One of the greatest assets to the singing evangelist in leading congregational singing is to have a choir. An enthusiastic choir helps to stimulate the audience to sing, and gives wonderful support to the leader. Whenever possible I would always have a choir even if it were only composed of twenty singers.
Recently in one of our evangelistic crusades we needed a choir of at least thirty-five voices to help fill up the large city auditorium stage. Our local church of 15o had a choir of fifteen voices. Starting with it as a nucleus, we made a list of other church members who could sing. These were personally invited by the singing evangelist to join the choir. Gradually others were invited and added to the list until at our third rehearsal we had a selected choir of more than fifty voices. None of the singers had trained voices, but they could sing the gospel songs. Another method of choosing a choir is to have cards printed, on which are listed items which church members can do to help in the meetings. One of the items listed is singing in the choir. Those who sing and who would like to join the choir check this item, and are then invited to the rehearsals.
Singers who are not church members could be asked to sing in the choir. Some who are attending the meetings enjoy singing with the choir. However, if there are enough members to fill the choir, we generally do not ask for help from nonmembers.
It is best to begin the organization and rehearsals of the choir a month or more before the opening night of the meetings. This may not always be possible, but certainly we should not wait until two or three days before the opening night to organize and rehearse. A good time to call the first practice of your choir is on a Friday or a Sunday night.
At the first rehearsal the first thing to do after having prayer is to organize the sections of the choir, so that the sopranos are all together, altos together, tenors together, and basses together. As I face the choir I prefer to have sopranos on the left, tenors in the left center, basses in the right center, and altos on my right.
Some of the first things that a choir should learn are how to march in to choir position, how to sit, how to stand for singing, how to hold the music. If these are done orderly and uniformly, the choir's singing will mean much more to the listeners. A robed choir makes the finest appearance ; but if robes are not available, the choir will look very attractive if the ladies wear white blouses and dark skirts, and the men wear dark suits.
The first numbers that the choir rehearses should be familiar gospel songs which can be worked up as choir specials, such as, "I Remember Calvary," "Fairest Lord Jesus," "Longing," "He Lives," "Now the Day Is Over."
By starting with the familiar songs, the choir members generally know or can easily learn their individual parts, and can spend more time in concentrating on following the director in putting real expression into the song. The choir members from the very first rehearsal must learn to watch and follow the director. To impress this upon them, the director can occasionally hold a note longer than called for, or he can stop at the end of a phrase when not expected to stop. Some may continue singing and suddenly realize that they are singing alone because they were not watching the director. From that time on they will not forget to watch him.
During the rehearsals that follow each week new songs and new choruses can be introduced to the choir, along with the old familiar ones. Several weeks should be spent on a number before it is presented in a meeting. After the evangelistic meetings have started, it is very desirable to have a night during the week when there is no meeting for the choir to rehearse. If this is not possible, you may have to have your rehearsal period after a Friday or a Sunday night meeting, but not holding past ten o'clock.
It has been proved to me that the heavy anthems for choir specials are out of place. First, they are too hard for an amateur choir to learn; and second, most people receive no message from them and do not appreciate hearing them. The best choir specials are the simple, sacred songs, such as :
"Wonderful Grace of Jesus"
"Now the Day Is Over"
"Lead Me Gently Home, Father"
"Lead Me, Saviour"
"He Is a Saviour of Love"
"Make Me a Blessing"
"What If It Were Today"
"All Hail, Immanuel"
"Lo ! He Comes"
"My Saviour's Love"
"I Love Jesus"
Songs of this nature can be beautifully presented with real feeling and expression, with a message to those who listen. Variety can be brought in by having solos or duets for one stanza, with the choir humming in the background, or by having a mixed or male quartet sing a stanza, or by having the men or the ladies sing a stanza alone.
The Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Company is now publishing a number of gospel songs in special arrangements on sheet music which are very fine. Among these the following are excellent : "The Old Rugged Cross," "In the Garden," "Living for Jesus." "He Lives," "The Gospel Anthem," "The Holy City."
These simple, sacred songs, beautifully and prayerfully sung, make the best and most appreciated choir numbers. Let us make our singing worth listening to, thus presenting a real message.