Instant Anthem 1.0

Maybe the choir’s scheduled to sing on Rally Day and you only get one rehearsal the week before…
Maybe it’s that first Sunday after Epiphany and half the choir can’t make it out of their driveways…
Maybe it’s a Sunday where nothing in the library fits and you’ve spent the choir’s budget already…

Whatever it is, you need an anthem and you need one fast! Easy—create one from the hymnal. Here’s a laundry-list of options for inspiration. Mix and match (or come up with your own!) to make your Instant Anthem.

The Basics

  • All men sing unison on a stanza.
  • All women sing unison on a stanza.
  • Sopranos and Tenors unison on melody, Altos and Basses unison on another part.
  • Altos and Basses unison on melody, Sopranos and/or Tenors sing alto or tenor line as descant
  • Altos on melody, Sopranos sing alto line an octave up.
  • Tenors and Basses on melody, Altos and/or Sopranos sing alto line.
  • Basses on melody, Tenors on own part, Altos and/or Sopranos sing alto line.
  • Soloist on melody, choir hums their parts.
  • Tenors and Sopranos switch parts, Altos and Basses stay on their own parts.
  • Divide the stanza into four equal phrases (if possible). Have all sections on their own parts; Sopranos begin the stanza, then add another section on each phrase.

Advanced Techniques

  • Got a children’s choir? Alternate stanzas antiphonally, or have them sing one of the other parts as a descant.
  • Try a stanza a la William Billings—split your tenor and soprano sections in half. Half the Sopranos sing the tenor line in their octave, and half the Tenors sing the soprano line in their octave.
  • Is the tune pentatonic? Give choir members Orff instruments, handbells, or chimes and have them play the appropriate notes randomly on a stanza. Or give instruments to random congregation members!
  • Is it a chant melody? Insert a peal of handbells between phrases.
  • Can the tune be sung in a round? Do it on one of the stanzas.
  • Is the tune printed in the hymnal with other harmonization? Have the choir sing an alternate harmonization for one of the stanzas.
  • Add a C instrument like flute, oboe, or violin and double any of the parts.
  • For chants or global/multicultural hymns, have a soloist sing the first stanza in the original language.
  • Does the stanza talk about birds? Have a soloist whistle the melody while the choir sings parts.
  • Is the tune global/multicultural? Give your choir members some claves and shakers.
  • Does the stanza talk about stars? Play a windchime throughout, or use the organ’s Zimbelstern.
  • Does the stanza talk about rain? Play a rainstick throughout.

Consider devoting a whole choir rehearsal or a few minutes of several choir rehearsals to trying one or more techniques so that your choir is acquainted with them before the need for an instant anthem arises. Many of these techniques would also work just as well to embellish any of the congregational hymns on a given Sunday. Experiment and see what works for you. The sky’s the limit!

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Travis Beck

Travis Beck currently serves as Worship & Music Director at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Forest City, Iowa and as adjunct faculty at Waldorf College, also in Forest City. He earned a B.A. in Church Music from Wartburg College (Waverly, IA) and a Master of Sacred Music from Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN). In addition to planning worship and directing choirs, he is an active performer in the community, accompanying for contests and performances and playing jazz and blues in local bands.

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