Why buying choral music is such a pain!

I’ve been sourcing, buying and hiring music for my chamber choir for over five years now and I’ve always found it a frustrating process. Here are some of my particular bugbears. If you’ve encountered any of these annoyances, you’re not alone.

1. You don’t know what it’s going to sound like

When you buy a score online, either as a digital download or as a printed product delivered to your door, you don’t know what it will sound like when your choir sings it. If you’re a good pianist, you can play the vocal parts through. However, most of us are stuck with trying to sing through a line at a time and put it together in our heads.

The music publishers don’t help with this. Why not let us hear the whole thing, even if it’s only in MIDI format? Tiny excerpts are no help to anyone.

2. You can’t see potential problems of range or difficulty

Most of the time when you’re buying digital scores, you don’t get to see the whole thing, only the first page or so. That means there could be extremes of range, nightmarish harmonies or even inappropriate lyrics lurking about the corner.

3. You don’t get any support

If you’re a trained, competent musician, you can muddle through the process of taking a score and turning it into a teaching plan. If you’re new to choir leading, or your music-reading is rusty, it can be a real chore to learn the piece thoroughly and decide how to present it to your choir.

And almost no choral music comes with recorded accompaniments or rehearsal tracks, so if you don’t have a pianist and you don’t play yourself, you’re probably not going to be able to do the piece, however fabulous it is.

4. You never have the right number of scores

I’ve got this wrong so many times! My choir has grown steadily over the last few years. It’s intended to be chamber choir, so we’ll always keep a lid on the number of places, but we’ve gone from about 20 to start with to about 36 now. People have left, taking their scores with them of course, and others have joined, needing new scores.

I try to keep a range of standing repertoire that the choir can perform at very little notice. We keep these pieces at roughly performance level by singing through them occasionally at the end of a rehearsal. So when a new person joins, they need a bundle of about 20 scores to get them up to speed, plus anything new we’re working on.

We don’t have the funds (or the storage space) for a large stock of music, so most of the time, when I invite a new person into the choir, I have to go back to the music website from which I purchased the original set of scores and get another one. And I have to repeat that on several different websites, some of which are abroad and take AGES to deliver. It’s all a bit of a faff!

5. What’s the answer?

If you’ve been following Total Choir Resources over the last few months, you’ll probably have heard about our new project: a digital music store. And it won’t surprise you to learn that we think we’ve got the answers to these music-buying headaches.

We’ve commissioned a composer to create brand new arrangements of well-known songs, which will be available from 1 June 2017. And we’ve come up with a wholly new way for choirs to buy music.

Print as many copies as you need now. And more if you need them later.

This was our first and most important idea. Instead of using the old music publishing model (based on printed paper products) that you have to buy a score for each singer, and buy more in the future if you need them, we’ll be selling our arrangements ‘per choir’. No more stock. No more running out of scores. No more clandestine photocopying! If new people join and you want to revisit a piece – just print more.

We’ll support you

We know from experience that sourcing music for your choir isn’t simply a question of choosing a piece and handing it to your singers, particularly if your choir learns by ear. There’s a ton of work that goes into preparing a piece for rehearsal. We want to help with that, so all our arrangements will come with:-

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  • Rehearsal tracks
  • Accompaniment tracks
  • Lyric sheets for teaching by ear
  • Full and vocal scores
  • Piano reductions for unaccompanied pieces
  • Teaching notes

We think it’s about time the world of choral music caught up with the 21st Century, and the diverse ways in which modern choirs learn, rehearse and perform. We hope you’ll come with us on what should be a very exciting journey.

Victoria Hopkins

Victoria is a founder and director of Total Choir Resources. She leads Total Voice Chamber Choir in the UK.

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Patricia Kleinman - 8 months ago Reply

Congratulations for this new “window” in Total Choir Resources! I hope there will be many SSA or SAA arrangements, as it’s getting increasibly difficult in the 21st century to get men to sing in choirs….(my experience, anyway! Maybe it’s different in the UK).

