Choosing Choir Literature Based on the Size of the Choir

Based on my research, no more than 25 percent of church choirs in America have more than fifty participants. Even the major evangelical publishers are attuned to this fact because many offer choral music options for the smaller choir. I don’t see this trend in school choral groups, however, but the disconnect between school choral programs and church choral programs is REAL. I’ll write more on how we can bridge these relations soon.

Regardless of the size of the choir, there are non-negotiable traits of good, healthy singing. Tone, intonation, pitch, rhythm, tempo, articulation, expression, interpretation, etc. are some of the hallmarks of any good choral group. Having worked with both large and small choirs, I have noticed there are definitely some distinctions worth noting between the two sizes. Taking into account these difference can help the leader choose more appropriate literature for the size choir he or she leads. Here’s a selected list of some observations based on my own experiences:

Large Choir
1. Able to produce a large sound-especially if singing with orchestra
2. Less confident singers can find confidence in stronger singers/readers
3. Larger possible pool of soloists
4. Able to sing most songs with lots of divisi
5. Sing songs with more extreme ranges
6. Able to sing longer phrases (stagger-breathing becomes easier)
7. Easier to blend parts because no one has to “carry the section”
8. More difficult to sing especially rhythmic (syncopated) tunes (can be more difficult to get the train moving fast- so to speak)
9. Can have more strong sightreaders, which expedites learning

Small(er) Choir
1. Most have to pull their own weight, confident or not. (My first choir had excellent singer/sightreaders because the fewer singers had to step up and be confident)
2. Members feel more obligated to attend due to numbers–Greater chance of huge holes in sound if certain ones aren’t there
3. Can be more difficult to blend
4. Can be easier to sing more rhythmic tunes due to the weight of the larger number of singers
5. Literature choices can be limited by range, phrasing, etc.
6. Often part singing is limited based on availability. (We see this in the ever-present doubling of soprano and bass lines of popular church choral music geared for smaller choirs)

This is definitely just a start. What would you add to these lists? If 75 percent of evangelical churches with choirs have fewer than fifty participants, then how do we overcome obstacles the smaller choir has?  Let me hear from you.



2 thoughts on “Choosing Choir Literature Based on the Size of the Choir

  1. Will, my church falls in that small church segment — even fewer than 10 singers. I do not know that I can really add anything you have not thought of — really good job here — but I am very judicious in selecting music.

    Sometimes times things written for smaller choirs are insulting by not providing a challenge to the musicians (choir and accompanist) or just sound hokey. But I do make sure I watch the vocal range (I have no sopranos with “stable” high notes), the length of the piece (some are lengthy) and the “volume” of sound needed to make it really work. It may take longer to learn some of the pieces, but they are worth it. And I really have none that read music well, but I take all opportunities to help them. In the end they appreciate fewer, more demanding pieces than a steady diet of 30-minute rehearsal pieces (not that there is anything inherently wrong with those — I use the ones that meet the other criteria — in fact, some of those are my favorites).

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