Christmas Choir

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Christmas comes early for choirs. Mine starts reviewing Christmas music around Thanksgiving and does extra rehearsals through December. I used to think seeing the retail Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving was tacky. Now I'm numb to it - I'm already obsessing over the music for our Christmas liturgy.

Why obsessing? Because I have a medium-sized choir with very fluid membership. Of 22 regulars, only a few are trained singers and musicians. A few are business executives or lawyers and travel all the time. Most are dedicated and conscientious. But it's a momumental effort to take a group like that and do music like Victoria's O Magnum Mysterium.

Learning notes is usually not a problem. It's making the music sound work with the group I have that's the problem.

I'm in the same situation that hundreds of other choir directors face. I've got folks who can't read music: period. I've got singers who had oddities with their voices that mean it's very tough for them to sing in tune or produce a beautiful choral sound. I've got several people who are approaching old age and just don't have the mental and physical flexibility they used to.

So how do we put it together?

I have no earthly idea. It's a mystery how my choir can sound great on a regular basis with all the challenges we have. We do music from Palestrina forward, and most of it works well. I had one parishoner tell me he thought he was at the Kennedy Center. Too bad he wasn't happy about it. He was part of the "the congregation must sing everything" crowd and really should be going to a different Mass.

Back to obsessing about Christmas. No other season has more repertoire available. Much of it is schlock or in other ways not appropriate for a musical prelude to Mass and the Christmas liturgies. But amoung the thousands of sacred pieces out there I have to pick things that have relatively easy to learn lines, are mostly four-part, have a nice balance in mood and texture, and also include some of the jewels of sacred music.

So this year we're a few Shaw arranagements of Christmas carols "Christ Was Born on Christmas Day" & a piece Eric and his wife will remember: "Good King Wenceslas." We're doing the Andrew Carter "Mary's Magnificat" and an arrangement of "My Dancing Day." We'll do several standard carols during Mass as well as some classic chants like "Of the Father's Love Begotten."

So far it's coming together well. We have some note problems in the Carter piece. And the tempo changes in the Victoria are a mystery to some people even after doing the piece for several years. With most notes learned, I can work on the tuning and the sound and we'll likely have a great liturgy on Christmas Eve. For many, it will be the finale for their Christmas, instead of the start of the season. We'll do that music through the season, as a gentle reminder that Christmas doesn't really start in mid-November. Except for choirs.

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John Schultz

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This page contains a single entry by John Schultz published on December 9, 2006 11:16 AM.

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