Best regards and success!

    Victoria Hopkins - 8 months ago Reply

    That’s our plan Patricia. We’ll be starting fairly modestly then rolling out new arrangements once things are established.

Kathy - 8 months ago Reply

Hey, this sounds like a good plan. In time will it open up to other arrangers as I think we can all develop an arranging “style” and multiple arrangers would create different flavours?

Helen - 8 months ago Reply

Wonderful news! You’ve ‘hit the nail right on the head’!
Thank you so much for planning this option and making it happen! Looking forward to see what you will have to offer!

Su Summers - 8 months ago Reply

Will the pricing be based on choir size? I have 10 in my choir and are very strapped for cash! Also, will there be an option NOT to have the extras but just the printed vocal scores?

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Hi Su,

    The package won’t be based on choir size as once purchased you can print as many or as little copies as you need. The scores will only be available as part of the whole package which we see as a big bonus for choir leaders, especially the rehearsal tracks which will save people a lot of time.

      Gill Ellis - 8 months ago Reply

      I find that the most frustrating thing about buying music online is that I have to guess at the level of complexity – rarely do the suppliers allow us to peek inside. The last piece I ordered was way too simplified for what we want. What happened to ‘Inspection Copies’? It would also really help to be able to hear it – I’ve bought music in the past which appeared to be just what we wanted, only to find that it fitted nowhere in our repertoire.

      I’m looking forward to your new arrangements, especially as I’m in the process of setting up a new choir which will be a completely quantity!

Catherine Chambers - 8 months ago Reply

Thank you for sharing your experience and information. I am just about to start a Rock style choir in France for English speaking but we may well have French speakers join too. Can’t wait to be able to buy your music plus everything else.

I am hoping you can keep in touch with me when you launch new ideas etc. My e-mail address is: catherine.chambers@’outlook.com

With grateful thanks

Anne Hamilton - 8 months ago Reply

I’m really looking forward to these!! Thanks

Neil Shepherd - 8 months ago Reply

Some good SAB arrangements with reasonable ranges for the men would be appreciated! Was using one piece yesterday that had the men going up to f’s – useless if your a bass!

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for your message, we’re pleased the music store might be just the thing you need.

Sue - 8 months ago Reply

Sounds great thank you.

Jeanette - 8 months ago Reply

so looking forward to your ‘shop’. we have NO music store in Zimbabwe so I have to buy everything on line. I teach high school girls. They don’t read music I have to teach all parts by ear, me singing and playing the piano. The on-line stores don’t always give a downloadable copy and they want me to buy at least eight. Postage makes it not worth it and as I have to pay everything myself (no school money) I end up losing interest in a particular song.

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    THanks Jeanette,

    Sounds like our new music packages are going to be just what you need. Not long to wait now! Good luck with all your choir ventures.

Deb Leslie - 8 months ago Reply

Fantastic! You are legends!

Jonathan - 8 months ago Reply

Boom – great idea. Good luck with it all.

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Thanks Jonathan, it’s great to get all this positive feedback.

Jo Griff - 8 months ago Reply

I have a new choir (3 months) and have been trying different methods to source music. My choir learn by ear and rehearsal tracks, mainly to avoid constant printing. Initially there was some objection from people used to reading but they are settling in.
I have been trying my own basic arrangements to backing tracks but it is time consuming transcribing parts and not always that good .
I look forward to your new resources which clearly come from a place of experience.

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Thanks Joanne,

    We really hope you’ll find the music packages helpful for running your choir. Anything that can save us choir leaders time on the preparation front is a bonus.

Lucy - 8 months ago Reply

Just read your post and was saying “yes”…”yes”….”yes”….. all the way through!
I’m lucky enough to be able to play the piano but I agree with everything you say about downloading digital music. I can’t wait for the launch of your new project, it sounds perfect for people like me with a small rural community singing group (but even so with 6 or 7 men out of 22 or so singers!)
Thanks also so much for your interesting and informative blog posts

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Thanks for your lovely message Lucy, great to hear about your choir. Roll on 1st June!

