adult choir

Top 10 Posts of 2018

Top 10 Posts of 2018

It’s that time of the year! Here’s a look at 2018, by the numbers:

2018 Reading Session Picks: Adult Choir

2018 Reading Session Picks: Adult Choir

It's that time of the year: time for my annual reading session picks!

Every year, I round up my top anthem picks from the latest publisher's catalogs, playlists, and reading sessions (plus, sometimes a few that aren't new that I've recently discovered and haven't shared here before) to give you a shortcut in your anthem-planning for next year.

First up, the Adult Choir edition. Here are my adult choir reading session picks from the last few years:

Top 25 Favorite Anthems for Intergenerational Choirs

Top 25 Favorite Anthems for Intergenerational Choirs

There’s something special about an intergenerational choir: the coming together of people of all ages and walks of life to share music and lift their voices in song. It sends a message of unity and inclusivity and I think it gives us a little glimpse of what heaven might be like, singing in the angel choir.

Intergenerational choirs are a great way to celebrate something special in the life of the church - an anniversary or special service. The easiest way to create this experience is to combine groups you already have. There are a number of ways to do this.

My Step-By-Step Process for Rehearsing a New Anthem

My Step-By-Step Process for Rehearsing a New Anthem

How do I introduce this anthem to my choir? 

It's a question we've all asked ourselves at one point or another. And truth be told, the rehearsal process for a church choir can be a bit ambiguous. It's sort of like working with a school choir, except they're volunteer adults and you probably have a mix of ages and levels (some might not even read music). Oh, and you need to have something ready to sing every Sunday.

What's a choir director to do? How can you teach something effectively and meaningfully in a short amount of time?

My secret weapon? Start early. I try to give myself plenty of time to introduce, rehearse, and polish an before singing it in worship, so I often introduce it at least four weeks in advance.

I like to spend several weeks working on an anthem in rehearsal - not because it takes the choir a month to learn something new but because it allows us to focus on different elements each week. You'll notice below that my process for rehearsing the anthem is different each week. This keeps our rehearsals varied and interesting - working on several different anthems (in different stages) in rotation each week. 

2015 Reading Session Picks

2015 Reading Session Picks

We had a great time at Lake Junaluska a few weeks ago for Music and Worship Arts Week! One of my favorite things about this conference is all the music we get to hear, read, and sing through, from choir performances to reading sessions to combing the pop-up music store.

Like last year, I thought it might be fun (and helpful!) to share a few of my favorite new finds from this year's reading sessions. Some of these are new titles, others are just new to me, but regardless, if you haven't heard these pieces, you're in for a real treat! SD and I are pretty careful with what we choose to keep and leave behind, and these are our favorites of the stack we brought home with us.

Enjoy!

50 Awesome Choral Warm-Ups for Church Choirs

50 Awesome Choral Warm-Ups for Church Choirs

Vocal warm-ups are an important part of singing, but they offer many other benefits in a choral setting. Choral warm-ups are an important and powerful tool to get your group singing together with a good tone, resonance, and proper breath support (source). Plus, there are many ways to include pedagogy and teaching in these first few minutes of the rehearsal that will save you time later.

Warm-ups are often an after-thought in rehearsal planning and many choirs tend to do the same batch of exercises every week. There's nothing wrong with this, per se, but if you spend just a few minutes thoughtfully planning warm-ups that prepare concepts from the repertoire, warm-ups become a valuable teaching tool. There are several benefits to this approach:

Your choir will be more engaged. By mixing up the warm-up exercises each week, you offer your choir a new challenge every time they come to rehearsal. They will likely pay more attention and be more engaged while singing.

You will spend less time introducing new pieces. By preparing new concepts in the warm-ups (e.g. triple meter or vowel placement or a melodic phrase), your choir will be practicing a challenging spot from a new piece without even realizing it!

2014 Reading Session Picks: Adult Choir

2014 Reading Session Picks - Adult Choir.png

It's July 9, which can only mean one thing - it's time to start listening to Christmas music! As a church musician, I do a lot of planning in the summer, especially for Advent and Christmas. We attended a number of reading sessions at Lake Junaluska a few weeks ago and came home with a stack of our favorites.

Here are my top 5 (new!) anthems for adult choir:

Sweetest Music, Softly Stealing (Elaine Hagenberg) SATB Choir with some divisi with Piano

Lovely text and gorgeous setting by a new name in church music - Elaine Hagenberg.

