Choir Membership

In many churches a general invitation is made to "those who wish to join the choir," thus throwing down the bars and swinging the gates wide open for anyone who feels inclined to come. This is getting started on the wrong foot.

By H. A. MILLER, Instructor in Music, Southern Junior College

In many churches a general invitation is made to "those who wish to join the choir," thus throwing down the bars and swinging the gates wide open for anyone who feels inclined to come. This is getting started on the wrong foot. It is easier to get people into an organ­ization than it is to drop them after they are in. Care must be exercised in the choice of members if you "wish any degree of success. Put a premium upon membership and set a certain standard which must be met before entrance. The very fact that you are selective will at once place the choir to advantage in the eyes of the church. Human nature is more interested in things that are difficult to attain than in those easy of access.

It depends largely upon the training of the conductor just which plan is best to follow in the selection of voices. Taking inventory of choir possibilities is an absolute necessity. Under certain conditions it might be wise to test each voice, but again this plan rests upon the training of the conductor and the confi­dence reposed in him by his prospective choir members. It is better to move slowly with a degree of assurance for success, than to jump in hurriedly and come out with but a portion of the possibilities realized. The latter condi­tion destroys interest and readily undermines the chances for good, substantial work.

If you can find three sopranos, two altos, two tenors, and three basses—a total of ten good voices—you have a minimum for a choir. There should be enough voices to lend color as well as volume. The outer voices—the soprano and bass—should be a little heavier than the inner voices—the alto and tenor. This combination should give fair balance, provid­ing, of course, that the voices are approxi­mately equal in power and texture. Two strong altos would overbalance three weak sopranos. If one part is too light, increase the number of voices in that part in order to strike a balance. After all, the final test of numbers is the balance of parts. All parts should be heard with no one boldly coming out above the others, nor any one so light that it cannot be sufficiently heard. Usually the back tires of an automobile carry a few more pounds of air than the front ones. This illustration crudely corresponds to the balance of the har­monic wheels of a musical vehicle.

Where a larger number than ten is possible in a choir, by all means enlarge it, because it reduces the need for better singers, adds more power and color, increases the confidence of the singers, and gives the organization more weight and dignity. The size of the choir must often be governed by the space allowed for it. Where no place has been provided, the members might sit in the regular church seats nearest the musical instrument, standing and turning toward the congregation when the time comes to sing. This plan is not ideal, by any means, but it solves the problem in some places, at least, where no provision has been made for a choir.

In making selection of voices, there are many things that must be considered. Obviously, the voice and the personal character of the singers are the basic tests. The mode of dress must also come in for its share of considera­tion. And is it necessary to mention how the face is "dressed"?

The fact that a person has a loud voice that stands out in congregational singing, like a great lone oak on a shrub-covered prominence, is no indication that he or she is a singer. A person may be a first-class yeller; but remem­ber, you are not picking a spirited side-line group for a football game. It is almost useless to expect such voices to calm down; they do not know which direction that is. They have lived on Holler Mountain so long, they could never be satisfied in Calm Valley. A larger number of softer voices is very much better than a few loud ones. When kind friends and helpful-minded church members advise you to invite Mr. and Miss So-and-so into the choir, tell them you recognize that they have very strong voices, but that their voices would overbalance the parts, and you'll just have to pass them by.

It is not necessary to have solo voices from which to select a choir. Frequently such voices give less assistance than those that are untrained. They are more independent and less likely to follow the leader's suggestions. Solo voices should not always be passed by, but a director should not feel handicapped if

he finds none to grace his choir. They are valuable help when they are sufficiently music-conscious to know how best to assist a choir. But when a soloist feels that he is harnessed to the choir load with an obligation to pull every­thing along behind him, the driver (director) included, he surely becomes a heavy liability.

It is surprising what beautiful work can be done with voices which, when singing alone, may sound far below par. A very common voice may fit beautifully into a choir. It is not necessary to have hothouse hybrids in order to make a beautiful bouquet. Remark­ably attractive bouquets may be made from common, ordinary flowers, or even weeds.

A very necessary property of every singer is true pitch. There are many who are afflicted with inaccurate tone. This makes choir work unbearable to the congregation, and unfavor­able comments may be expected. Ninety-nine per cent pitch accuracy is a total failure. The closer one gets to correct tone, the worse it sounds. Only absolute perfection will pass.

Perhaps the question of the singer's char­acter is sufficiently understood, and requires little comment. In the temple service of the Israelites, ordained of God, the singers were confined to the Levites. From the thousands who might have been eligible, a careful selec­tion was made of those best fitted to serve in this new capacity. The singer then was con­sidered an integral part of the worship period, and his performance had the outstanding ap­proval of God Himself.

The matter of dress should not be difficult to handle. Usually a frank, well-founded rea­son for your position on choir dress will not be challenged. Outstanding colors make bois­terous cries for attention. There can be no harmony when the voice sings and the clothing yells. A bright dress will call louder to the eye than a voice will to the ear. The darker colors are preferable for both men and women. Little touches that help to contribute toward unity of appearance, such as bow ties for the men, are desirable.

These few factors, briefly treated, will make for better choirs and improved vocal contribu­tions. When a kindly attitude is manifested, backed by a deep desire to contribute substan­tially to divine worship periods, there is usually little difficulty in securing gratifying results.

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By H. A. MILLER, Instructor in Music, Southern Junior College

August 1937

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