A choir is a group of singers who perform together. There are many types of choirs, including church choirs, school choirs, and community choirs.
Read on to find out more about what a choir is and how it works.
Choirs: Singing in Harmony
What is a Choir?
A choir is a group of singers gathered together to perform music, usually in a church setting. They can range from adult choirs to youth choirs, and even junior choirs.
Examples of Choirs
- Adult choirs: These are choirs made up of adults who come together to sing in church services and other ceremonies.
- Church choirs: These are choirs that are active in churches and have members of all ages.
- Youth choirs: These are choirs made up of younger singers who come together to sing in church services and other ceremonies.
- Junior choirs: These are choirs made up of even younger singers who come together to sing in church services and other ceremonies.
Collocations and Examples
- Choir director: There’s the embarrassing vocally challenged choir director trying to lead the song.
- Choir stall: There’s the choir stall in the east end of the church.
- Choir group: Singers gathered together in church ceremonies to sing and have a fancy solo turn on TV talent shows.
- Joining a choir: Joining a choir can be a great way to satisfy your love of singing.
- Choir pronounced “quire”: The word “choir” comes from the Latin word “chorus” which comes from the Greek for a group of singers and dancers who use the chorus for singing and dancing.
- Love to sing: If you love to sing, joining a choir can be a great way to express your love of singing.
- Choir organ: A division of a pipe organ containing pipes suitable for accompanying a choir.
- Choir dancers: An organized group of choir dancers.
- Orders of angels: Medieval angelology divided the orders of angels into nine choirs.
- Preach the choir: To preach to the choir is to express an opinion or agreement.
What is a Choir?
A choir is an ensemble of singers who come together to create beautiful music. Whether it’s a professional group or a group of friends, choirs are a great way to make music together.
History of Choirs
Choirs have been around since ancient times, with the earliest known choirs being found in ancient Greece. Since then, choirs have been used in religious ceremonies, operas, and even pop music.
Types of Choirs
There are many different types of choirs, each with its own unique sound. Here are some of the most popular types of choirs:
- Evensong: A traditional type of choir that sings religious music.
- Quire: A type of choir that sings a cappella music.
- York Minster: A type of choir that sings sacred music from the Anglican Church.
- Showing Choirstalls: A type of choir that performs in a theatre setting.
Benefits of Joining a Choir
Joining a choir can be a great way to make friends, learn new music, and express yourself. Here are some of the benefits of joining a choir:
- Improve your vocal skills: Singing in a choir can help you develop your vocal skills and improve your singing technique.
- Make new friends: Choirs are a great way to meet new people and make friends.
- Express yourself: Singing in a choir can be a great way to express yourself and explore different musical styles.
Choirs: Singing in Harmony
The Structure of a Choir
Choirs are typically led by a conductor or choirmaster and consist of sections intended to sing in harmony. There’s a limit to the number of possible parts, depending on how many singers are available. For example, Thomas Tallis wrote a motet entitled ‘Spem in Alium’ for 40 choirs and 8 parts. Krzysztof Penderecki’s ‘Stabat Mater’ has choirs of up to 8 voices and a total of 16 parts. This is a common number of parts for choirs to sing.
Choirs can perform with or without instrumental accompaniment. Singing without accompaniment is called ‘a cappella’. The American Choral Directors Association discourages the usage of accompaniment in favor of unaccompanied a cappella singing. This denotes singing in a chapel with unaccompanied music.
Today, secular choirs often perform with accompanying instruments, which vary widely. The instrument of choice is often the piano or pipe organ, but sometimes an orchestra of musicians is used. Rehearsals with piano or organ accompaniment are different from those with different instrumentation planned for the performance. Choirs rehearsing unaccompanied music will usually perform in locations such as a church, opera house, or school hall.
In some cases, choirs join a mass choir to perform a special concert or to provide a series of songs or musical works to celebrate or provide entertainment.
The Art of Conducting: Leading Performers to Musical Perfection
The Role of a Conductor
A conductor’s primary duties are to unify performers, set the tempo, and execute clear preparations. They use visible gestures with their hands, arms, face, and head to direct the musical performance. Conductors can be choirmasters, musical directors, or répétiteurs. Choirmasters are responsible for training and rehearsing singers, while musical directors are responsible for deciding the repertoire and engaging soloists and accompanists. Répétiteurs are responsible for conducting and playing the instrument.
Conducting in Different Genres
Conducting in different genres of music requires different approaches:
- Art Music: Conductors typically stand on a raised platform and use a baton. The baton gives the conductor greater visibility.
