Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts for Choir Members

Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts for Choir Members

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Rehearsals are well underway, the annual Choir Christmas Party is being planned, and the sanctuary is fully decorated with wreaths, garlands, and candlelight.

But there's one item at the bottom of your to-do list you just can't seem to check off - "gifts for choir members". You want to show your choir that you appreciate them - their gifts of time and energy and support throughout the year - but you're at a loss as to what kind of gift would be thoughtful, affordable, and meaningful to all members.

That's where this post comes in.

How to Plan an Awesome Christmas Choir Kick-Off Party

How to Plan an Awesome Christmas Choir Kick-Off Party

Who doesn't love a Christmas party in September?! A Christmas choir party is a great way to kick off the new choir year, welcome new members, and build community, and a fun way to create some hype around whatever you have planned for Christmas.

My first year as Director of Music at the First Congregational Church in Westminster, MA, I surprised my choir one Wednesday night in September with a Christmas party. I hung up twinkle lights and pulled out a box of Christmas decorations for the tables. We drank hot chocolate, ate Christmas cookies, and played a few hilarious games (see below).

As an aside, for a group that didn't really enjoy spending time together in social settings, this was the start of building community. Within two years, this group of singers became a group of friends who truly enjoyed spending time together.

The next year, I planned a Saturday workshop. I brought in a friend (a professional conductor) to rehearse the group (a great learning experience for all of us), we read through our Christmas cantata, played a few Christmas games, and had a potluck lunch.

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part II

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part II

Earlier this week, I shared Part I in a new series called "The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels. Part I included everything you need (and ever wanted) to know about vowel production, vowel placement, tone, and diphthongs and triphthongs.

Today, I'm sharing Part II with some of the most common "problem vowels" and helpful strategies for fixing them in rehearsal.

But, before we can get talk about problem vowels, we need to talk about what they look (and sound) like and how to diagnose them.

Here are some common choir problems you may have faced:

Problem #1: My choir has a tendency to sing flat or sharp.

This might be related to a lot of things - breath, posture, vocal production, etc. But, it might also be a vowel problem. If that's the case, manipulating the vowels a bit might do the trick.

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part I

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part I

Whenever I think of vowels, I think of this scene from Singin' in the Rain:

Any other Singin' in the Rain fans out there?

All jest aside, vowels are a vital component of the English language - spoken and sung. We talk a lot about consonants with our choirs, particularly with words like "God" and "bread" and "heart" that have strong beginning and/or ending consonants. But, what about vowels? How do we talk about them?

For those of you who studied voice or have read up on vowel production, you might know the difference between pre-, post-, and medio-palatal regions off the top of your head. For the rest of the world, the subtleties of vowel production, tongue placement, tone, and IPA symbols are a little more vague and mysterious.

And when it comes to talking about these things with your choir? Well, you can imagine how that might go (and all the jokes the basses will make).

But, no matter your background or the level of your choir, vowels are a significant and vital part of choral-singing. In fact, "Vowels are just as important for intelligibility as are consonants." (source

Prayers for Choirs: No. 2

Prayers for Choirs: No. 2

It's that time of the year again. It's hard to ignore the daily reminders - pink and red hearts in the store windows, chocolate displays, and flower delivery ads in the sidebar of your browser.

Valentine's Day. Perhaps more of a "Hallmark holiday" than a true representation of what it means to love and be loved, but still, isn't it worth thinking about?

"Love one another" was the greatest commandment ever given, after all.

Love one another - no qualifiers, no rules, no exceptions. Just love. It's a way of life, a calling, really. But, you should know: This kind of love is not the kind you read about in Hallmark cards.

"The kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence." - Bob Goff, Love Does

This kind of love asks us to give of ourselves and set aside our own wants and needs. It's time-consuming and it won't always be reciprocated. But it also never fades. It "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). This kind of love never fails.

