How to choose repertoire that suits your choir

Choir leaders are music lovers. When it comes to selecting repertoire, it can be very easy to get carried away. There’s nothing wrong with making ambitious choices, but the music you choose should suit your choir. Here are some questions to keep in mind.

What sort of choir do you lead?

Singers join a choir because they want to sing and enjoy themselves. If you run a community choir open to all abilities, then choosing a technically complicated piece could soon have people running for the hills!

Similarly, if you run an auditioned choir where all singers have a similar level of musical experience, then something too easy may bore them (never forgetting that simple doesn’t always equate to easy).

Getting to know your choir and understand what works for them is crucial when selecting repertoire.

How much time do you have?

Consider the amount of rehearsal and preparation that music will take. Look at your schedule and performance dates. Do you have enough time to get your choir ready to perform so that they feel confident?

Careful rehearsal planning is the best way forward. If time before the next performance is limited perhaps just select one or two new pieces and review some existing repertoire.

That way, the choir gets a new challenge but doesn’t feel swamped.

Is the piece suitable?

Always look at the lyrics and consider the meaning of a piece before selecting it for your choir. Is it suitable for your choir’s demographic? Will the audience enjoy it?

Pleasing everyone is an impossible task, but as you get to know your choir you will start to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Is your choir capable of singing it?

Another important aspect to consider is the vocal ranges in your choir. Does the piece provide a good challenge without being unrealistic?

For example, a lot of early music (which was never intended to be sung by SATB choirs) is very high for the tenors, which might be a struggle for some choirs.

We always want to look after our singers’ voices, and being realistic about what a choir is capable of singing is a good start.

How does the piece fit in your performance programme?

Sometimes, you might be performing a single choral work, but you’ll probably just as often have several items in a performance programme.

Try to make sure that there is variety and interest for each vocal part across a selection of music. Similarly, check that a single part isn’t going to be carrying the melody all the time, or singing at the extremes of their range for a whole concert.

With a bit of forethought, we can ensure that our choirs get the right mix of challenge and enjoyment that will keep them inspired throughout the season.

Comments on How to choose repertoire that suits your choir

  1. Avatar Danielle Pullen says:

    Good day, I have discovered your website today and I am so happy to have done so. I have been reading several articles as well as listening to your Impostor Syndrome podcast. It was terrific. While reading some of your conversation above, someone mentioned a “cheat sheet”? Am I understanding correctly that it has to do with identifying a choristers vocal range or am I off the mark? I love to hear from you. Danielle from Montreal, Canada!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Danielle,
      Thank you for your message, so pleased to hear you’ve enjoyed discovering the website so much. Imposter Syndrome is always a hot topic amongst choir leaders! The cheat sheets we offer have changed in that they are now all included as part of our membership Community Choir professionals which you can check out here.

  2. Avatar Alison M says:

    Hi there,
    I would love to know what sort of choir I belong in, given my experience, level of music reading ability, the amount of time I can commit to, the sort of music I enjoy singing etc. Is there a quiz of some sort? Thanks!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Alison. A quiz is a great idea, but we probably wouldn’t be the people to create the one you’re looking for. Our site is aimed at choir leaders and their needs, not people looking to join and sing in choirs.

      My advice on finding the right choir for you would be to just join one and try it out. If it’s not the right fit, try another one. There’ll be something out there that inspires you, I’m sure.

  3. Avatar Kamali says:

    Many thanks for your judicious tips. They are inescapable.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Kamali

  4. Avatar Kalima Masse says:

    Hi. What is this “cheat sheet” and how do I get it? Thanks. By way of some background, I conduct a community choir in southern Colorado. One of my favorite things to do is choose the music – I listen to lots of music; if I find that I’m not bored with something, I give it a second listen. There’s some little bell that rings inside that says, yes, THIS is music just made for our choir, or, ooops, yawn, no thanks. So far, according to my choristers, I’ve made some pretty good choices. But I won’t ever rest on laurels!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Kalima, thanks for your message, it’s great when you hear a piece of music that you just know will be great for your choir. Sounds like you are definitely on the right track and that your singers enjoy your choices. Regarding the cheat sheet this is no longer available on the site. However, if you email us hello@totalchoirresources.com then we can send it to you.

  5. Avatar Kingsley Ebuka says:

    I read your post and i am glad i did read it. I have a choir here in Nigeria (though my church choir) and it has been challenging because i dont understand how to categorize my choristers as to their parts be it suprano, alto, tenor and bass. Please do you have any tip(s) for me and how and where do i get this music cheat sheet. Thanks.

  6. Avatar Velma says:

    Excellent resource…much appreciated

  7. Avatar Valerie Gross says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve struggled now for 3 semesters picking music appropriate for my homeschool (middle and high school) choir (in the U.S.A.). It’s got a couple of fantastic, trained young musicians, some voices that have already “changed,” and a lot of young people who love singing but are learning mostly by rote from recordings I make for them to work with and who have no experience singing in a group. Some of these hints seem lovely! I’ve used many of your things, actually, as I hadn’t been trained to lead a choir in school. In any case, the range cheat sheet is a little bit useful sometimes, but working with young men’s voices when they are in the middle of developing is REALLY a stretch for me! The only hope I have that it isn’t torture for the guys is that they’ve signed up all 3 semesters.

    I wish your podcasts were available as written transcripts, because it takes a LONG time to listen to a podcast. Much easier to skim-read!

    Thank you for all your great materials!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Valerie. Christine and I aren’t experienced in dealing with young men’s voices. As you say, you must be doing something right if they’re sticking around!

      The main reason we don’t offer a transcript of the podcast is that we simply don’t have time to transcribe it. If you prefer written material, there are always new articles appearing on the website. The podcast is usually about 15 to 20 minutes long and I know that a lot of our audience listen while they’re driving or walking. We hope that people enjoy the atmosphere of the podcast as well as the content.

  8. Avatar Barbara Fleet says:

    Thank you, most useful!

  9. The vocal range cheat sheet is great – such a help and exactly what I was after. Thank you.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Polly, thanks for your email, really glad the cheat sheet helped you out.

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