Another kind of church choir

I’ve got all kinds of music swirling through my head right now. We’ve organized a “folk choir” here in our church — not a formal classical choir, not a gospel choir, but a folk choir. In other words, there may be printed music but not every singer will know how to read music. The primary way the tunes are passed on is by ear; and each singer might put their own little twist on a song.

I have to admit that I’m not particularly interested in singing in a traditional choir. I admire people who can sing in carefully structured four-part harmony, but I’d rather sing in a more improvisatory style. I like the texture that arise from each singer putting a slightly different spin on a song: different signers changing the melody slightly, someone singing the first note of a phrase a little before the beat while everyone else is on the beat, one singer altering the rhythm, another signer adding her or his own little ornaments — in other words, a folk choir can tend towards heterophony (and sometimes even more full-blown polyphony) rather than the homophony more typical of a traditional choir.

And a folk choir can use some interesting musical forms that involve the rest of the congregation: call-and-response songs, partner songs, chants and rounds, songs with verses sung by a soloist and choruses sung by all, etc. That means that a folk choir is more likely to involve the whole congregation, rather than just singing as performers within the worship service. A folk choir can also draw in those who don’t read music, and those who don’t read at all (children, for example), because they can teach songs to the congregation by ear.

We’ll be singing in the worship service for the first time this Sunday, and then singing in nearly every service from now through Christmas. It will be interesting to see how it goes. I’m betting that our folk choir will improve our congregational singing another notch; liven up worship services; and I’m betting that those of us singing in the folk choir are going to have a blast. I’ll keep you posted….

Now I’m really curious to know if there are any other churches out there which have some sort of folk choir, as opposed to a more traditional choir. If so, how has it worked out for you?…

One thought on “Another kind of church choir

  1. Toonhead

    By the criteria you described our choir would be a “folk choir”. The members range from a classically trained opera singer to people who can’t read music but can carry a tune. Choir membership has been open to anyone who can carry a tune. A church in Houston describes their criteria as being able to sing Happy Birthday in a group and still stay on key. We found that our choir really enhances worship and participation from the congregation. To paraphrase Louis Armstrong – All music is folk music because folks make music.

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