Hey singers. Still loving it? I mean the thought of singing, even when we can’t raise that joyous noise together in the intimacy of rehearsal in a choir room, dedicated to reflecting the power of our combined voices back onto our senses in real time. I mean the intense gathering and focus of our fellowship in the discipline of creating a unified whole so much greater than the sum of the parts. I bet you are. It still tries to drive me crazy each time I come up against the COVID wall that keeps us all apart.
If nothing else, we are creators, and creators find ways to go through walls. Most of us have found ways to meet outdoors, where we still social distance and wear masks while we sing in reduced numbers and get as close as we can to the feeling of a choir. It seems to be all we have for now, but at least it’s something.
All those limitations certainly put a damper on the repertoire we’re able to draw on for our singing. Many of my favorite anthems just don’t translate well to smaller numbers, outdoor acoustics and having to be so spread out. My impatient response is to try to come up with scores and rehearsal and performance methods that fit this bizarre set of circumstances we find ourselves in (probably for the foreseeable future).
When I’m starting a choral score for folks to enjoy singing this way, I like to work in the structure of American song form – verse and chorus repeated, with perhaps a bridge in there somewhere. I’ll start with a lead sheet layout and add various parts to the page, each one of which can be added or left out of the repeated sections to create dynamic changes and other variations of range, rhythm, and harmony as the song moves along. I’ve found this way of scoring allows me to adapt the arrangement to the moment, much like on-the-spot uses of a hymnal piece. I’ll construct a map that day for the singers, perhaps asking for a unison first verse, octave unison with harmonies on the second verse, etc. I’ve found that once singers get used to this fluid approach they have a lot of fun helping me play with the arrangement, and the results can really show the group at its best. If we end with a map that really sounds good then we stick with it, and that’s the way we perform the piece when we sing it again.
Here’s an example I put together for you. It comes from an incredibly powerful and insightful set of lyrics written by my friend Marty Spiegel. It is a fine wakeup call for us in these troubled times, asking for responsible action without taking political sides. That’s pretty hard to do, and Marty nailed it.
You’ll see the form right away: intro, verse, chorus, repeat from the top. The different parts are all in there, and I ask for your forgiveness for skipping clefs on the second page (it had to be done to keep the whole thing to two pages). This kind of score is designed to be parsed and mapped, not sung verbatim. I invite you to pull the parts from the whole and build your own long form arrangement if you’d like. Maybe invite some of the singers to suggest a different map or two.
I wish you all health and safety in these troubling times. May our raised voices continue to spread hope, joy and grace to everyone.