If you’re choosing repertoire for a choral program, one way to choose a theme is to find one piece that you know the choir will love (and that you love, too) and build a theme around it. If you’ve chosen a good song, you should be able to pull thematic content from it to title the program and to form sections in the program. If you can only pull a few section headings from your chosen song, choose another song that complements the first and see if you can find more thematic material. Add a third song if necessary, and do the same thing. You should be able to pull together a themed program with three to five section headings around which to create the rest of the program.

Here’s what this method of choosing a theme has looked like for me. I was choosing a program for a community chorus, and I thought of the song, “Be Holy.” For whatever reason, I knew this was a good song for this group, for this community, and for this program, and I considered it a core song even before I chose a theme. Then I looked more closely at the song to see if I could find thematic material in it. I tried the song title as the program title: “Be Holy.” Not bad. I could see section possibilities with a title like that.

I like to begin programs with songs of praise or thanksgiving, songs directed to God that make His name great. When I choose a theme, I look for ways to turn the first section into praise. With the theme, “Be Holy,” I could title the first section of the program, “God is Holy,” and include songs of praise such as “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Nice. I could work with that, so that’s one section heading figured out.

Next, I looked through the rest of “Be Holy” for other section headings, and I found them in the B section. The second section became “God Gives Grace Sufficient,” and the third section became “Strength to Run the Race.” I then added songs such as “He Will Carry You” and “Cast Thy Burden Upon the Lord” for the grace section and “Send Forth Thy Spirit” and “God is Our Strength” for the strength section.

An ensemble song and a men’s song added variety, and a closing song of praise ended the program with a bang. I thought the program fit together really well and fit the needs of the chorus and the community where the programs were given.

It doesn’t always work to find one song from which to build a program, but it’s a method worth trying. If this method doesn’t work for you, try something else. I’ll keep posting more ideas in the future.