A second tip for choosing a theme is to choose a meaningful subject that you care about and dig into it to see if it has theme potential. You can start with a Scripture verse or passage, a poem, a painting, a person, a season of life or season of the year, an experience, an abstract concept, a specific object, or a story. The list of possible themes and topics could go on and on. The point here is that you find something meaningful to you that will also connect with other people.
It’s important to find a theme that is meaningful to you for several reasons. First, you are more likely to be emotionally connected in the process and to the program if you find a theme that resonates with you. You will care about finding songs that connect with the theme because you are connected to the theme. No one wants to sing for a conductor who is emotionally dead, so become emotionally invested in the end result by being emotionally invested at the beginning of the repertoire selection process.
Second, you should choose a theme that is meaningful to you because it provides motivation for you. Choosing repertoire can be a slow, tedious process. Having a meaningful theme might not speed up the process, but it might make the process feel less tedious. You’ve probably heard the story about the two men who were working on a building. When someone asked the two men what they were doing, the first man replied that he was laying brick. The second man replied that he was building a beautiful skyscraper. Choosing a meaningful theme may help you stay connected to the bigger picture even while you work through the nitty-gritty details of choosing repertoire.
Third, choosing a theme that is meaningful to you helps you as a conductor and a choir communicate with greater focus and passion, which in turn will help the audience connect with the program. A salesman who believes in and has experienced the product he is selling is much more likely to communicate effectively. The customer is more likely to connect with that salesman than the one who is simply trying to get the job done and make another sale. Even if you know nothing about hollandaise sauce or homemade fries or my mom’s sticky rolls, I can probably get you at least a little bit excited about them because I’m excited about them. They’re meaningful to me, so they have a better chance of being meaningful to you when I talk about them. The same principle applies to the conductor and the choir and the way they communicate with the audience.
One way that I’ve done this is to think about the things that I care about and love. What makes me excited? Where do I see and experience the life of God in the world around me? If something lights my fire, I pay attention to it to see if it could turn into a theme. I’ve also done this by praying about what theme to use and paying attention when something comes to my mind after that prayer. Sensing God’s direction in the theme selection process helps me connect with the theme.
One of my all-time favorite themes to use is “Your Kingdom Come.” I have used it several different times and have loved it each time. Here is a program that I built recently using that theme.
Your Kingdom Come
In Our Praise
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, arr. Lloyd Pfautsch
All Your Works Shall Praise You, by Lyle Stutzman (coming soon to the shop)
Psalm 148, by Gustav Holst
Glory to God in the Highest, J. S. Bach, edited
In Our Prayers
Our Father, by Alexander Gretchaninoff, edited by Arthur S. Kimball
Rejoice in the Lord Alway, anonymous
Two Hymn Settings (I Surrender All and I Need Thee Every Hour), arr. Moses Hogan
In Our Love
Jesus, I Adore Thee, by Stephen Caracciolo
If Ye Love Me, by Thomas Tallis
Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost, by Philip Stopford
In Earth as in Heaven
Lift Up Your Heads, arr. Olaf Christiansen
Veni, Veni Emmanuel, by Michael John Trotta
Blind Bartimaeus, arr. Lloyd Kauffman
Joy in the Morning, by Natalie Sleeth
I Would Be True, arr. John Rutter
What themes have you used that have been meaningful?