Frederick William Wodell.

Choir and chorus conducting; a treatise on the organization, management, training, and conducting of choirs and choral societies online

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Ci^oRas Co)HDact:i]^T6


On the Orgfanization, Managfemcnt^ Training;, and

Conducting: of Choirs and Choral






Copyright, J 90 J, by Theodore Presser,



This book is, in some measure, the outcome of the
author's desire to be of service to such as need assist-
ance in the work of organizing and conducting Choir
or Choral Society.

It is hoped that it will bring aid, suggestion and
stimukis to workers in this field. Its production has
afforded pleasurable employment for the " spare hours "
of a professional life for a considerable period. May
its perusal be to many a source of profit.

The Author.
Boston, Jan, 1901*

Choir and Chorus Conducting,

Part I.

Chapter I.

Intf odtJCtion* — In organizing a church choir account should
be taken of the special purpose for which it is designed :
whether it is to lead the people in song, or to sing as proxy for
the people, or both. The style of music to be sung and the size
of the auditorium are also items for consideration.

A quartet is seldom effective in the promotion of good
congregational singing. A quartet which sings modern tunes
with their rich harmonization, and is given to over-much
' ' expressiveness ' ' in the way of shading and variations of
tempo, discourages the average worshipper and prevents his
joining in the hymn singing. Where a quartet is to be used
to lead the congregation in the hymns, it should be made up of
powerful voices, and frequently sing the melody in unison,
keeping a steady pace.

Church music, available for quartet of male or female
voices is comparatively limited in quantity.

6 ; cHoiii : A,5?i? ''(?H.Qiius conducting.

As compared with the quartet of mixed voices, both the
male and female quartets lack variety of tone-color and are
consequently deficient in expressiveness. Both male and
female quartets are capable of rich effects.

The. popular ear appreciates the virility of the voices and
the richness of the close harmony in the singing of the male
quartet, and such a choir is therefore much in demand for
special kinds of work, particularly the singing of the more
simple settings of familiar and ' '■ gospel ' ' hymns.

The female quartet lacks the virility and breadth of tone
of the male quartet. It can be used, however, to good
advantage to give variety to a service. It is very seldom used
alone as a choir. Some beautiful sacred music has been
written by good composers for its use.

The Male Quartet Choir, — In organizing a male quartet
choir, great care must be taken to secure a proper balance of
the voices. The first or highest tenor, should be the lightest
voice, (have less volume than the others), and should play
about ''high" E, F, and G with ease and freedom. The
second or lowest base should have the greatest volume, and
should descend with ease and full voice to the low F. A
mistake is often made in placing a heavy, semi-baritone voice
as the second tenor of a male quartet. In such case the balance
of parts is lost ; the inner part is made too prominent. A
better plan is to have a first tenor sing second tenor. It is
unwise to use a heavy baritone as the first bass of a male
quartet. The first and second basses then sound too much
alike, their parts become ' ' muddy, ' ' and they over-balance tha
tenors. The greatest error is to put a second tenor into the
position of first tenor. The quartet will then always sound
top-heavy, there will ever be danger of flatting, and blending
and delicate shading will be well-nigh impossible of attain-


First tenor and second bass voices are, in this country,
comparatively rare. Sometimes a young tenor who has thought
his compass of effective tones restricted to ^ ^ high G, ' ' has a
light, thin upper voice which he is afraid to use. Judicious
training of that light upper voice on downward scales and
arpeggios, gradually increasing the force of the notes, will some-
times develop in such an one a good first tenor voice.

The Female Quartet* — The voices for a female quartet
choir must balance as do those of the male quartet. The first
soprano should have a light, lyric voice, singing easily around
upper E, F and G. With this voice should be associated a
light, high mezzo-soprano, or better, a first soprano singing as
second soprano. The first alto should be a mezzo-contralto, or
a mezzo-soprano who has a good low A. The second alto must
needs be the ' ' bass ' ' of the quartet and should possess a round
full tone to low F. This voice seldom sings higher than third
space C, treble clef. The ordinary choir soprano should not be
used as a first soprano in female quartet work. The voice is
too full in character, and the part runs too much above the
limits within which it is most at ease. Occasionally what has
seemed to be an unpromising, weak soprano voice, of not more
than an octave in compass, from middle G ( treble clef ) to high
G, has under training, turned out to be a genuine lyric, or
first soprano.

The Female Trio* — The best combination for the trios
for female voices sometimes met with in music for the church
is usually that of a light, high soprano for the upper part, with
a high mezzo-soprano for the second part, and a broad, low
mezzo-soprano or chorus alto for the lowest part. As a rule
the high mezzo-soprano is given the upper part, but the effect
is never of the best. The characteristics of each composition
must govern the choice of voices. The point here made is that
frequently the true effect of the music is not brought out because
a voice of too heavy a character is assigned to the upper part.


