker vowels (ah, uh, oh),
and encorage the singers to make them sound more alike (or use less mouth
movement between the two). "ee-ah-ee-ah-ee" should be sung with as little
lip movement as possible, because you don't want a pure 'ee' sound - you
want it modified, which bringe us to the next principle:
#4. Vowels must be modified when you sing high. Remember the 'vowel
modification chart.' When you sing high, on any vowel, you want to modify
it one vowel closer to the bottom (farther back). A high sung 'ih' will
sound like 'ee' to the listener, sounds nicer and is much easier on the
voice. Same with 'oo' being sung 'oh,' and 'oh' being sung 'uh.'
OK, NOW we'll get into sound-making warmups. (Didn't I say that several
1. I start with a 5-note descending scale, from G-down to C, using dark
vowels on 'vo-vo-vo-vo-vo' or something like that. (you could even do two
or three 'vo's on each pitch, or do 'vo-jho-flo, vo-jho-flo' or different
vowels, or whatever. The fricative consonants (something with a z, s, sh,
gh, v, f) are good for starting warmups - it forces the singer to use more
breath, so tell them to put a good noisy 'vvv' at the beginning of each
note. It doesn't matter if it sounds good - we're after technique and to
get the voice warmed up. Then take the exercise down by 1/2 steps into the
lower ranges, especially for the men. When they sing low, tell them to
open their mouth wider, and to have a more nasal or bright sound. This
helps project the sound out better. Then bring the exercise back up until
your highest notes are at about C. Feel free to modify some vowels and
consonants as you go back up to warm up each vowel in the mouth.
2. Don't warm up too high too quickly. Each exercize should get a little
bit higher each time, and you must understand the need to for them to be
energized in the body to sing high. The next few exercizes can be just
about anything - like a descending 3rds scale (5-3-4-2-1 [or
'so-mi-fi-re-do' if you're a solfege kind of guy]). Again, use a variety
of vowels and consonants, and take it up to maybe D or E-flat.
3. Throw in something that gets the fast diaphragm motion -
(5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1) on 16th notes. Something this fast will
require the same vowel throughout (or change only every 4 notes).
4. This next is my favorite exercise, probably because I made ip up
myself. I find it an excellent one for use in the mid-to high range.
There are 6 notes - 1-5-6-5-3-1 and the rhythm is 1/4 - dotted 1/4 - 1/8 -
1/8 - 1/8 - 1/2. The first pitch has a somewhat bright vowel (eh, ay, or
ih) with a fricative on front (z, v, or jh). The next 5 notes are on an
open darker vowel (oh, uh, ah).
"zeh..yooooooo....oh...oh...oh...ohhhhh." (Wish I could sing it for you or
notate it out, but I suppose you can tell how it goes from my texted
The important aspects are to get a good strong 'zz' at the beginning to get
the breath going; a nice nasally 'eh' sound to brighten the tone and
project it out; a crescendo and change to the 'oh' vowel while keeping some
of the brightness of the 'eh' in it. Then crescendo loudest of all on the
highest note, bring it back a bit on the rest of the notes, but don't let
them peter out on the last note - keep the sound going strong. This is a
splendid exercise for working in the upper range, for it lets the singer
start low, goes high for just a moment before coming down.
Now, I know I said earlier that you shouldn't have an exercise that starts
low - perhaps I should modify that a bit - if you do have an exercise that
starts low - it's good to have it skip up a few steps. You don't want it
to go upward by scale degrees. Skipping up is just fine - it's the scale
exercises that can be troublesome. Now, scales are also fine if you keep
them away from the breaks in the voice - but you need to know where those
breaks are for different voices, and whether or not your singers are good
enough to sing through their breaks anyway without trouble. ALSO, the
music usually calls for stuff like this anyway, and there will be scales to
sing, so while it's not evil 'per se' to sing rising scales, I will say
it's not a good idea to do starting warmups with rising scales, especially
in the upper range.
#5. Another good exercise is the "hung-ahh". There are a few different
versions of this, but you essentially sing on scale degree 5 with a hearty
'hung' while staying on the closed 'ng' sound for a few beats. Then you
break open to the 'ah' and move slowly down the rest of the scale.
#6. Warm up their brains. Have a 4-part hymn, or Bach Chorale, or
something short that they memorize. Use this each time to train them to
sing in tune with each other. Also, you can write out your own 5 note (or
7, or 10 or whatever) exercize on the blackboard, and change it every week,
or every few weeks. Use 4-part harmony, some simple chord changes
(Hopefully your composition classes taught you well about proper voice
leading!!!!) that teaches them to read music, sing in tune with their
section, and in tune with the rest of the choir. Don't forget what
vowels/consonants to have them sing. Or even add words of your own.
