From the Archives: Making Music — from Root to Realization

From the Archives: Making Music — from Root to Realization

For the summer months, I am offering this Between Sundays post that I penned back in the fall of 2019 that discusses your Chalice Choir’s process of preparing anthems that we sing in worship… on the off chance that you may have missed reading it. This past spring, it was a truly joyous occasion to have our wonderful Chalice Choir back on the chancel to sing for worship at our annual Music Service, and quite moving as we both performed AND listened to some recordings — then reflected upon the wonderful choral history of our music program over the last 30+ years.  I will be excited to gear up for learning and preparing anthems again this coming fall, although somewhat sad that we will likely have to remain singing masked, and continue with Covid worship protocols in place… at least for now.  Better safe than sorry, of course — and I will always be grateful to the medical/health professionals in our choir who encouraged us to pull back from singing when we did. Like most churches all around our country (regardless of denomination), our choir has suffered losses over the last few years — some due to retirement, some due to folks who have left our congregation, and some who don’t feel comfortable singing until it is safe to do so un-masked. Still, we have gained five new members just in the last year (hurrah!), and valiantly move forward with the very much needed inspiration of live music that so many of us dearly missed during the Covid pandemic. If you’ve ever contemplated being part of the Chalice Choir, this coming fall would be a wonderful time to consider joining us. In addition to wonderful, inspirational and joyous singing/music-making, you become part of a wonderful and supportive social network of fabulous human beings that become part of your extended family!

Ever wonder about the process of preparation for a Chalice Choir Introit or Anthem? From start to finish, the timeline is an interesting journey of discovery and polish. Introit and Anthem selection/consideration usually begins in the summer, in consultation between the minister and music director – both in terms of sermon topics/themes, as well as any anthems favored by the music director that may encourage and inspire sermon topics. If all goes to plan…fingers crossed…an entire 4-month semester (if you will) of service music is pre-planned for the Chalice Choir. Of course, there is the necessity of remaining flexible for unintended and/or unexpected changes to the worship calendar.

Anthem choices are one of the most enjoyable parts of a music director’s job – discovering and playing through new anthems, researching scores that match and complement service topics, etc. Then, there is the administrative task of ordering and accessioning new scores, with special attention to offering a variety of choral experiences and diversity of compositional offerings: musical traditions both old and new, works written by male AND female composers, compositions by persons of color, as well as a plethora of titles from religious traditions all around the world. Thanks to our Music Director Emeritus’ years of attention towards music program growth and depth, the choir anthem library now contains hundreds of titles, and is constantly expanding.

Typically, the choir prepares an anthem anywhere from 4-6 weeks in advance – depending on the time of calendar year (for example, they receive only one rehearsal for the September Ingathering service), difficulty level and whether or not the anthem is new. And keep in mind that even though we may have sung an anthem in the past, the music may be unfamiliar to any current new members in the choir. Usually, we read through a new anthem once, just to familiarize ourselves with the style and content – plus to give us all a heads-up of what might be involved learning it.

The next step of the learning process for most folks is taking advantage of our wonderful audio parts-learning files created by our resident expert (formerly known as the CD Babe), Laurie Coltri. Laurie creates these sound files, so that our members can listen with special attention to their particular voice parts, while the accompaniment track plays simultaneously. It is an enormously helpful resource to our choir, and saves tremendous numbers of hours having to schedule separate vocal sectionals. Still, we must do a certain amount of tedious note and parts-learning on Thursday evenings. It takes several rehearsals to nail down notes/pitches, learn language (if it isn’t in English), and understand the style and musical demands of any given work. And that is just the beginning of the journey. Then comes the fun and most important part of the experience: refining and making musical choices that translate into a successful performance on any given Sunday morning – a performance that both honors the composer’s intention, complements the service topic and ultimately moves the listener.

These myriad choices can be anywhere from working on issues of blend and intonation, vowel placement and uniformity, when/where to breathe, how to articulate meaning in a text, overall arch and shaping of both phrase and larger structure, to issues of affect and communication. While this process involves real work and effort, and can take a number of weeks, the result is a rewarding experience of communal music-making that can be a virtually indescribable high for all involved.

As has already been noted, the UUCC Chalice Choir remains an ideal group example of what can be one of the finest, most profound examples of beloved community in our congregation. The choir must integrate commitment, diligence, concentrated listening, all-embracing acceptance, patience, love and caring for all of its members – otherwise its mission and contribution to both the music and worship life of the congregation will not be a success. On top of all that, singing in a choir strengthens togetherness, helps to regulate heart rate, increases breath and lung conditioning, reduces stress levels and depression, strengthens the immune system, improves both posture and memory, and even widens your circle of friends! The ritual of communal singing is a centuries-old tradition present in almost every world culture. The experience of singing is thought to release those “feel good” chemicals in the brain, resulting in positive feelings and experiences of happiness and general well-being.

With benefits like those, won’t you consider joining our choral family sometime in the future? We’d love to welcome you!


  1. Kathy Parker

    Michael — This explains so much about all that goes into the process of making music by you and our choir. I am in awe, really, of all the care and professionalism you inspire! I’m glad you shared this mid-week posting again — I don’t remember seeing it before. Thank you so much for all your work with our choir and the music program at UUCC!
    Kathy Parker

  2. Laurie Coltri

    Michael, I’m so glad you reminded us of this blogpost. I especially commend readers to the last paragraph. Choir literally changed my life for the better when Alan and I joined back in 2003. Every UUCC choir member I’ve ever spoken to about the choir experience has agreed – no matter how bad, tired, angry or sad we feel, choir lifts our spirits, energizes our bodies, and builds bonds of closeness. We are eager to spread the love around – come join us!

  3. Susan Keach Sweeney

    Thank you, Michael, for this wonderful description of what we do together in the choir, and thank you for leading us to be able to have these experiences.

  4. Betty Myers

    What a wonderful reminder of the effort and joy for choir members, let a lone for those of us who benefit from these programs. And I’d like to remind folks that in addition to the music programs and anthems, the choir is instrumental in supporting the Chalice Concert Series. Thank you, Michael, and all the choir members for your diligence.

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