Infographic: 10 Ways to Seat A Choir

Infographic: 10 Ways to Seat A Choir

There are lots of thoughts and opinions out there on choral seating formations: some swear by sopranos and altos in front with tenors and basses behind, others advocate for stacking sections (front-to-back), and still others say mixed formations are the way to go. The truth is, there's really no right or wrong way to do it, though you may find some formations work better for your group or for particular pieces you're singing.

That's why, in today's post, I'm sharing ten different ways to seat a choir. I'm also mixing things up a little by sharing my first-ever infographic! Before we get into seating formations though, let's talk about one basic principle that applies no matter what: 

The Power of the Curve

Sitting or standing in a curved formation makes a huge difference with listening, tuning, and choral blend (source). In The School Choral Program (2008), Michele and Holt and James Jordan describe two key reasons why sitting or standing in straight rows causes problems:

3 Tips for Playing Open Score (For Choral Accompanists Everywhere)

3 Tips for Playing Open Score (For Choral Accompanists Everywhere)

As all choral accompanists know, playing from open score is a fact of life. At one point or another, you'll likely find yourself sitting at the keyboard in front of a choral score with no piano reduction, forced to muddle your way through reading four lines of music at the same time. How can you prepare? What can you do to develop this skill?

If you have the opportunity to practice in advance, there are a few things you can do:

1. Practice systematically.

This is probably the most common piece of advice you'll receive, but careful, systematic practice is a helpful first step toward developing this skill and training your eyes to read four lines of music at once. Begin by playing each part individually - soprano and alto parts with your right hand, tenor and bass parts with your left hand.

Once you've played each part, practice them in all 2-part combinations: SA, ST, SB, AT, AB, TB. Again, try to keep SA parts in your right hand and TB parts in your left.

5 Things to Organize in a Church Music Program

5 Things to Organize in a Church Music Program

As a music director, you wear a lot of hats.

You direct, you play, you email, you plan, you listen, you conduct, you coordinate, etc. Your time is valuable and you know that your rehearsal time is valuable. How can you make sure you're making the most of it? It always helps me to start by getting organized. There's something about crisp file folders, colored pens, pretty charts, and a few fun paper clips that makes me feel more confident, productive, and ready to get to work.

Not sure where to start? Here are five things to organize in your music program to help things run smoothly this year:

Best-Kept Secrets of Choral Voicing

Best-Kept Secrets of Choral Voicing

Choral voicing is a technique with long-standing history used by choral directors to seat singers based on characteristics of the voice - color, tone, timbre, placement, and vibrato. Contrary to popular belief, this technique is not just for college and professional choirs. Try it at home with your church choir, community choir, and even children's choirs! It will be well worth your time.

Each voice has a unique series of overtones, which contributes to timbre (source). The ideal choral sound is based on overtone series that complement each other rather than clashing. Having singers with like, complementary voices stand next to each other creates a natural "blend" that does not require singers to compromise their vocal technique. Did I mention it fosters the best intonation? It's a win-win, really.

Here are some of the best-kept secrets of choral voicing:

No-Fuss, Instant Anthems for the Small Church Choir

No-Fuss, Instant Anthems for the Small Church Choir

If you work with a small church choir, you know the challenges of having an anthem (or two!) ready every Sunday. Sometimes, you check the sign-out calendar and realize you won't have any Altos next week.

Sometimes, service plans change at the last minute.

And sometimes, you just need a no-fuss, simple solution for the Sunday anthem slot.

Perfect for Sundays when you haven't had a rehearsal, or times when you have a slimmer crowd (think holiday weekends or during the summer), here are a few quick ways to create no-fuss, instant anthems for your choir:


Your hymnal is a great resource! Choose a crowd favorite, one with 4-part writing and singable lines, and experiment with ways to sing each verse:

- unison women or men
- additive by phrase (S, SA, SAT, SATB or S, ST, SAT, SATB)
- 4-part
- Sopranos singing the Tenor line as a descant, everyone else in unison on the melody
- one section singing the melody on text while the others sing the harmony parts on "ooh"
- Tenors singing the melody (Sopranos singing the Tenor part up an octave)