#7. Weeknight rehearsals don't need much. Sing a hymn, do a couple
warmups, get into the high range, and then move on. Weeknight warmups
should only take about 3-5 minutes. Sunday morning, take 5-8 minutes.
Also, keep in mind some things in the music. Often I will make up a warmup
that helps them sing a difficult part in the music, or to sing that section
musically, or whatever. The warmups can (and should) have a specific
#8. and most important. As Helen Kemp says, "Body, Mind, Spirit, Voice.
It takes the whole person to sing and rejoice." This is part of worship.
The whole point of church music is NOT to sing to the congregation - this
is an offering to God. When we offer something to Him, we give our very
best. This is reason enough why church choirs should be of the highest
caliber. However, we should also allow those who don't sing as well to
bring their musical offering as well. But if someone has no gift of music,
they should not sing in the choir. If the congregation claps, they should
be clapping praise to God, not thanks to the choir, because the choir is
not singing for them. You don't clap when you see them putting money in
the offering plate, so they shouldn't clap for you. If they do clap, then
simply assume they're clapping to God as it says in Psalm 47. Encourage
the choir to worship as they sing. Think about the theology of the texts
they sing, do a short devotional each rehearsal that talks about God, the
texts you sing, and what church music is all about. You yourself must be a
devoted and dedicated Christian, and if you're not, then you're just going
through the motions, and it will do no good for you or anyone else. If I
were to ask you how long you've been a Christian, and you start telling me
when you began going to church, then you're probably not a Christian. A
Christian is not just a 'church-goer.' A Christian is one who has
'married' himself to Christ, and agreed to love him and obey him. That
means you must read your Bible daily, and then live out what you read,
trusting in him to guide and strengthen you to live more and more like him.
You must "pray without ceasing" as it says in 1 Thess. 5:17. Pray when
you wake up, lie down, eat your meals (whether you're in a restaurant with
everyone watching or not), and as you drive, walk, or have other idle time.
It's all about your 'relationship' with Christ, and if you don't have that
relationship where you speak to him as a father and brother, then you need
to take care of this before all else. Check out the website
www.livingwaters.com . They have some good materials that can be of great
Couple other tips
Singers sing more in tune when they work harder at the consonants. Singers
never sing clearly enough anyway, so always tell them to spit out the text.
However, they also don't open their mouths enough, so they need to sing
with a wide open mouth. These two principles work against each other. If
the mouth is open, you don't spit out the text. If you spit out the text,
your mouth isn't open enough. IT CAN BE DONE, but it takes work and
concentration. Teach them to do this.
Singers will need to be reminded ALL THE TIME of everything you tell them
to do. Only singers taking voice lessons will actually try and remember
the proper singing technique - everyone else will need to be reminded again
and again - sit tall, open your mouth, use more consonants, spit out the
text, sing it out, sing well, lift your head up, etc. etc. Don't get
frustrated- it's the 2nd law of Thermodynamics. Entropy - everything moves
to a state of disorder and decay. Everything falls apart, wears out, goes
bad, forgets, and dies. They need to be continually renewed and reminded
to get them back to a decent singing state before they begin to decay again
and be reminded again. The hope is that eventually they will begin to
remember on their own, but I have yet to see the non-trained singer do this.
Paperwork. Keep attendance every week - not to lord it over them, but so
that you can, as a friend, always know who is absent so that you can pray
for them during the rehearsal prayer. (Always have a rehearsal prayer -
one at the beginning, and one at the end [or you can sing a hymn then]).
Have a piece of paper on the wall that shows each Sunday and Wednesday (if
that is rehearsal night) and tell them to sign up on it if they are going
to be absent. Then on your attendence sheet you can keep track of who is
good about letting you know when they're going to be absent. They can also
call your church number and leave a message if they forget to write it
down. At the end of the season (or some time in the summer) have a party
and give attendence prizes for the best attendence, for the
most-responsible attender (who always notified when they would be absent)
and, of course, a booby prize for the worst one. Have fun with them, be
human, laugh a lot. Speaking of laughing - that's one of the best things
for the voice. It's not a bad idea to start out each rehearsal with a few
jokes, and scatter them throughout the rehearsal. (Make sure they're clean
enough for Mother Teresa. - you being young will have a more skewed view of
what is 'proper' jokes. Maybe you could even have a trusted woman (not a
man) proof your jokes and weed out those that might not be appropriate.).
Be careful, because people these days get offended so easily. I have a
great sense of humor and we have loads of fun in the rehearsal, but I've
offended many people with things I thought were funny that they did not. I
apologized to each one of them, and asked them to forgive me, and they all
did. If you offend someone, do the same thing. Apologize, even if s/he is
the hypersensitive one who needs to grow a backbone and learn some
tolerance - it costs nothing to be the humble one and apologize, and they
will like you much better for it afterward. I like to say, after the choir
has sung something particularly dreadful, witty comments like, "I've never
heard it sung like that before." or "you bring tears to my eyes." or "John
Cage would be proud" or "That swoop you just sang would do justice to
Wagner," or things like that. Don't go too heavy on the negative teasing
like we all did at college. Be a gentleman. Laugh at yourself more than
Send a friendly reminder postcard to those who didn't attend and didn't
sign out - just a quick "sorry we missed you - hope you can make it next
time" with a funny picture of people singing or something like that.
