Chamber Choir Programming for Smarties

It’s that time of year most choral conductors dread–the beginning of our concert cycles. If you have already programmed your concerts for the year, you can breath easy. If you haven’t, you are sweating, and not from a late summer heat wave!

I am programmed until the spring of 2013 right now. Everything isn’t totally settled but I have ideas and themes. Everything will fall into place eventually.

I used to just hate “themes” but I have grown to love them. It helps focus the ensemble for that particular concert. And since we have two concerts a calender year, I also decided to focus each concert on a particular repertoire. That decision has helped me with programming more than any other. You see, the possible repertoire for a chamber choir is so vast, being required to focus gives me a much better idea of where to start.

Fall concerts are sacred concerts, with possible selections including motets of all eras, and psalm settings. It’s a little more complicated than that but when I’m scrambling for ideas, I start there. The possibilities are endless but you have to know where to begin in the first place.

Spring concerts are secular concerts, with madrigals, part songs and even vocal quartets with and without accompaniment forming the backbone. I like to include music with excellent texts by poets such as Shakespeare, Shelley, Robert Frost or e.e.cummings.

I’ve done concerts of 20th century motets, Brahms vocal quartets and only American composers. We had a great time with a concert of folk song settings and also a concert of different settings of “Ave Verum” and “Tantum Ergo” from all eras. We look forward to a concert of music from the salon as well as a concert of music of Claudio Monteverdi and Salomne Rossi.

Sometimes, I pick a favorite composer and see if he/she wrote any motets or a single piece, without orchestra. I love to do motets of Mozart and Bruckner and Poulenc. Daniel Pinkham did some interesting motets and Hohvaness did as well. William Billings is really fun to do, both sacred and secular things.

Programming is an art, it’s not a science. My concerts usually have a piece I begin with, a concert center piece, and I love to have the program evolve from there.

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