Typically, we look at choral arrangements in terms of dynamic peaks and valleys. The verse starts mezzo piano, then crescendos into the chorus. The bridge starts down, then builds on the repeat. When directing, we usually focus on these dynamic transitions. We hunch our shoulders and minimize our motions as we decrescendo into the quiet section. We lift our eyebrows and conduct widely as we move into that big, final chorus.
In between, we often just plateau until the next dynamic shift. Our conducting simply marks the measures and the choir just sings “normal” until it’s time to get louder or softer.
But the best choral singing has no “normal” gear. Every section should require something from your singers beyond a volume setting. Think beyond “mezzo forte” to smooth or accented, straight-tone or full vibrato. When the choir moves into a softer section, they naturally enunciate less. Ask them to open wide and really pronounce every syllable even though the volume is down. Would the verses flow better with a brighter timbre? Does that last big note sound better with full-throated vibrato or straight tone?
When you look over an arrangement before rehearsal, make decisions about each section. If you’re not sure, ask the choir to try it a few different ways. Think beyond “dynamics” to “texture.” Have the choir pencil in a texture indication above the dynamic marking, adding “over-enunciate” or “super-smooth” or “very accented.” Every section should have it’s own texture: there should be no neutral. Without your specific direction, your singers will default to neutral singing, to a beige tone. And who likes beige?
“Normal” is boring. Choral singing has a colorful array of tones and finishes. Constantly shift and mix those colors and you’ll find both your choir and congregation more engaged in the music.
Luke Woodard is the engraver and editor of all the music on Discover Worship. With an experienced ear for transcription and arranging, he creates charts for many publishers, artists, and churches.