Know everyone's birthday (or rather, have them written down), and have the
choir sing to them when it comes along. I also like to let them know the
birthdays of famous composers and historical figures (like presidents,
generals, authors, snoopy, the 3 stooges, cartoonists, etc.)
Money - when it comes time each year to ask for more money in the music
budget, ask for a little more than what you really need. Buy choral
anthems (5-10 more that however many are in the choir), buy instrumental
accompaniments to those anthems even if you can't hire instrumentalists -
get it anyway now, because it will be out of print in a couple years and
impossible to get then. For obtaining instrumentalists, I don't pay those
who are members of the church, but I do pay outside musicians. High
schoolers are usually my favorite, although if I have something that
demands some especially good players, college or adults are preferred.
Keep a list of what instrumentalists you use, and how old and how good they
are. Go to the local community (or college) orchestras/bands and ask for a
copy of the membership roster, and pull your instrumentalists from those
lists. That will have their phone, address and Email on it. You can't do
this at public schools (working with minors, you're not allowed that info
from the schools), but you can go to the directors and tell them you're
wanting to hire some players, and they can help you. Sometimes good
players will dictate their prices to you, other times you get to dictate
the prices yourself. Around here (St Louis) there is a strong union, so if
I want good players, I need to pay union wages, but there are enough
non-union players for me to hire most everything I need. I usually pay
about $40-50 per person for 1 rehearsal and Sunday service. If the music
is especially difficult or if there are two services or more rehearsals, I
pay more. Make sure you have everything laid out properly in advance -
what time they need to be there, where they need to be, what number to call
if they are late or can't find it, how long the rehearsal will be, what
music they have, what verses of the hymns they are playing on, (of course,
make sure they have the music in the right key for their instrument), how
much they will get paid, when they will get paid, where they will sit in
the sanctuary, when they can enter and leave the sanctuary, etc. etc. Send
them an Email with all that info on it, and ALWAYS have a spare copy of the
music, especially for the younger players, because they will forget it at
school, or home, or whatever and you will be sunk. NEVER give originals to
any instrumentalist. Always make copies that they can write on and throw
away. This is perfectly legal, as long as you have enough originals for
each player, and you destroy the copies when finished. It's also a good
idea to let the instrumentalists know that you have the originals on file,
just in case they are the kind of people who like to rat on others just for
spite. Even if you're legal, make sure others know it, and, by the way,
always be legal. Don't make copies. You as a composer ought to know
that's the way composers lose money, so don't you ever do it. Of course,
you can do it under certain conditions - you've paid (and/or gotten
permission from a copyright holder) to copy something which is out of
print; the piece of music has passed the copyright expiration (it's either
75 years from copyright, or 75 years after composer's death - I'm not
sure); you have the piece ordered, but don't have it yet - you can make
temporary copies until the originals arrive. You can make one copy for
reference purposes (I keep a file of music I would like to do someday, or
to use at another church should I change jobs and want to keep my own
personal list of good music). Or, as I said, you can copy for the
instrumentalists provided you have enough originals for everyone.
All my choral-related books are currently packed away in boxes in the
basement, but here's some I can think of:
Ron Jeffries - "Translations and Annotations of Latin Texts" or something
like that. (I might even have the author's name wrong). It's very
expensive, but a good resource to have when you want a good translation of
liturgical latin texts you'll often come across.
John Bertalot "Five Wheels to Successful Sightsinging" A good one for
teaching kids (and adults) how to sight sing.
"Immediately Practical Tips for Choral Directors" Again, can't recall the
author, (I think it is also John Bertalot), but I found this to be of use.
Hymnals - start collecting hymnals of different denominations.
Become familiar with www.cyberhymnal.com A great website for thousands of
hymns, hymn writers, musicians, poets, hymn trivia, photos of the poets and
musicians, and even a good deal of beautiful and famous sacred paintings.
The hymns listed have ALL of the original unaltered verses. Many hymnals
change some words in order to be more politically correct, or to be
Depending on what denomination you're working with, you might want to get
on their publishing website and look at their resources available for
musicians. There are hymnal suppliments, liturgical planners, and a whole
host of other things to help the church musician.
Print this out and begin to keep a file of 'advice and tips.' Go through
that file once or twice a year. Never throw away good advice, because, as
I said before, something may seem stupid now, but years later you may find
I hope all goes well, and God Bless.