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Choosing Music

How do YOU choose music for your choir?  Do you have a music committee that searches and brings ideas to you or the board of directors?  Do you have set types of music that you learn and perform?
How many new pieces do you add each quarter or year? How many practices do you feel you need to adequately prepare a piece for performance?
 
Replies (25): Threaded | Chronological
on May 8, 2013 9:56am
The Plant City Community Choir has been around for 5 concert seasons. Every year, the Board (along with the membership) decides how many concerts to do. This past season (2012-13), it was four. This coming season it will only be three. From there, I select the repertoire/theme 100% on my own. 
 
I start with a couple of pieces that I really want to do and analyze what themes can come from them. Once that is set, I look through my single copy folder for music that fits the themes. Then, I use sites like JW Pepper. I ONLY program music I am able to hear online first. If there is no audio clip on JWP or SheetMusicPlus, I go to YouTube. 
 
Once in a while I have choir members bring me something they want to do. This is always a sticky situation for me, but I listen to the piece online and decide. If there is no recording online, I tell them no. 
 
Generally, we recycle 1-3 pieces per concert. I try not to put pieces on back-to-back concerts. We typically perform 8-10 pieces collectively on a concert so most are new. Our standard rehearsal time is 12 weeks per concert. That is 2.5 hours once a week. We do, however, make and distribute rehearsal tracks. 
 
Our group is 100% amateur singers and they do pay dues. 
 
Hope this helps!
 
Joe Mendolia,
Executive & Artistic Director
Plant City Community Choir
607 S. Alexander St. 
Suite 208
Plant City, FL 33563
813-444-8863
director@pccommunitychoircom
on May 8, 2013 10:12am
Wow!  That is lots of work but I sure agree that not hearing the music first is very tricky.  YouTube has changed so much of what we do as choirs hasn't it.  I remember going to "sing along" times at the music store so that we could preview the print music they had available.  How things have changed.
 
Thanks so much.  That gives me a great outline.
 
on May 8, 2013 8:38pm
For Cantaré Vocal Ensemble, a Seattle-based 10-yr-old 40-voice chamber choir, the process is simliar to what Joe described for his group.  
 
I'm the assistant director, and the director and I get together in June or early July to plan the year's schedule and programs, bringing pieces we each would like to program, and also to decide whether or not he needs a new piece from me (I'm also the composer-in-residence for the group).  There are usually 3-4 pieces for each of us that we'd LOVE to program, so we see if there's a theme we can derive from that.  We then go off and pull together other pieces that fit the theme, and exchange sample copies, recordings, etc.  We finalize the Christmas program no later than mid-August, and the other concert(s) by October/Novebmer.
 
We're known for our eclectic programming in all of our concerts - everything from Purcell to George Shearing.  The board doesn't get involved in the programming at al, other than to rein us in if we want to spend too much for additional instruments.  Individual choir members can suggest pieces, and we've done several in recent years that were brought to us by the membership. 
 
We do 2-3 concerts per year.  Our last Christmas concert, for example, had 24 pieces, only one of which was a "repeat."  We rarely repeat music, and if we do, it's usually from at least 5-6 yrs previous.  Our early spring concert (February) had 18 pieces (theme was "A Little Night Music").  Our most recent concert, in which we partnered with another ensemble, included 12 pieces (theme was "Rivers, Trees, Mountains" -- we did the trees material, and then combined forces with the other group for the mountains part).  
 
So, given 2-3 concerts per year, and 18-25 pieces per concert, I'd say we add at least 35 new pieces each season (Sept - May), usually more.
 
We rehearse weekly for 2.5 hrs, and usually have 8-13 rehearsals for each concert (more for the Christmas concert; fewer for the spring concerts).  We expect our members to work outside of rehearsal to learn notes so that we can spend rehearsal time working on everything else.
 
It generally works OK -- we usually have some moderate panic a couple of weeks before the concert performances, but it all comes together when we finally perform.
 
