Though it has its drama and pitfalls, directing a church choir can be a rewarding experience, especially if you get the group really sounding good. With a wide range of beautiful songs available to perform in church, a fabulous choir is sure to impress the congregation. With some minor preparation, you can make changes to your directing tactics that will help your choir show immediate improvement.
Evaluation and Placement
Evaluate each member of your church choir to determine each singer's range and skill level. Use a piano to pinpoint each member's high and low range. Write down each singer's range; you will need it later.
Test how well your choir members can read music. Have each choir member sight read a short, simple excerpt of vocal music. Write down each singer's strengths and weaknesses.
Place your singers into the appropriate ranges using the information you learned during the evaluation. Smaller choirs are generally divided into four parts: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Large choirs can be further divided into mezzo-soprano and contralto for women, and men can be divided into countertenor and baritone. See Resources for a guide to ranges for each choir division.
Identify your soloists based on what you know about the songs your choir sings and the information you gathered during the evaluation.
Rewrite individual parts that you know are out of range for your sections. If a note is too high or too low for your singers to hit in tune, try moving it an octave up or down to see how it sounds.
Be clear with your instructions. Make sure everyone knows what your commands, musical terms and hand gestures mean. Learn to recognize when a singer is pretending to know a musical term or part so you can help them correct it.
Be respectful of all abilities. Make changes for individuals if a choir part is too difficult for them to sing. Church choir is supposed to be fun, and it's not fun if a singer's part is way over his head.
Pick songs your choir likes. Obligatory service and holiday songs aside, when you can, consult your church choir about the songs you choose. Rethink forcing your choir to sing out-of-date songs unless you are obliged or required to sing them.
Remind your choir about performances that are coming up, songs you are working on and parts you've told them need work. Remind them to assume good singing posture and to breathe correctly. Do not assume they remember.
Spend time with individuals and sections. Have each individual sing his part; then have each range section sing together, apart from the other sections. During some practices, instruct your choir to break into sections and practice together; drop in on their section practices for short instruction sessions. If a harmony or part sounds strange to you, double check with each member of the section to make sure everyone is singing it correctly.
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Motivate your choir. Remind them that they are singing beautiful songs to people they love and respect in service of God. Remind them to be open to feel the power of grace when practicing, when performing and in life.
Be wary of adhering to ranges too rigidly when choosing a soloist. Some singers sound best when singing notes outside of their assigned range.