Choir in Modern Worship: Flexibility, Poise, & Passion – Q & A

Questions and Answers

The following is a list of questions asked during the course of the MasterClass on July 10, 2012. The questions appear in the order in which they were posed during the MasterClass. The answers below were written by Vern Sanders after the event.

I lead a senior church choir and I need a source for good and fairly easy sab music. Can you help?
I have never directed a Senior Adult Choir, but I know that Marty Parks has produced some good resources for Senior Adult choirs, so you might take a look at those. I would also recommend that you get in touch with Scott Revo (email him by clicking here), who is very good at helping people find the best possible repertoire for almost any situation.

Can you please elaborate more on what subtext is?
Subtext, as I was using it during the MasterClass, means the underlying meaning of the text. It is most often conveyed through body language and "countenance" - particularly facial expression. That can be as simple as wanting a choir to not be frowning as they sing "Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee..." or it can be as subtle as leaning forward ever so slightly when the text implies intimacy.

How do you fix the bad "E" vowel? Some special techniques?
First, let me define what I think is a bad "E" vowel - one that is strident, far forward in the face, and horizontal in placement. I counter that by asking my choirs to produce a "vertical" "E" vowel, placing it slightly front of center in the mouth without tipping it in the direction of the nose. One way to practice this is to ask the choir to "make the face" - that is to prepare to sing - an "oo" or an "uh" vowel, and then sing the "E" through that face. You will need to experiment until you find the sound you most like, and it will take regular reminders to the singers, but changing away from the stridency of the typical "E" vowel will give your choir better resonance, and make the "E" more consistent with the other vowels.

What's the best way to move a choir around when the majority are over 65 years old?
I try to prepare for this by looking at the logistics of the service. When I currently serve, that most often means either at the beginning of the service, after the greeting time, or, during communion by intinction, having the choir assemble after going through the communion process. I frequently, however, scatter the choir in the worship space, and have them sing from where they are seated (and, for instance, when singing a prayer response, sing while staying seated). I also group them in the back of the church from time to time and have them stand and sing "behind" the congregation, or from the front, asking them to turn around and face the congregation. From time to time I will ask them to sit on the outside aisles, and then then stand up and sing facing the middle, and each other. Once I even asked them to sit on the inside aisles, and they stood up and faced away from each other. They didn't like that one very much... One of the things that makes this possible is explaining to the choir what their particular role is in that morning's worship service. I also "prepare" them for what the transition to their turn and away from their contribution will be. I do this so that they understand in advance what how they are to get "in place" for singing. Sometimes they must do it in a short introduction of only a couple of measures. When that I happens, I will sometimes ask for only the section who begins the music to stand at the beginning, and ask each section to stand in their entrance order. In short, we rehearse the logistical and dramatic portions of the musical preparation. As time has passed, we do less actual rehearsal of these things because they have become sensitive to figuring these things out for themselves just by looking at the music's place in the service, and understanding how much time they have to be in place.

Please address the use of choir robes in today's worship.
I think that choir robes have a place in today's worship, but I think that the visual aspect of choir robes needs to be consistent with the style of worship and the corporate culture of the congregation. Let me give a couple of "extreme" examples. If your worship take place in a building with high ceilings, a raised chancel with an encircling rail, the pastor preaches from a raised pulpit, you have a large pipe organ, and your worship style is, or leans toward, "high church," I think it is not only consistent to have choir robes, but desirable. If your worshpi space is in an elementary school cafeteria, primarily led by a worship band, your pastor sits on a stool, and nobody wears a tie, it seems, at least to me, inconsistent to have choir robes. In this latter case, I would personally only use robes if there was a need for consistency in dress (I once had a bass that refused to wear anything but cargo shorts to worship...even on Christmas eve), or there was some corporate culture reason for doing so (somebody in the church had donated them - and was still attending worship services there - or perhaps that each choir member had "bought" their own robe). There are, of course, many gradations of circumstances between these extremes. Personally, I have chosen, for the past 10+ years, to serve in small churches. In one case the church did not own choir robes. In one case the church had robes, and the choir used them when I got there, but the pastor was encouraging of my desire to eliminate the use of robes, and we did so over time (we took them off for one summer, then in the fall only used them for "high" celebrations, like Christmas, then eventually not at all). In the third case, the church owned robes, but they had not been used in years, and I chose not to reinstate them. In each of these cases, I believe that robes were inconsistent with the style of worship, and the corporate culture of the church.

How do you help some of the older people in the choir embrace the idea of becoming worship leaders, not just a choir member?
I begin by switching my language away from "performance" terminology to "leadership" terms. I spend time relating the text of the anthem to the reason it is being used in THAT particular worship service, and why it will be placed at THAT exact moment in the service. As I said in an answer above, I rehearse the logistical elements of presenting the music, which gives me another chance to talk about why certain body language is more appropriate to the music's place in the service. As part of that logistical rehearsal, I explain why their preparation to sing must be consistent with, and reflective of what came just before in the service, and how they need to "pass along" the worship leadership role by being "in character" with what comes next.

Any other choral music suggestions to help an older choir transition to a more modern choir singing with passion?
I believe I mentioned the Jim Lucas arrangement of Open the Eyes of My Heart,(Fred Bock Music #BG2466), and God Will Make a Way by Mark Hayes (Alfred #21589). Here are some others: He Will See You Through by Camp Kirkland (Word #080689555275), I Will Take the Cup of Salvation by Christopher Walker and Rick Modlin (OCP #11908), Rise Up and Praise Him by Dave Williamson (PraiseSong #08744026), Sanctify This Place by Lew King (GlorySound #A7877), Only By Grace by Lloyd Larson (Hope #C5327), and Manna From Heaven by Richard Kingsmore (Lifeway #1-4158-3137).

I think these were great questions..

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