The voices of a male and of a female quartet should
taper in volume as shown in the accompanying diagram :

Tenor. I Soprano.

The Male ot Female Chorus. — This may best be considered
as an aggregation of quartets. The full bodied voices must be
kept off the upper parts, or a '' top-heavy" effect, with flat-
ting, is almost inevitable.

The Mixed Quartet Choir. — The mixed quartet — Soprano,
Contralto, Tenor and Bass — is a form of choir popular in the
United States. It is seldom well chosen either as to balance or
blending of voices.

As a rule, in selecting singers for a quartet choir, one voice
( usually the soprano or the tenor ) is settled upon, for various
reasons, musical and otherwise, as one that must be had, and
the remaining three voices are taken without much thought as
to whether they will blend and balance with the one first
chosen. A major part of the available appropriation is used in
paying the special voice, and necessarily the committee is
hampered in the work of choosing the remaining members of
the quartet.

As a result so-called quartets are often made up in a
peculiar manner. As for instance : A light, high soprano, a


full- voiced contralto, a robust tenor, a baritone. This combina-
tion is too light at top and bottom.

Another ill-balanced choir often met with, is this : A full,
dramatic soprano, a mezzo-contralto, a light tenor, a full, low

Perhaps the least satisfactory combination is one not infre-
quently found in the wealthier churches, in which the desire
for voices possessing extremely high and low tones is gratified
at considerable expense. Here is found : A light, high soprano,
a contralto, a lyric tenor, a low bass. A duet between the
soprano and bass of this combination is about as satisfactory as
would be one by the piccolo and bass tuba of the orchestra.

Voices of great power, and voices of extremely high, or
low range, as the case may be, are comparatively scarce. The
very full, low bass, in America, is more scarce than the light,
high soprano. Good tenors of any class are not at all plentiful.
There is also a lack of genuine, low contraltos. Most quartet
contraltos, are mezzo-sopranos whose low tones are heavy
and full. Too often these low tones are artificial ( forced ) and
to the cultivated ear, accustomed to the genuine contralto voice,
decidedly unpleasant.

Under these circumstances, it is less difficult and expensive
to form a quartet choir on the basis of a baritone voice for the
bass part. This would naturally mean the association with
such a bass of a mezzo-contralto, a lyric tenor, and a high
soprano. Much of the modern music for quartet choirs is
written for all the voices at high pitches, presumably for the
sake of brilliancy, and such a quartet as has just been mentioned
is needed to do it justice.

Following is a suggestion for two quartets, drawn up with
reference to balance of voices :

No 1. — A light, high soprano, a mezzo-contralto, a lyric
tenor, a baritone.


No. 2. — A full, mezzo, or dramatic soprano, a contralto, a
robust tenor, a full, low bass.

An item of equal importance mth balance of tone in
making up a quartet choir, is that of the blending quality of
the voices. There can be no true quartet singing without this. \
Oft-times a singer is acceptable as a soloist, but unsatisfactory
in quartet, because the quality of the voice makes it
' ^ stick out ' ' from the other voices. Frequently this is, to a
large extent, a matter of voice production. A forced tone may
be ''on the pitch," but it will not blend. Perfection of into-
nation is an absolute pre-requisite to the blending of voices. No
matter how well a singer may perform in other respects, if he
has a tendency to sing off the pitch on a given note or vowel,
that singer is not properly available for fine quartet work.

In the grand orchestra the instruments are divided into
families ; that is, groups having the same general tone color ;
as, for instance, the trio of trombones, or the quartet of
strings ; each instrument having a certain individuality as it
sounds its note of the chord, yet each member of the trombone
or string family having a voice which bears a strong color-
resemblance to the voices of the other members of the family.
When the members of one of these families sing together
the blend is very close, and the effect full and rich. So with
human voices. When four moderately good voices are found
in one family, so that a mixed quartet may be formed there-
from, there is usually a strong family likeness among the
voices, a resemblance in tonal hue, which gives a close, rich

It is not necessary, however, in order to satisfactory blend-
ing in a quartet choir, that all the voices shall be of the same
general tone-color. The composer for the orchestra, and the
organist, study the combining of instruments and stops of
different colors so as to secure special richness, or brilliancy.
So a bright, vibrant tenor voice is sometimes needed in a


quartet where the baritone is of a rather sombre quality. The
one voice complements the other, is modified by it. In the
same way a rather acid soprano may be sweetened somewhat
and blend surprisingly well with a contralto of a soft, sombre,
enveloping quality of tone.

It is evident that in choosing voices for their blending
qualities there is an opportunity for the exercise of a fine sense
of tone-color. Those who have charge of the organization and
drilling of choirs would do well to study the characteristic
timbres of the human voice from its lowest to its highest
registers ; and also the qualities of organ stops and orchestral
instruments, singly and in combination.


Chapter II.

The Quintet Choir* — Occasionally it is useful to have the
services of both a bass and a baritone, in connection wdth a
quartet choir. There is one leading director in the Eastern
States who is fond of this combination, and makes special
arrangements of five-part music for its use.

