Strategies for Supporting the Small Choir

Suppose you have spent the summer planning for the upcoming choir year. You have selected anthems, new hymns to teach, and a collection of psalm settings. Then you discover that a soprano with a new grandchild has elected to take a hiatus from choir. An alto has a daughter that plays every sport. A bass has been ill. A tenor is not reliable. Before long, your choir could now be classified as a small ensemble.

While the uncertainty of choir membership applies to choirs of all sizes, a few missing people in a small choir makes a HUGE difference.  How do you plan for a smaller choir? What strategies are successful? (Keep in mind these strategies are not limited to a smaller group.)

Plan and Rehearse in Advance

This might sound counter-intuitive. Why plan only to find out you don’t have the numbers you need to make something work? Planning ahead allows you to be flexible. As you plan, think about Plan B (and C). For example, if you planned to teach a hymn concertato on “Christ Is Alive!” during the Easter season, you might look for a descant instead. Both can be found on Prelude Music Planner.

Flexible Psalm Settings

If you have a choir used to chanting a psalm with a four- part tone, realize that it might be time to polish the choir’s unison singing—a good challenge! Settings from Psalm Settings for the Church Year might need to be replaced with a more simple refrain and tone from Psalter for Worship. On occasion, sing a hymn paraphrase with the assembly (a list of psalm paraphrases can be found on p. 266 of Indexes to Evangelical Lutheran Worship). Again, have two options ready.

Combine Adult and Children’s Choirs

Dealing with a small soprano section? Consider choosing a hymn or anthem with the children’s choir or Sunday school, and having them join the adult choir. It is especially lovely to have grandparents and their grandchildren experiencing a common song. Choristers Guild provides many choices for this arrangement.

Recruit Local Talent

The church I serve is located about twenty miles from a liberal arts university with a fine music program. Because one of our members attends the university, our church received a small grant to bring a quartet from the university four times a year. This gives the choir a boost and provides an opportunity for connection to youth. Investigate what connections might work in your setting.

Select a Mix of Difficulty Levels and Voicings

For choir members who love to sing in four parts, it can be disappointing to switch to unison/two-part arrangements. SATB anthems that are harmonically simple can be a boost. Spirituals, gospel songs, and global songs are genres often with accessible four-part writing. Select a new hymn from Evangelical Lutheran Worship or elsewhere in this style.

If you are looking for collections for smaller choirs, Augsburg Fortress publishes numerous collections, including Augsburg Easy Choirbook, vols. 1 and 2, The New Gloria Deo: Music for Small Choirs, and Treasures in Heaven.

Try Paperless Singing

Don’t let what is on the page limit what you can sing with your choir. If you are comfortable leading with your voice, teach canons and responsive music to your choir in a call-response fashion. Choirs with a number of music readers may find this form of learning challenging, yet it is worth the challenge. Visit the Music that Makes Community for some ideas.

Large or small, your choir rehearses to serve the assembly’s song. Keeping that at the forefront, experiment with these strategies to create a choral experience that is meaningful for all.

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Jennifer Baker-Trinity

Jennifer Baker-Trinity is a church musician and Associate in Ministry who has served congregations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. She has been a regular contributor to Sundays and Seasons (Prayers of Intercession, Hymns for Worship) and has authored Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year B (Augsburg Fortress, 2011). She leads assembly song at Beaver Lutheran Church (Beaver Springs, PA) and lives with her spouse and three children in Middleburg, Pennsylvania.

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