The Work of Christmas (Dan Forrest) SATB Choir with some divisi, a cappella

Beautiful text by Howard Thurman and lovely setting by Dan Forrest. Great for the Sunday after Christmas or during Epiphany.

Pilgrim Song (arr. Lloyd Larson) SATB Choir with optional Flute

The adult choir at the Lake did an arrangement of this American folk hymn that was gorgeous but beyond the capabilities of most church choirs. Looking for something a little simpler? Here is a very nice, accessible arrangement by Lloyd Larson.

The Wexford Carol (arr. Howard Helvey) SATB Choir with Piano

This is a great setting of a classic, beloved carol. I love Howard Helvey's arrangements! Check out his arrangement of Ride on King Jesus, if you don't know it.

Thou Who Wast Rich (arr. Molly Ijames) SATB Choir with Piano

A lovely setting of a lesser-known Christmas carol, with text by Frank Houghton (based on 2 Corinthians 8). Beautiful!

Would you use any of these anthems with your choir? Which one is your favorite?

*This post includes affiliate links, which means if you purchase through some of the links above, Sheet Music Plus will pay me a small fee for referring you to them at no extra cost to you. Win-win!

Next up: my favorite new anthems for children's choirs!

Silent Singing

first-pres-sanctuary

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Last week, we had our final choir rehearsal of the year.  I knew it would be busy as we prepared for our spring program on Sunday (nine anthems + narration) but in the midst of moving the piano across the Sanctuary, putting everyone in order, getting the music organized, and listening for spots that needed to be reviewed at the end of our run-through, we shared an amazing teaching moment.

Reflecting on this later in the evening, I said to Steve, “Moments like that can’t be planned.  They just. . .happen.  I couldn’t have come up with that and written it into a lesson plan no matter how much time I spent preparing.  It came to me in the moment as a reaction to what was happening.  It was pure improvisation.” 

These are the moments in teaching that excite me.  Yes, it requires a fair amount of flexibility and willingness to adapt and respond.  It requires a certain level of awareness and the ability to react quickly.  “Did you notice that everyone stopped talking?”  I asked a few minutes later.   “They were mystified.”  Steve replied, simply.  “When you challenge them with something they don’t already know, they pay close attention.”

We had just finished running the program for Sunday (about 45 minutes) and I corralled everyone into the pews for a little technical work.  I asked them to self-evaluate their performance on a few things: “How were your dynamics?  How were your cut-offs?  Did you breathe in the right places?  How were your vowels?” 

Mostly the response was something like, “I think we breathed in all the right places, right?  Did we breathe in the wrong place somewhere?”

When we arrived at the a cappella section in “Yes, My Jesus Loves Me” (gorgeous setting of the traditional text by Mary McDonald), the pitch sagged (especially with the altos), the sopranos rushed the beginnings of the phrases, and the tempo slowed.

First, I asked for the lower three parts and I sang/played along with the altos to help them recognize the pitch discrepancy.  Then, I asked for just the altos.  When putting things back together, I asked the sopranos to sing their part silently.  “Breathe, mouth the words, feel the vowels, hear your part in your head, but don’t sing out loud,” I instructed.  They looked surprised when I turned to them at the end of the section and asked, “How did you do?”  There were a few chuckles.  “No, seriously.  How did you do?  What are you practicing when singing your part silently?”  I pushed.  I got a few brave answers about rhythm and breath.  All eyes were on me.

“Did you rush the beginnings of the phrases?  Did you take big enough breaths?  Could you hear your part lining up with the altos, tenors, and basses?  Practicing your part silently [fancy word: audiation] engages a different kind of listening – you’re learning to listen with this [pointing to my head] instead of just this [pointing to my ear].”

They were spellbound.  “Let’s try it again – all four parts.”  The difference was amazing.  No dragging tempo, they breathed together, they started and ended phrases together, intonation was better, and their sound was much more unified. 

Amazing. 

These are the moments that fill and inspire me as a teacher and as a musician.  This is why I do what I do.

Choir Concert: The Reason We Sing

Yesterday afternoon, the choir had their spring program – nine of their very favorite anthems from the past year (yes, we voted).  See last year’s program here.  This year, I decided to turn it into more of a program, with narration tying everything together.  It worked out perfectly - a beautiful celebration of the reasons why we sing.  Enjoy!

Narration: Each week, we gather in this place – just a room with four walls and a few doors and windows.  We find rest, we learn, we encourage, and we love one another.  You see, it’s not the place, it’s the people that matter.  It’s not the words that are spoken or the songs that are sung, it’s the hearts that are shared in the process.  Within these walls, we share, we pray, we sing, and we listen.

