How to Start a Church Choir

This fall, SD and I are starting an intergenerational (youth and adult) choir at our church. The church has a strong children's choir program (through 6th grade) and a good size adult choir (30-40). Our program is a short, 8-week session designed for people who love to sing - no prior experience necessary. We meet once a week for an hour and at the end of the session, we'll combine with the adult and children's choirs to sing an anthem in worship.

We created this group for people that like to sing but feel uncomfortable jumping right into the adult choir, those who can't make Wednesday night rehearsals or don't feel they can make the year-long commitment, and those who've never formally sung in a choir but want the experience.

It sounded good on paper.

We gave the invitation by email, print mailings, and the weekly bulletin. We made an announcement in church one Sunday. We shook hands with people we didn't know at Coffee Hour.

One week before our first rehearsal, we had four people signed up.

How do you plan for a first rehearsal if you don't know how many people you'll have? We planned mostly unison/2-part anthems for the first week (see list below), to build everyone's confidence, with the hope that more people might just show up on Monday night. And they did.

We had seven singers the first week - three men and four women. Two had sung in the adult choir in the past; everyone else was new. Several had not sung in a choir since high school (quite a few years ago, for some!), but they all had some level of music reading experience. We were thrilled to have such a diverse group! Here is our rehearsal plan from the first night:

Warm-ups - stretching - 5-4-3-2-1 (nah) - 1-123-345-3-1 (ha) - 1-5--4321 (me-ah)

Anthem 1: A Psalm of Thanksgiving (Shaw)

Anthem 2: Soon and Very Soon (arr. Schrader)

Bulletin Bloopers (a quick change-of-pace to get everyone laughing)

Hymn: Amazing Grace (without notation) - part 1: melody - part 2: MI-FA-MI - part 3: DO-SOL-DO

Anthem 3: Simply Alleluia (Moore)

Anthem 4: Song of Joy, Song of Praise (arr. Brighton)

The first night, we did a lot of listening. We kept a fast pace so we could sing through as many different things as we could and listened closely for breath, vowels, and intonation. We emailed everyone the next day to let them know how grateful we were that they came to sing with us. What a joy and privilege it is to sing and make music together!

This week, we had four new people come to rehearsal, bringing our total number to eleven! We split the women and read a few SAB anthems (much to the altos' delight!). Here is our repertoire list:

Unison/2-part Anthems

A Psalm of Thanksgiving (Shaw)
Soon and Very Soon (arr. Schrader)*
Song of Joy, Song of Praise (arr. Brighton)
Simply Alleluia (Moore)
You Are Mine (Haas)*

SAB Anthems

Pié Jesu (Lightfoot)*
Blest Are They (Haas)
Who Will Be a Witness (arr. Moore)*
We Are Singing for the Lord is Our Light (Hopson)*
Gathered As One (Light/Tate)
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (Miller)

SATB Anthems

I Believe (Miller)
Shepherd Me, O God (arr. Hayes)
Order My Steps (arr. Schrader)*

*other voicings available

For more anthem suggestions, see my top 50.

I'm sure I'll have more to share as the weeks progress, but right now, we are so excited for the opportunity to work with this little choir!

Read more:
Top 50 Favorite Anthems for the Small Church Choir
50 (More!) Favorite Anthems for the Small Church Choir
5 Things to Organize in a Church Music Program
No-Fuss, Instant Anthems for the Small Church Choir