Joy Porter - 8 months ago Reply

This may well be an answer to most choir MDs prayers! Thank you so much for the imagination that is going into this project . My accompanists is going overseas for the 2nd half of this year and I was deliberating how I would proceed directing from the keyboard. These accompaniment and rehearsal tracks as well as the piano reductions will be great.
Some SAB arrangements will be great for my 30 voice SAB community choir. I look forward to June 1st release. My Birthday is in June so I will consider it a great birthday gift!

Joy in Regional Victoria Australia

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Thanks for your lovely email Joy and we wish you a very Happy Birthday, enjoy your gift!

Pam Nicholls - 8 months ago Reply

Hi, Congratulations – wonderful ideas! Will you grade the scores in terms of easy for beginners, more advanced, etc, and will there be descriptors (country of origin, style, mood etc)? Thanks for all the great support you give. Pam Nicholls in New Zealand

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Hi Pamela,

    Thanks for your message, we’ll be including teaching notes with the pieces which will cover all the aspects you mention. Glad you enjoy the site.

Valerie - 8 months ago Reply

Hallo, That is the best choir news I have had, Really looking forward to the 1st of June. Grateful thanks. Valerie x

Maureen Wilhite - 8 months ago Reply

Thank you so much! You hit the nail right on the head with all the challenges in leading a choir. I look forward to SA pieces for Easter, Christmas, Palm Sunday as well as we are a Lutheran Church Choir. We love your round warm ups and have used them a lot this year. I’m so glad I found you! Maureen

Anne Taylor - 8 months ago Reply

Dear Victoria and Christine,
This is such fantastic news. Our U3A choir committee in Victoria, Australia, was yesterday discussing how we were going to afford the copyright and cost of buying enough copies of songs for the 30+ members. We have just applied for a grant from our Council to help finance this problem, but it is not a foregone conclusion that we will succeed. So your wonderful project is a blessing for us. And it will help with the teaching notes and other useful aspects, particularly for new choir leaders. We really appreciate your thoughtful idea for the benefit of so many choir leaders across the world. Thank you!

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Thanks for your lovely message Anne. We hope you enjoy the store when it opens on 1st June. All the very best with your choir ventures.

Dorothy Scott - 8 months ago Reply

Looking forward to your new resources.
Will you include any music for church choirs?

    Victoria Hopkins - 8 months ago Reply

    Hi Dorothy. We don’t have any immediate plans to publish sacred music, but some of the folk songs and spirituals that we’re starting with have sacred origins.

Susan - 8 months ago Reply

Wonderful! I run a small high school girls choir of 8 girls and sourcing works has always been time consuming. I’m looking forward to browsing. Thanks for all you girls do.

Helen - 8 months ago Reply

This is good news indeed! Our choir sings a wide range of genre with a leaning towards pop and jazz. We also loan our print scores to other choirs but have found that they really don’t look after them. ? I’m looking forward to satb arrangements of popular light tunes.
From Tasmania

    Christine Mulgrew - 8 months ago Reply

    Thanks Helen,

    Great to hear from you. It must drive you crazy when you loan scores and they aren’t looked after properly. You’ll have to point those choirs in the direction of our new store as well! All the best with your choir.

Trevor Tilley - 8 months ago Reply

Roll on 1st June . Looking forward to all that you say you will be doing . Best Wishes

Evelyn - 7 months ago Reply

What a great idea!

Will you or can you please include sacred music eg. for SSA or SA please? This would especially be useful and it is just so hard to find separate rehearsal tracks.

Thank you.

    Victoria Hopkins - 7 months ago Reply

    Hi Evelyn. We’ll certainly be offering SSA arrangements in the near future. I doubt we’ll ever have a specific focus on sacred music, although some of the pieces on offer may have sacred origins. Total Choir Resources is deliberately non-religious because we want to serve choirs and choir leaders of all faiths and none.

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