- Choral Music: Choral conductors prefer to conduct with their hands for greater expressiveness, particularly when working with a smaller ensemble.
- Classical Music: In earlier periods of classical music history, leading an ensemble often meant playing an instrument. This was common in baroque music from the 1600s to 1750s. In the 2010s, conductors lead the ensemble without playing an instrument.
- Musical Theatre: Conductors in a pit orchestra typically communicate non-verbally during a performance.
- Jazz and Big Bands: Conductors in these genres may give occasional spoken instructions during rehearsals.
The Conductor’s Artistic Vision
The conductor acts as a guide for the choir, and they choose the works to be performed. They study scores and make certain adjustments, such as tempo and repetitions of sections, and they assign vocal solos. The conductor’s job is to work out an interpretation of the music and relay their vision to the singers. Choral conductors also conduct instrumental ensembles and orchestras when a choir is singing a piece with an orchestra. They also attend to organizational matters, such as scheduling rehearsals and planning a concert season, and they may hear auditions and promote the ensemble in the media.
Sacred Music: A Historical Perspective
From ancient hymns to modern-day anthems, sacred music has been a part of worship services for centuries. But what’s the difference between religious and secular music? And how did it all get started? Let’s take a look!
- Religious music is typically written for a specific liturgical purpose, while secular music is more often performed in a concert setting.
- The origin of religious music lies in its role within the context of a liturgy.
- Sacred music has been around for centuries, and is still a major part of worship services today.
The Power of Music
Music has the power to move us in ways that words alone can’t. It can evoke emotion, bring us together, and help us to connect with something greater than ourselves. That’s why it’s no surprise that religious music has been around for so long.
- Music has a unique ability to bring people together and help them connect with something greater.
- Religious music has been around for centuries, and is still an important part of worship services today.
- Music can evoke powerful emotions and help us to express our faith in a meaningful way.
The Joy of Liturgical Music
Leading the Congregation
At church services, it’s our job to lead the singing and get the congregation involved. We’ve got hymns, service music, and church choirs that sing the liturgies, including propers, introit, gradual, communion antiphons, and more. We’ve got something for every season of the liturgical year.
The Chief of Churches
Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are the most common places you’ll find this kind of performance. We’ve got anthems and motets for designated times of the service.
The Joy of Music
We can’t deny it, singing in church is a joy! Here’s what you can look forward to:
- Being part of a community of singers
- Feeling the power of the music
- Connecting with the divine
- Experiencing the beauty of the liturgy
- Celebrating the liturgical year
- Enjoying the anthems and motets.
Different Types of Choirs
Choirs come in all shapes and sizes, and the type of music they perform can greatly affect their sound. Here’s a list of the most common types of choirs, in approximate descending order of prevalence:
- Professional: These choirs are made up of highly trained singers and are usually found in large cities.
- Advanced Amateur: These choirs are made up of experienced singers who are passionate about their craft.
- Semi-Professional: These choirs are made up of singers who are paid for their performances, but not as much as professional choirs.
- Adult Mixed Choir: This is the most dominant type of choir, usually consisting of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices (abbreviated SATB).
- Male Choir: This type of choir is made up of men singing in the lower range of the SATB voicing.
- Female Choir: This type of choir is made up of women singing in the higher range of the SATB voicing.
- Mixed Choir: This type of choir is made up of both men and women singing in the SATB voicing.
- Boys Choir: This type of choir is typically made up of boys singing in the upper range of the SATB voicing, also known as trebles.
- Single Male Choir: This type of choir is made up of men singing in the SATB voicing.
- SATB Voicing: This type of choir is divided into semi-independent choirs, with occasionally a baritone voice added (e.g. SATBAR).
- Sung Higher: This type of choir is made up of basses singing in a higher range, and is usually found in smaller choirs with fewer men.
- SAB: This type of choir is made up of soprano, alto, and baritone voices, and is usually found in arrangements that allow men to share the role of tenor and bass.
- ATBB: This type of choir is made up of upper voices singing in falsetto alto range, and is usually seen in barbershop quartets.
- Music for Boys Choir: This type of choir is typically made up of boys singing in the SSA or SSAA voicing, including cambiata (tenor) boys and young men whose voices are changing.
- Baritone Boys: This type of choir is made up of young men whose voices have changed, and is usually found in women’s choirs.
- Women’s Choir: This type of choir is made up of adult women singing in the higher range of the SSAA voicing, with parts abbreviated as SSA or SSA.
- Children’s Mixed Choir: This type of choir is made up of both male and female voices, usually in SA or SSA voicing.
- Girls Choir: This type of choir is made up of girls singing in the higher range of the SSA or SSAA voicing.