Lana Mountford
Bellingham, WA
 
 
 
 
on May 9, 2013 9:46am
Wow!  Now that is a challenging timetable and then some.  It does sound like it works for your group.  I sang in a choir where the director was also a composer and arranger and we sang much of his work.  It was great.  I am NOT a composer or arranger and love finding new music to challenge us.  
 
I am in awe.  Thanks for taking the time, Lana. 
 
on May 9, 2013 10:58am
That's about the same as our schedule: 3 concerts a year and one rehearsal a week means 12-14 rehearsals for December and 9-10 rehearsals for the other two concerts. (I usually add in an extra Saturday rehearsal or two.) We usually do larger works, though, so we rarely have the opportunity of repeating. We get the best results with works which have extensive solo passages (such as Bach cantatas); if the chorus is singing 90+ minutes' worth of music it's hard to plan rehearsals so portions don't get left in the dust.
on May 9, 2013 7:32am
In my group, traditionally, there is a music selection committee that gets together, looks at the current library and then VOTES on what pieces to do - they just pick what they like, what hasn't been done in a few years, and then form the program that way with almost no thought of how appropriate a piece is for the skill level of the group, or if the older scores are literally falling apart. They haven't been able to afford too many new pieces; anymore, a single member may offer to buy a new piece because there was no money in the budget for it. 
 
Their previous directors had little or no say in what to program, so when I came along I tried to remedy that by being present at the meetings, allowing myself and my accompanist voting rights, and then after looking at the votes, form a program not based on what was most popular but what I felt to be appropriate for the group at the time. They haven't always respected my decisions, and when I felt I had to change the program because one or more pieces weren't working, I'd get a lot of complaints. It's been a real struggle.
on May 9, 2013 10:31am
Hi Amy,
You are in a difficult position with the committee thinking they are the bosses.  Hopefully, you can work the change through the choir seeing that this way of choosing music is not to the benefit of the choir. If you are in a paid position then you really have a dilemma.  sometimes, I find they feel if they pay you then they ARE your boss.  
 
Have you tried to bring forward pieces of music of your choosing?  Hopefully, after doing some great concerts and seeing how much they want to keep you, the choir will be happy to change the constitution to allow you to have the final say once the committee has brought forth RECOMMENDATIONS.
 
Be firm.  and best of luck.
 
 
on May 9, 2013 9:34am
Dear Kitty,
 
I'd never work for a board of directors that chooses literature for performance.  A director directs, and a music ensemble operating like a democracy will not draw quality amateur musicians.  Directing is a dictatorship.  You will learn the answers to your questions with experience.  What is your talent?  What is your voice balance?  That's just the beginning of the planning process and no situation is the same.  Best wishes!
 
Michael Seredick
Broadview Heights, Ohio
on May 9, 2013 10:15am
Hi Michael,
It is amazing how different we all are.  I too cannot work where a board had control over my choices.  However, I do not relish the dictator role.  
 
We are SATB community choir of 24 people that has only existed for 3 years.  We rehearse every 2 weeks.  We don't perform set concerts but perform where invited at Fairs, special events like Relay for Life, or fund raising for the Japan recovery even church services.  We fund raise at community events and accept donations for concerts.  
 
Our balance is amazing.  We have wonderful bass and tenor sections and can be short on sopranos if anything.  We have people who are proficient musicians and those who are working at being great.  We have attempted many styles and been successful at most.
 
We attract people who want to keep music in their lives but don't want it to BE their life.  I love what we do and enjoy all of our time together.  We do not work as a democracy but I do honour their suggestions and ideas.  
 
I have found that the answers have helped me to understand the breadth of variety in choirs and the ways in which the music is chosen.  Sometimes, I find the difficulty is not so much in the music but the way in which it is chosen to which you alluded in your reply. ChoralNet is such a great way to keep us aware of others and for me, helps keep perspeciive that my way is neither always the best or the right way.  My choir is always interested in hearing about others and how we can be better. 
 
