How to Choose Choral Music

This title is a bit pretentious. It would be better titled as “How I Choose Choral Music.” Others might choose music in a different way than me. That is perfectly fine. I will forgive them. 🙂

I use several criteria when I choose music. Some of these might seem straightforward, others not. They are:

  • The “can I listen to this for more than 15 seconds?” rule.
  • The “can I really stand rehearsing this for 2 or 3 months?” rule.
  • The “can my choir sing this?” rule.
  • The “will my choir like this?” rule.
  • The “is there a recording of a real choir performing this piece?” rule.
  • The “will I ever use this piece again?” rule.
  • The “will this fit with my concert themes this year?” rule.
  • The “can I use this piece to teach some musical element?” rule.

Can I Listen to This for More Than 15 Seconds?

Due to the sheer volume of music I am given, I can only listen to so much music. I use what I call the 15 second rule. If the song does not grab my interest and make me, a professional musician, want to continue listening to it for more than 15 seconds, then it probably won’t get amateur singers or audience members interested in performing or listening to it, either. Most music that is composed these days will not pass this test. You must be willing to try new genres, however. There has to be balance.

Can I Really Stand Rehearsing This for 2 or 3 months?

This is an important criterion. I have to believe in a piece in order to sell it to my singers. There is nothing worse than a piece that nauseates you every time you conduct it in rehearsal or performance.

Can My Choir Sing This?

You want singers to feel like they are succeeding. Give them pieces that they can sing well.

Will My Choir Like This?

You want your choir to enjoy what they sing, at least on some level. There are also two other things to consider. First, all your singers will not like every piece. Just as there are differences of taste among directors, so also there will be differences of taste among singers and listeners. You will not please everyone 100% of the time.

Second, part of a director’s job is to broaden the palate of the singers and audience. I liken music choice to a meal: you want it to be well-balanced. I didn’t love Durufle’s Requiem when I first started rehearsing it back in undergrad. By the time it came to performance, I really did love it. Dr. Warren Cook used to say “It’s not that you know what you like; it’s that you like what you know.”

Is There a Recording of This Online?

I want to hear recordings of a piece before I buy it. Preferably, these recordings are live performances where the choir sings well. If that choir didn’t succeed at performing the piece, will mine? Did it seem like they enjoyed it? You get a much better perspective when you hear choirs perform. This is not a 100% rule, either. Just because a group online can do or likes something does not mean your choir will. I have chosen pieces that other groups have loved or other choir directors recommended and those pieces have fallen flat.

Will I Ever Use This Again?
I only get so much money for my music budget. Do I want to buy a piece that I might only use once? Sometimes that answer is yes, sometimes no.

Will This Fit My Concert Themes This Year?

This is pretty self-explanatory. Although, I believe there should be flexibility. If you can perform a great piece that only tangentially fits and you think your choir will love it and knock it out of the park, then do it.

Can I Use This Piece to Teach Some Musical Element?

Some directors put more weight on this than I do. If you have a variety of music genres and time periods covered for the year, you should be able to teach plenty of musical and artistic elements.

Those are all of the criteria I can think of. If anyone uses other ones, I would be happy to hear them.

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