Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two new web pages for choirs who don't have a musician

I just wrote a new web page with ideas for choirs who don't have any instrument player.  Check it out: 3 Ways a Church Choir Can Minister When They Don't Have a Musician.  The page talks about three strategies -- singing a cappella songs, using instrumental tracks, and doing songs that are so very easy to play that someone in your church could probably learn it even if they haven't ever played before.

To go with that, I've written a page with step-by-step instructions for how to play one very easy song.  The page is called "Gospel Music for Non-Musicians: You Can Play 'Holy Spirit' by the New Jersey Mass Choir".

Have fun!

Monday, July 16, 2012

You can never start too early practicing for a concert

Our upcoming concert date: August 26th.

The date we started rehearsing songs for the concert: May 7th (approximately).

But of course, at the same time that you're practicing concert songs, you also have to practice the music that you're going to be singing at your weekly services.  So . . .

The date that we learned the last of the 10 concert songs: July 16th.

I love it.

If we had thought that two months would be plenty of time to prepare for the concert, we would have been scrambling at the end and feeling unready.  But as it stands now, we have 5 rehearsals left to just work on polishing and refining.

Confidence comes from feeling prepared.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Using Sign Language (ASL) When You Direct your Choir

I've found real sign language (ASL) to be very useful sometimes during directing.  More than anything, it can be a helpful reminder for the choir at those places in a song where it's easy to forget what lyrics come next.

For example, one of the choirs I direct sings "King Of Love" by Hillsong.  On the first verse, some of the singers have trouble remembering which word comes first -- "marvelous" or "wonderful".  When we sing that part, I do the ASL sign for the letter "M" first, to remind them that the first thing they say is "You're marvelous".  Then, at the next section, I sign the letter "W" for them to sing "You're wonderful".

Other signs that have come in handy during some of our songs include the signs for "love", "heal", "and", "yes", and others.  It's a very good alternative to mouthing words to them to tell them what's coming next.

Even if the members of the choir don't know sign language, during rehearsal you can teach them the couple of signs that you plan to use during a particular song.

If you want to learn a few signs, there are sign language books that are written specifically for church ministry.

Do you ever use ASL while you're directing?  What signs do you use the most?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Do you use the "H" word with your choir?

I was in a rehearsal once where the director told the choir, "This song is hard."  That was interesting to me because I try to avoid using the word "hard" when I'm teaching a song.

I'll say, "This one is going to take some work," or, "This next part of the song is the most challenging part."  But I think the word "hard" can be a turn-off to some choir members.  If a song "is going to take some work", that suggests that they can definitely do it if they put the work into it.  But if it's "hard", they may get the feeling that maybe it's possible or maybe it's not.

That's my thought, anyway.  I'd be interested to hear how other choir directors feel about it.

Also I have a web page with my suggestions for how to approach teaching difficult music to your choir.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Added another song to "Matthew 28"

Yes, this is a major one.  I have Soprano, Alto, and Tenor practice for the epic Easter piece "Matthew 28" by Donald Lawrence.  Here's the product page: Matthew 28

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New song at "Give Me Jesus"

I just added an arrangement of the spiritual "Give Me Jesus" to our catalog.  It's in the category of "Hymns and Spirituals".

Here's the page: Give Me Jesus

This is an arrangement that I made myself and used with the choir at my home church.  The other choral arrangements of "Give Me Jesus" that I had found were too advanced for the people in my home choir, so I made one of my own that would be better for gospel choirs who are just getting started singing 4-part choral music.

The download of the entire song is free so that you can hear how the arrangement goes.  Then you can purchase the individual parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and the sheet music.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"You make it look so easy"

I learned a new word yesterday -- Sprezzatura.

Sprezzatura means doing something difficult, but doing it with such a casual air that no one would ever know how much effort went into it.  For example, this is sprezzatura:

Is sprezzatura a good ideal for a church choir when they're singing?  I think so, IF it's done right.

Our goal in church singing is to draw attention to the music and the message, not to ourselves.  So we don't want to give the impression that we're out to show everybody how hard we worked to learn the songs.  We want to communicate a feeling that matches the mood of the song, whatever mood that is -- joy, gratitude, love, expectation, repentance, admonition -- not a feeling of "let's see if we can pull this off."

So how do we cultivate that feeling of ease and comfort with the material?

Practice, practice, practice.

Here's an analogy.  The first time you're driving to a new location, you have to carefully look at your directions, the freeway and street signs, the addresses on the buildings, etc.  You put an effort into successfully completing that trip.  But after you've driven there many times, it becomes an instinct.  You drive from your workplace to your home and barely think about the directions.  Instead you can think about how glad you are to be going home, who will be there when you arrive, and what you're going to do once you're there.

It's the same way with a song.  You know a song pretty well after a couple of rehearsals, but you might still have to concentrate to remember your notes, the lyrics, and the sequence.  But after doing it enough times, it becomes a part of you.  Everything is automatic.  That's the time that you're ready to minister the song most effectively.

I believe in rehearsing new songs many times before we sing them.  The more comfort we have with the technical aspects of the music, the more we can focus our mind and spirit on the message -- joy, gratitude, love, expectation, repentance, admonition.  The technical demands barely trouble us any more.  "You make it look so easy."  Sprezzatura.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hello again, world! (Restarting this blog)

Goodness me!  The web host where I was writing The Church Choir blog before has disappeared!

I got no warning, and suddenly my site and all my posts were gone!

Well, nothing to do but start fresh.

Hello again, world.   The purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts about gospel choir directing.  I'll be sharing fresh thoughts, of course, and also republishing some of my old posts from time to time (as best I can remember them).

It's good to be back.