Thanks for your input Michael and your best wishes.  We will sing one for you!
 
 
 
 
 
on May 10, 2013 12:15am
Hi Kitty and others...
 
Very interesting to read all of the different ways we accomplish what we do! Programming is one of my favorite parts of being Artistic Director and something this choir has a reputation for. I begin choosing music about a year out and finalize programs in the summer before our season begins. Our concerts are very themed, and there's a theatrical element to most of our concerts (regular minimal staging, occasional costuming, conflict and resolution in the programming, a journey of some sort). I regularly rely on the following methods of building a list of songs.
 
> Ask other conductors about favorite pieces on a certain theme
> Go through "single copy" files that are organized by themes
> Ask singers for suggestions
> Search JWPepper and Choralnet (and other online resources) for songs on a theme, searching titles by word: "flight" "soar" "fly" "wind" "air" "bird" for a recent concert about wind and air. Then I order numerous single copies of songs
> Search YouTube and other online resources for songs
> Go through numerous choral CDs
 
Once I've compiled a large stack of songs (recordings are important, but seeing the actual music is even more important to me), I begin eilminating songs and narrowing the list. I also think about how to build a "story" or "journey" of the music I'm interested in.
 
I time all the music and narrow the program to 55 to 65 minutes of music to ensure a concert no longer than 90 minutes. I learned early on that to keep audiences (that are not just friends and family of singers) coming back, to keep the concerts to an hour and a half...no matter how much I have to include certain pieces.
 
We do a very eclectic mix of songs from early Renaissance to very contemporary. I have a handful of composers around the country that regularly send me their songs on a certain topic. I love doing a few new or unknown pieces (that are interesting, that fit our group, and that contribute to my "journey"), but I balance that with audience pleasers (chestnuts, spirituals, or even strong arrangements of pop or jazz songs).
 
Hope that helps, Kitty.
 
Thanks for sharing your stories, everyone!
 
Timm
 
Timm Adams
Artistic Director
Chicago Chamber Choir
www.ChicagoChamberChoir.org
or search for us on YouTube
 
 
 
on May 10, 2013 10:57am
Oh this is amazing.  I have always thought I wouldn't want to be in a "big" choir organization but this really changes that thought.  What you describe, Timm, is near perfection in my humble opinion. You are amazing.  How very wise your choir is and how very blessed to have you searching and finding music that obviously suits them so well.  
 
I think even we smaller choirs with less of an organization could use your method and I am definitely going to spend my summer making changes in my music search process. 
 
Thank you so much for taking the time out of what is obviously a very busy and productive life to share your journey itinery in such a clear and concise way.  
 
on May 10, 2013 10:17am
We have two concerts a year, Christmas and Spring. As Director, I choose the music for the Christmas concert, usually around 12-13 songs, with around 3 repeats from 5 years ago or earlier. For Spring, the chorus board selects 2-3 themes. I research them and tell the board which offers the best opportunity for good published women's choral music. I then select the music. We do a large variety: classical, jazz, blues, Broadway, standards, and more. As part of the selection process, I maintain a file cabinet of nearly 1000 songs, constantly growing. If I can't hear a song on Pepper or the publisher's website, I check YouTube. If it's not there, I'll form a judgement in my head or, in some cases, I'll create a midi file. It doesn't take long, using the software that I have. Regarding rehearsals, I usually take around 12 weeks to teach the music, followed by a run-through and then a dress rehearsal.
 
Bill Paisner
Director, Southwest Women's Chorus
www.SouthwestWomensChorus.org
on May 10, 2013 11:00am
Bill your process is much like Timm's above but certainly has different twists that are readily applicable for all of us I think.  
 
I bet your Chorus loves singing those songs so carefully and thoughtfully chosen.
 
