A third tip for choosing a theme is to begin building a list of songs that fit your choir, taking into account range, difficulty level, voicing, appropriateness for your audience, and so on. These are normal considerations whether you have a theme or not. As you begin to make a list of potential songs, look for connections between those songs; you may find several possible themes emerging. Once you have several theme ideas based on the pieces already on your list, continue to build your list, keeping an eye out for pieces that might fit with one or more of your potential themes.

It’s important to treat your list of songs like you would a brainstorming list. Plenty of your ideas won’t work out, but you write them down anyway. Sometimes seemingly useless ideas can lead to helpful ideas. In the same way, putting songs on your list that have little connection to your theme ideas might help you think of other songs that do. Keep looking for other possible themes as you add pieces.

So let’s review. Start finding songs that fit your choir. See if any themes emerge from those songs. Find more songs that fit your choir. Add them to your list. See if they fit into the themes you were considering. If they do, plug them in; if they don’t, keep them on the list for later. Keep doing this until you have two or three times as many pieces as you need.

Did any of your theme ideas get off the ground as you added pieces to the list? If so, try building a program on one of those themes. Look at your list of pieces and extract the ones that might remotely fit with the theme, then organize those pieces into a program. At this point, you might still have too many pieces. If you do, sharpen your ax and cut off the pieces that really don’t fit. If you have too few pieces, find the gaps in your program and look for pieces to fill them.

This method may not work as well for large-scale, cohesive programs complete with logical sub-themes and all that. It can be difficult to choose a theme first and then find pieces that fit both the choir and theme. The beauty of this method is that you start with pieces that fit your choir and build your theme from there.