"A new and exciting musical opportunity awaits you," the announcement promised. "Come sing with me Family Choir—a group that demands no weekly rehearsals, provides no robes, and sets no age limits."
The new choir wouldn't be the first or only choir at First Church. The Chancel Choir had sung every Sunday morning and most Sunday evenings for many years. A handbell choir, two children's choirs, and a senior citizen's choir also participated regularly. But while the Family Choir wouldn't replace those groups, we hoped it would interest some new "singers." It was our attempt to reach out to the many in our church who wanted to be involved in the church's music ministry but somehow never found the time or never felt comfortable in any of the established groups.
What Is a Family Choir?
What we had in mind was a choir in which anyone could be involved—a choir that permitted young and old together to use their varied musical abilities to glorify God. The choir would have several unique features that we hoped would appeal to the entire family of God:
No Weekly Rehearsals. The new choir would be for people who like to sing but who can't commit themselves to weekly rehearsals. Rehearsals would take place only on the Sundays the choir sang and would generally be held in the half hour or forty-five minutes before the service.
No Experience Required. The new choir would welcome people who felt they didn't sing well enough to keep up with the sometimes difficult repertoire of the Chancel Choir. The choir would sing music that was simple enough so that anyone would feel comfortable participating, regardless of musical ability.
No Weeknights Away from Families. Our church has quite a few families with young children. Many of our young parents had been in the Chancel Choir before their children were born but now found it difficult to make it to choir rehearsal each week, or to find someone to sit with their children during the service while they sat in the choir loft. They wanted to sing in a choir but were reluctant to do so at their children's expense. In the new choir, the whole family could sing together.
That's just what we told our congregation in the newsletter that announced the choir:
The choir is designed to give families the chance to sing together. Kids, parents, and grandparents can come sit together and join in singing praises to God. The choir is not limited to families, however. The entire family of God is invited. We are hoping that all members of our church who like to sing—from preschoolers to seniors—will feel comfortable in taking part in this new choir.
We followed that newsletter article with several short bulletin announcements, reminding readers of when and where the new Family Choir would first assemble.
What Types of Music Can the Family Choir Sing?
Selecting the right kind of music is an important part of successfully organizing and maintaining a Family Choir. The following guidelines have worked well for me:
■ Simple words and repetitive phrases or refrains are a must for young singers.
■ The range must not be too high or too low. The standard hymnbook range of middle C to the D about an octave above it seems to work best.
■ Unison music works well, but two-part, three-part, and four-part music will also work as long as anyone who feels more comfortable singing the melody is allowed to do so.
■ For each Sunday the group sings, at least one of the pieces should have a familiar melody or text.
■ Try to find music that can use rhythm or Orff-style tone-bar instruments as part of the accompaniment. These may be played by adults or children.
■ Choose music that supports the theme of the service or sermon.
■ Remember that the group must learn the music in one short rehearsal—don't make it too complex.
■ Be creative. Selections can be made from a wide variety of sources, including junior choir anthems and hymnbooks.
■ Be prepared for any size group!
What Kind of Turnout Should I Expect?
The announcements had been made, the music chosen. Finally it was time for the first rehearsal. I walked into the choir room at 5:00 P.M. and found my wife and our two children and the custodian's wife and their two children. I had been prepared for a small group—but not quite this small! By 5:15, however, there were twenty-five people in the room, and by 5:30 we had over thirty singers, ranging in age from three to seventy-five, in our new choir. They sang beautifully that first Sunday and made a great impact on many in the congregation.
Since that first meeting, we've had others join our group. But I've discovered that the size of the group doesn't really matter. Sometimes our choir swells as large as forty-five singers and includes three generations of several families. At other times it shrinks to seven singers, who do a marvelous job in spite of their numbers.
The important thing is that our choir gives many new people an opportunity to take part in our congregation's music ministry. Quite a few members of our Family Choir have confessed to me that they've never sung in a choir before. Some of them came reluctantly at first, giving it a try only because their families insisted, and then discovered that they really enjoyed singing.
The Family Choir offers everyone—young and old—the chance to lead the service in singing praise. It's an idea I'd recommend to any church—large or small—as a way of expanding and enhancing its music ministry.