Thanks so much. 
 
on May 10, 2013 4:20pm
I love Timm's process and mine is a bit similar.  I, as well, conduct a chamber choir.  We have two concerts a calender year--one in the fall and one in the spring.  I choose music written, for the most part, specifically for a smaller group, between 11-15 singers.  The fall concert is always sacred and the spring concert is always secular.  We began the group with the thought of doing only two concerts a year (and at least one if not more separate gigs during and between each concert cycle) and I wanted a way of focusing and came up with the sacred/secular way. We don't do a holiday concert unless we are engaged for a holiday concert and that has made life ever so much more pleasant!
 
I begin with my "music bucket list"--pieces I just love or that I have always wanted to do.  Sometimes that jump starts my programming and sometimes it distracts me but since the beginning of our second season, I have stuck with the sacred/secular plan.  Often, one piece begins my journey.  I plan about 18 months to two years ahead.  Themes are good and I try to have pieces which compliment each other and our theme.....I try to program *fun* pieces as well as *serious* pieces  I have final say about repertoire but I allow my singers to make suggestions when we have our post concert cycle de-briefings with the understanding their piece might not be sung for a couple of years.
 
Here is the last few years worth of themes and rep---enjoy!
 
Spring 2011
"The MMS goes POP!  Contemporary Settings of Shakespeare and Bach and Mozart the Swingle Way"
(Emma Lou Diemer Shakepeare settings, Matthew Harris Shakespeare settings, Ward Swingle settings of Bach and "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik")
Fall 2011
"Music of Thanksgiving and Praise"
(William Billings, Moses Hogan and J.S. Bach Motet #230 on the same program)
Spring 2012
"From Venice to Vienna: Music from the Salon"
(Italian Madrigals and German Partsongs)
Fall 2012
"Sacred Songs from Sacred Places"
(Motets by William Byrd, Salome Rossi and Claudio Monteverdi)
Spring 2013
"From Yum Yum to Buttercup and Everyone In Between: An Operetta Pastiche"
(choruses and solos from operettas)
Fall 2013
"Music from the Galant"
(a small work by Galuppi and a Mass by Leonardo Leo---Tom Tropp's Galant Masters Project)
Spring 2014
"Spring Music from England and the USA"
(Britten's "Five Flower Songs", selections from Randall Tompson's "Frostiana" and several of Persechetti's Cumming's Songs)
Fall 2014
"Our Favorite Motets"
(I will take requests from singers for this one---already a number of William Billings, Mozart Tantum Ergo....who knows what else!?!?!)
 
Marie Grass Amenta, Founder and Music Director
the Midwest Motet Society
 
 
 
on May 10, 2013 5:09pm
That is quite remarkable, Marie.  Thanks so much.  Again, a bit of a different twist but obviously really works for you and your singers.  The sacred and secular concerts is a new one to me and again a fresh way to honour each.  
 
Thanks too for sharing the concert materials you have done and will do.  They do look really interesting and it must be fun for your singers to learn and present.  
 
You have given us another really interesting way to approach the music choices we can make.  With yours chosen so much in advance, there is no confusion as to just what you will do next.  You and your singers have a clear path that has a great deal of varaiation.  Super!
 
 
 
