Wednesday, May 15, 2013

If you're feeling the calling to direct choirs . . .

I received a comment on my page on choir directing tips.  An aspiring director named KD said:
Hey, I am in prayer about something and hope that someone get this. I am a director, that hasn’t directed in a while, but I got an opportunity to direct about two months ago and God was on fire, but it was only one time, and now I am feeling like I should be doing it more often. Any advice on which direction, I should go in???????????
The thoughts that came to my mind are these:
  1. If you’re a member of a choir, talk to your minister of music and tell them about your interest.  If they agree that you have skills in that direction, they might want to include you as a part of a rotation of directors.
  2. Perhaps start a choir from scratch!  Talk with your pastor.  It could be that there is an interest in the church in establishing a youth or children’s choir, a men’s or women’s choir, or something else.
  3. If your church doesn’t need anything new in terms of choirs or directors, perhaps there is another church in your area that doesn’t have a choir at all.  You could offer to help them start one.  It might take some serious planning to figure out how to schedule your activities at another church and still keep your commitments to your home church, but if you can make it work it would be a great blessing to them and to you as well.
I would love to hear any other suggestions that anyone has on this question.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Learning how to hear choir parts

This is a question that I get asked from time to time -- "How can I learn to pick out the soprano, alto, and tenor parts to choir songs?"

It takes practice, practice, and practice.  And then practice.  The more time you spend at it the more clear it becomes.

People who have been singing harmonies in choirs for a long time start to develop an understanding of how the harmonies work.  Some altos and tenors can get a feeling for what their part will be as soon as they hear a song.  But that is after lots of time spent singing lots of other songs.

I would suggest that people try listening to recordings repeatedly and trying to sing along with the different parts -- sing the soprano part, then the alto, then the tenor.  You may need to listen to one song over and over and over until you can differentiate and sing all the parts.  Doing this with several songs will help you get better at hearing the parts in other songs as well.

Remember that when the different vocal parts sing together, they are making a chord.  If you're a musician, or if you're friends with a musician, you can look at the chord structure of the song and get some idea of what each of the vocal parts should be doing.  The chords that the voices are making may not always be exactly the same as the chords the instruments are playing, but it's a good start.

If you're really serious about learning this skill, something else that could help a lot is going to rehearsals where a director is teaching who knows choir parts really well.  Listen to them teach lots of songs and sing along with each part when they're teaching each one.  The more you do it, the more you'll develop an instinct for hearing the harmonies in other songs.

Does anyone else have suggestions?  How did you learn how to pick out choir parts?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I love singing with you, but can I still sing without you?

This past Sunday I had the good fortune to attend a free concert by the Master's College Chorale.  It's a college choir, all students, very well trained.

One thing that's so impressive about choirs like these is how every individual member of the choir knows their part for themselves for sure.  No one uses anyone else as a crutch.

The video above is from a performance that the Master's College Chorale did in Israel back in 2009.  You can see how they're standing single-file all around the room.  Not only that, every singer is standing between two other singers who sing a different part from theirs.  The song they're doing in this video starts off with a lot of unison, but they break into full harmony at the 2:00 mark.

When I saw this chorale perform in Long Beach, they were not only spread out across the stage and around the walls, but also down the two center aisles.  Right next to my seat was a soprano, behind her was a bass, behind him an alto, behind her a tenor.  And every one was singing with full confidence.

Those of us who direct choirs at small churches sometimes wish that our choir members were all that solid.  Most of us have that alto who has to be sandwiched between two other altos, or else she'll start sliding up to the soprano part.  Or maybe that tenor who will start singing the melody (but an octave lower) if you don't watch him.  Or the soprano who will have a tendency to sing parts that are even higher than she needs to go (until she notices that the other sopranos aren't with her).

One of the beautiful things about choir is the fellowship of working together.  Like the Hezekiah Walker song -- "I need you . . . you need me . . ."  Together, we help each other and strengthen each other.  But there's nothing wrong with wanting to build up each choir member to the point that they can still go forth even if there's no help around.

It's interesting to think about what kind of practice would be needed to get every member of the choir to the point where they could sing their part with no support.  Having them sing one by one in rehearsals?  That could be frightening to some.  I'm going to do some thinking about this.

If any of you have any thoughts, please share them in the comments.