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!
I found this very interesting to read. I did not know the process was so complex. I hope to see you Sarasota in June.
Dearest Michael, What a good job you did on this! While I’ve been a choral singer for many decades, I now have greater appreciation for the breadth of the director’s role. You’re carrying out that role very well, by the way.
Every time the choir sings, I want to be back up there with you. Then I remind myself that my voice can’t even get through hymn. Do you accept lip synchers? I miss my choir community and enjoy watching you perform your magic, keeping the music going while waving your arm at the singers. Thank you for all the years of music you’ve brought to UUCC. More, please.