Have you ever struggled to choose music for your choir? If you have, join the crowd. I used to choose music pretty haphazardly. After collecting a stack of 15-17 pieces of music appropriate for the choir I was planning to direct, I would arrange the pieces according to subject and style putting praise pieces at the beginning, a prayer or soft closer at the end, a crowd-pleaser near the end, and slow and fast pieces mixed up throughout the program. I would then choose one of the song titles to put on the front of the bulletin, and presto, I had a program.
I suppose that worked. I survived. The choir members survived. The audience members survived. Maybe they even enjoyed it and were blessed, but that doesn’t mean I chose and presented a quality program.
I’m becoming more and more convinced that choosing songs to fit a theme creates a program that speaks louder and more effectively than a bunch of individual songs thrown together. A good theme invites sub-themes that describe and expand it, and these sub-themes can become section headings that further define and give direction to the main theme. When it’s done well, a program that follows a theme takes the singers and audiences on a satisfying, memorable journey. It’s one thing to have a bunch of good songs in a program, but it’s another thing to have a bunch of good songs that work together to say more than any one song could say alone.
In recent years, I have actually tried to craft a theme before I choose most of the songs. It’s unhandy because so many great songs simply do not fit the theme, but it’s also helpful because it gives specific direction to the repertoire selection process. It forces me to consider the texts carefully which counteracts my knee-jerk tendency to look primarily at the music when choosing a program.
In the next few posts, I’ll give some ideas for choosing a good theme. If you have ideas or suggestions, feel free to send them my way.