on May 13, 2013 1:43am
I run two very different choirs in the UK and rely heavily on the Naxos music library for new repertoire. Many academic institutions pay an annual subscription to Naxos; in the UK, some public libraries do, too. It's also possible to take out a private subscription to the library but it's quite expensive. I've no idea how many pieces of choral music there are on the site but it must number tens of thousands.
Every three to five years, I put together around 25 concert programmes for each choir. I start by asking members for suggestions of new pieces and also which pieces they'd like to do again. I then add in the new pieces which I've found on Naxos. (By "new", I'm not necessarily talking about modern. The music of Ferrabosco was a recent discovery for me.) For my chamber choir, I distribute, via the internet, shortish clips of each piece I'm proposing. I do so with careful regard to issues of copyright, ensuring no clip is either saleable or accessible by the public at large. The feedback I receive is used then to construct the programmes, of which there are four per year. Every Christmas concert we do is programmed by choir members (with guidance from me).
My community choir of 140 members follows a vaguely similar pattern, although I don't distribute my proposals to the membership. Members are asked to contribute ideas (I use a massive piece of paper in our rehearsal room for them to write on); I then add in my own. A sub-committee of six people are given clips of the proposed programmes; they then decide which concerts to do, with careful regard to finance (we invariably make a substantial loss when using an orchestra).
Themes I've used with my chamber choir have included Mass movements (e.g. concerts entitled "Sanctus", etc); nations (we recently did "The American Connection" with music by Cooman, Lauridsen and Whitacre); cities ("Pilgrimage to Santiago da Compostela"); obvious combinations of composers ("From Taverner to Tavener"). Since we perform a cappella, we invariably share a programme with an instrumentalist, often a pianist, who, where possible, will fit repertoire to our theme. A recent programme "Valentines" provided an ideal opportunity for themes for choir and pianist to meld. I try to include lighter music in as many programmes as possible and will frequently mix folk music with sacred pieces.
I always bear in mind developmental issues with both choirs. For example, my community choir has recently sung Rachmaninov's Vespers for the first time in 15 years and Bach's B minor mass for the first time in 18 years. There had been a period where neither standards nor numbers were sufficiently high enough to tackle these works - doing so was a deliberate plan to improve their musical skills.
 
Peter
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 13, 2013 8:25am
How interesting to see the two ways of choosing music with your different choirs.  
 
It is SO important as you point out that we take into account where each choir is with skills, abilities and numbers when choosing.  Thanks so much for that great reminder. 
 
on May 13, 2013 4:47am
Kitty,
 
Nashville Singers introduces about 8-10 new songs each year. I picked 99% of the songs in the first three years. In 2012, we formed a music evaluation committee to introduce song ideas and serve as a sounding board for all suggestions. The two standing members of this committee are the Director and Associate Director and we have three at-large members of this committee that may change from year to year. We do not consider any piece where we cannot preview an audio or video recording first. The Director of Music retains final approval on songs selected.
 
All new songs are expected to be memorized with four weeks of introduction and we provide part-predominant learning media for all songs. My goal is to be able to perform a new song in public (memorized) within two months of introduction. We perform in the community anywhere from 12-20 times annually. We do everything we can to NOT spend rehearsal time learning notes and words and expect the members to learn the basics on their own.
 
We maintain a repertoire of 30 songs, make sure that at least 50% of the music presented at our annual concert is new, and make sure no songs are performed more than two years in a row.
 
We rehearse 39 times per year from 7-10pm, with 140 minutes of each meeting allocated to rehearsing music. The leaves 91 hours of actual rehearsal time available over the course of the year
 
This year, the eight new songs we're working will get an average of 27 "touches" over the course of the year with an average of five hours of rehearsal time per song.
The 21 older songs we're maintaining this year will get an average of 15 "touches" per year with an average of 3 three hours of rehearsal time annually for each song.
 
We sing an eclectic mix of music. The 2013 song list includes:
 
Religious/Gospel
    I Then Shall Live (with track)
    Irish Blessing
    O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
    My Lord and I (with track)
    The Lord's Prayer
 
Patriotic
    The Star-Spangled Banner
 
Americana
    Danny Boy
 
Songs from Broadway Musicals or Movies
    Bring Him Home
    How High the Moon
    Over the Rainbow
    Tonight
    When She Loved Me
 
Popular Music
    Happy Together
    Lion Sleeps Tonight
    Oh Bla Di, Oh Blah Da
 
Love Songs
    Beyond the Sea
 
Novelty
    Blew By You
 
Christmas Repertoire
    Believe
    Birthday of a King
    Coventry Carol
    Do You Hear What I Hear
    I Wonder What You're Doing for Christmas
    It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
    Let It Snow
    Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
    Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town
    Silent Night
    Sleigh Ride
    The Secret of Christmas
    We Wish You a Merry Christmas
 
I hope this helps.