- Women’s Mixed Choir: This type of choir is made up of both women and children singing in the SSAA voicing.
- Girls Choirs: These choirs tend to be more professionally prevalent than high-voiced boys choirs or lower-voiced men’s choruses.
- SATB Choirs: These choirs are categorized by the type of institution that operates them, such as a school choir (e.g. Lambrook School Choir from the 1960s).
- Church Choirs: These choirs, including cathedral choirs and chorales or kantoreis, are dedicated to performing sacred Christian music.
- Collegiate/University Choir: This type of choir is made up of students from a university or college.
- Community Choir: This type of choir is made up of both children and adults.
- Professional Choir: This type of choir is independent (e.g. Anúna) or state-supported (e.g. BBC Singers), and is usually made up of highly trained singers.
- National Chamber Choir: This type of choir is made up of singers from a particular country, such as the Canadian Chamber Choir or the Swedish Radio Choir.
- Nederlands Kamerkoor: This type of choir is made up of singers from the Netherlands.
- Latvian Radio Choir: This type of choir is made up of singers from Latvia.
- School Choirs: These choirs are made up of students from a particular school.
- Signing Choir: This type of choir is made up of both signing and singing voices, and is led by a signductor (musical director).
- Cambiata Choirs: This type of choir is made up of adolescent boys whose voices are changing.
Choirs can also be categorized by the type of music they perform, such as Bach choirs, barbershop music groups, gospel choirs, and choirs that perform musicals. Symphonic choirs and vocal jazz choirs are also popular.
Encouraging Male Singers in Schools
British Cathedral Choirs
Pupils enrolled in schools are often part of a cathedral choir. This section is centric to helping add more male singers to the choir. In April of the United States, middle and high schools often offer choir classes as an activity for students. Choirs participate in competitions of all kinds, making choir a popular activity in high schools.
Middle and High School Choirs
It’s an important time for students, as their voices are changing. Girls experience a voice change, but for boys it’s a lot more drastic. There’s a lot of literature and music education that’s focused on male voice change and how to work with it to help adolescent male singers.
Nationally, Male Students are Enrolled in Choirs Less
Nationally, there are fewer male students enrolled in choirs than female students. The music education field has had a longtime interest in missing males in music programs. There’s speculation that boys choirs are a possible solution, but the ideas vary widely. Researchers have found that boys enjoy choir in middle and high school, but it just doesn’t fit into their schedules.
Encouraging Male Singers
Research speculates that the reason boys don’t participate in choir is because they’re not encouraged to. Schools with women’s choirs helps balance the issues mixed choirs face, but taking extra female singers over men in the choir only makes the problem worse. Giving boys the opportunity to sing with girls is the key. Researchers have noted that having an ensemble workshop dedicated to male singers helps their confidence and singing abilities.
Stage Arrangements: What Works Best?
Choirs and Orchestras
When it comes to arranging choirs and orchestras on stage, there are a few schools of thought. It’s ultimately up to the conductor to make the decision, but there are a few universal orders that are commonly used.
- For symphonic choirs, the highest and lowest voices are usually placed on the left and right, respectively, with the corresponding voice types in between.
- For a typical string layout, the basses are usually placed on the left and the sopranos on the right.
- In cappella or piano-accompanied situations, it’s not unusual to see men and women conductors prefer to place the voices mixed, with singers grouped in pairs or threes.
The Pros and Cons
Proponents of this method argue that it makes it easier for an individual singer to hear and tune their parts, as it requires more independence from the singer. Opponents argue that this method loses the spatial separation of individual voice lines, which is a valuable feature for the audience, as it eliminates sectional resonance and lessens the effective volume of the chorus.
When it comes to music that calls for double or multiple choirs, usually with more than 50 members, it’s important to significantly separate the choirs, especially when performing. This was especially true in the 16th century, when music works in the Venetian polychoral style were composed, with composers actually specifying that the choirs be separated. Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem is a great example of a composer who used separated choirs to create antiphonal effects, with one choir answering the other in a musical dialogue.
When arranging choirs and orchestras on stage, consideration should be given to the spacing of the singers. Studies have found that the actual formation and space of the singers, both laterally and circumambiently, affects the perception of the sound by both the choristers and auditors.
In conclusion, a choir is a great way to enjoy music and make friends. Whether you join a church choir, a school choir, or a community choir, you’ll be sure to have a great time. When joining a choir, remember to bring your sheet music, practice your songs, and have fun. With the right attitude, you’ll be able to make beautiful music with your fellow choir members and make some wonderful memories.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
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