Anthem: “Within These Walls” (Choplin)

Narration: There comes a time for each of us when we put childish things behind us and take on the responsibilities of adulthood.  However, there are moments of our lives when we find ourselves so humbled that we become filled with that childlike sense of awe and wonder.  Have you been there?  It’s in those moments of sweet innocence that we rediscover the simplicity of faith itself.  Jesus loves me.  The words seem so ordinary at first but the depth and richness of this promise fill our very beings with uncompromising hope and assurance.  Jesus loves me.  This simple statement may call to mind that beloved children’s song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.  Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

Anthem: “Yes, My Jesus Loves Me” (McDonald)

Narration: Can you imagine what it would have been like to meet Jesus during His time here on earth?  Perhaps you would run up to greet Him and savor every moment you could be with Him.  Or perhaps you would feel overwhelmed by His presence and instead would observe things from a distance.  Would you shout, “Hosanna!” or would you let others speak for you?  The Scriptures tell us “if the people don’t shout, the rocks will cry out!”  Let your voice be heard!

Anthem: “Ain’t No Rock Gonna Shout For Me” (Larson)

Narration: There’s something about water: calm and refreshing, powerful and strong.  Spiritually speaking, water cleanses and renews us and makes us whole again.  Are you weary?  Are you burdened with the cares of the world?  “I will give you rest,” God says.  Come as you are without expectation or money or price.  Just come.

Anthem: “Come to the Water” (arr. Hasseler)

Narration: Some things bring us together and some set us apart.  We each have hearts that beat and hands that serve and voices with which to sing.  We have eyes and ears to see and hear and communicate with one another.  But what sets us apart – those things which make each of us unique – are just as important.  We come from many places and backgrounds.  We’ve shared a unique set of experiences.  We are part of different generations and we each have varying strengths and weaknesses.  Despite these things which might divide and separate us, we share a common bond of unity in Christ.  United in Your spirit, Lord, we are one.

Anthem: “We Are One, Lord” (Pethel)

Narration: “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining; and I believe in love, even when there’s no one there.  And I believe in God, even when He is silent; I believe through any trial, there is always a way.”  These words, believed to have been written by a Jew during the Holocaust were found inscribed on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany during World War II.  Though almost 70 years old, the words still resonate with us.  It’s a powerful statement of faith.  Sometimes, all we can do is hope: hope for clarity, hope for resolution, hope for a better tomorrow.  “May there someday be sunshine.  May there someday be happiness.  May there someday be love.  May there someday be peace.”

Anthem: “Inscription of Hope” (Stroope), Women’s Choir

Narration: God often speaks to us in words of assurance.  “I am love.  I will be your strength.  I am light in the darkness.  I am with you always.”  He comforts us when we are upset.  He listens when we speak.  He comes to us when we feel alone.  He loves us unconditionally.  He carries us when we are too weak to walk.  He lights the path before us, giving us wisdom and clarity in our decision-making.  Listen to the voice of God speaking to your heart: “I love you and you are mine.”

Anthem: “You Are Mine” (Haas)

Narration: Music.  That thing which engages us, inspires us, connects us, empowers us, soothes us, and fills our spirits to the very brim, music lies within us and surrounds us in our everyday culture.  The songs of the earth echo in our souls – we carry them in our hearts.  In this way, music becomes a part of us.  It’s a form of expression, a language that knows no bounds.  When words fail, music speaks.  We cannot keep it silent.  And so we sing.  We sing about faith and love and experiences.  We sing about summer time.  We sing about singing.  How can we not?

Anthem: “How Can I Keep From Singing?” (arr. Courtney)

Narration: Life is not about the destination, it’s about the trip.  It’s about the experiences, the joy, the sorrow, the lessons, and the people with whom we share all of these things.  And so, we help those in need.  We give as much as we are able.  We accept help from those who care.  We love one another as much as we love ourselves.  Called to live as brothers and sisters in Christ, we know that true joy lies in the journey.

Anthem: “Climbin’ Up the Mountain, Children” (Shackley)

Narration by Ashley Danyew

Christmas Choir Kick-Off: Highlights

It's the most wonderful time of the year!  We had our Christmas Choir Kick-Off this past Saturday and the weather turned cool just in time!  From red and green Christmas sweaters to the potluck lunch and paper snowflakes to gingerbread houses, a great time was had by all.  Here are a few pictures from the day:

My team's gingerbread house creation: notice the woodpile, warm glowing windows, picket fence, garlands, bushes, and fresh snowfall.