TODD WILSON
Executive Director
Director of Music
Nashville Singers, Inc.
615-852-SING (7464) office
615-669-TODD (8633) cell
615-523-TODD (8633) fax
Website: www.nashvillesingers.org
Twitter: www.twitter.com/nashsingers
LinkedIn: www.tinyurl.com/NashvilleSingers
Facebook: www.facebook.com/NashvilleSingers
Online Store: www.cafepress.com/nashvillesinger
YouTube: www.youtube.com/TheNashvilleSingers
ReverbNation: www.reverbnation.com/nashvillesingers
 
on May 13, 2013 7:47am
Danny Boy under Americana?  Interesting.
on May 13, 2013 8:20am
Danny Boy is Americana by usage.  Although the words are by the English lyricist Fredric Weatherly, the song is sung most often by Americans and Canadians of Irish heritage.  I guess that makes it fall into many categories indeed. Never thought of that before. 
 
on May 13, 2013 2:42pm
Hi Kitty,
 
Nor had I thought of including it in progremming as Americana.  Wider horizons opening!
 
 
David
on May 13, 2013 8:31am
Thanks Todd.  This helps a lot.  It gives me hope.  Our choir does much the same with community gigs with different groups.  That allows us to "reuse" our favourites.  When you see how much new music some groups learn for set concerts it almost boggles the mind (at least it does mine).  
 
Your break down of the time for learning songs is so helpful.  I am going back to do the math for the coming year. 
 
on May 13, 2013 7:20pm
Kitty,
 
i should have added ...
 
We will celebrate our 5th anniversary in November of 2013.
We're a TTBB ensemble of 18 auditioned singers paying $240 per year in dues.
Our 2012 budget was just over $20,000.
I started working on song ideas for 2014 in the fall of 2012.
 
Todd Wilson
The Nashville Singers, Inc.
 
on May 14, 2013 8:50am
We have a music selection committee made up of members of the chorus. (We have a board of directors, but they are uninvolved in music selection.) As the artistic director, I somewhat lead the committee. I also have unspoken veto power - if I strongly felt that a song was not appropriate for us, I cannot imagine the rest of the committee arguing with me, because they trust my musical opinion. If I love a piece the committee hates...it's usually up to me to convince them, or not. But if the entire committee hates it, I will likely be faced with a full chorus that doesn't like it either, and I have to decide if it's a battle worth fighting.
 
We sing two major concerts a year, in December/January and June, as well as smaller specific runouts. Each concert consists of 10-12 full choral pieces, plus a few solos and small groups. We are a non-auditioned community chorus, so most of the pieces are not "masterworks" - generally all are under five minutes. We usually have a wide mix of traditional choral, pop/standards, Broaday, world music and contemporary choral pieces. We rehearse weekly from September until the winter concert and January until the June concert, with a day long "retreat" rehearsal and a weekend sectional rehearsal for each concert. We also have two extra tech rehearsals in the two weeks before the concert.
 
We tend toward themed concerts, so the committee first agrees on a theme, making sure we can think of sufficient interesting pieces that would fit the theme. The themes are often tied to the community groups we are donating a portion of our proceeds to.  We then brainstorm pieces, listen to recordings, look through our database of sheet music, etc. I have discovered some beautiful pieces of music that were brought in by other members of the committee that I never might have found if I had been searching on my own! I love this aspect of our system. We try to use music we already own or can borrow for free for 50% of our concert material to keep costs down. However, we try to go at least three or four years before repeating pieces. We also have part specific rehearsal tracks.
 
It's a very non-dictatorial system that is very characteristic of the way our chorus runs in general (we were first established in 1978 as a feminist chorus.) It works very well for us.
 
Kristy Houston
Rochester Women's Community Chorus
on May 14, 2013 4:46pm
This seems like a very good system indeed.  Everyone gets a chance to have input with your having the final word which makes perfect sense.  When your group has been around for so many years then things are being done well.
 
Thanks for sharing your details.  I really like the idea of the "retreat" type rehearsal.  That sounds like a worthwhile idea to pursue.  
 
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