The Double Mixed Quartet ( Octet )♦ — A choir of eight
voices made up of Mixed Quartets, Nos. 1 and 2 above men-
tioned, is one of the most effective combinations possible for a
church service in which solo singing, sti'ong hymn leading and
a varietj^ of concerted work is desired. From this combination
a director may organize : Two mixed quartets, a female quartet,
a male quartet. If well chosen as to blending, the full com-
bination will have sufficient sonority to give a satisfactory
interpretation of many of the larger anthem forms. Eight
good, well blended and thoroughly ti^ained voices, in such a
combination, mil give much more breadth of tone, and musical
satisfaction generally, than Tvdll double the number of ordinary
chorus singers. It is not necessary that these singers shall be
especially fine soloists in order to obtain the best effects in
concerted singing. The double quartet need not, therefore,
represent exactly double the expense of the exceptionally fine
solo quartet. One of the quartets may consist of less experi-
enced singers, yet the combined effect under a competent
trainer be verj^ good. The greatest care, however, must be
exercised in regard to the items of balance and blend of voices,
as above set forth, or best results cannot be expected.


Chaptek III.

The Choir of Boys and Men* — This form of choir, in
which the treble and sometimes the alto part is sustained by
boys whose voices have not changed, while men sing the tenor
and bass parts, is in favor in the Episcopal Church. It is
generally or rather popularly known as the Boy Choir. As a
rule this type of choir is not a success, musically, because the
boys' voices are not properly or sufficiently trained. Extremists
assert that only by such a choir can the Music^il Service be
rightly given. Others find the boys' voices inadequate to a
proper interpretation of parts of the Service. Laying aside
this debated question, and assuming that a Boy Choir is
wanted, it may be said, and with emphasis, that only one who
thoroughly understands the training of the female voice should
be entrusted with the formation and drill of such a choir.
Given such an instructor, he will, of course, find his material
wherever he can ; in the Sunday School, the public school, the
private family.

It is of little use, in America, to endeavor to organize a
Boy Choir upon a purely volunteer basis. The best plan is to
pay each boy a stated sum per rehearsal and service, and by a
system of bonuses and fines reward or punish him in connec-
tion with such matters as attendance, punctuality, good order,
and so on. The best voices, as a rule, come from the homes of
the moderately well-to-do. These children are out of doors a
good deal, relatively strong, and have some refinement, which
tells favorably upon the voice quality. The average American
boy is an energetic mortal, and unless he is checked at home,
his enthusiasm upon the street and playground operates to
injure the quality of his voice.

In many cities and towns of this country sight singing is
taught in the public schools. A fair degree of ability in note


reading is often gained. Where the teacher of the room or in
charge of the music lesson happens to have been well-tanght
vocally, to possess a musical voice, and good taste, the scholars
at least do not injure their voices in the sight-singing work.
Too often the teaching of music is entrusted to one who lacks
the qualifications enumerated. City Boy Choir masters have
learned to know and dread the public school tone exhibited by
boys whose sight singing work in the pubKc schools is done
under a grade teacher who has but little musical knowledge,
and no ear for good tone quality.

In some choirs of boys and men the alto part is sung by
men who use a kind of falsetto tone quality. It is difficult to
find a boy-alto voice w^hich has sufficient power to be effective,
and at the same time is of pleasing quality. If, however, one
is likely to worry over difficulties in the organization and man-
agement of a Boy Choir he had best not take up the work. In
the nature of the case, the choir master can look for but three
or four years of good service from boys upon whom he has
spent much careful effort. At the change of voice, the choir
boy is lost to the choir. He may re-appear as a tenor, baritone or
bass — he may not even have a voice good enough for choir work.

Only what is known as the Head-voice, which, to the boy,
sounds like a girl's voice, should be used by the treble boys.
There is no danger, whatever, in having both small boys and
girls sing high tones, provided this Head-voice be used. Much
power, however, cannot be looked for. There is intensity —
carrying power, but not volume. The organizer of the Boy
Choir must, therefore, provide many more boys than men.
Only actual test of the voices available will determine the pro-
portionate numbers. If he listens to the choir singing an
anthem, stationing himself at a little distance from them, he
will get at the matter of balance. Obviously the leader of a
Boy Choir must be constantly on the lookout for new material.
If he is wise he will establish some sort of a waiting list, or
probationer's class.


Chapter IV.

The Chofus of Mixed Voices^— A choir numbering more
than eight voices — the Double Quartet — may be called a Chorus

There is an extensive list of the best class of compositions
for use in the church-service which cannot be adequately
rendered except by a well-trained chorus. The style of compo-
sition is such that several voices on each part are needed to give
it with proper breadth and dignity. This music is sometimes
attempted by the mixed quartet, but the performance savors
somewhat of burlesque.

Many wealthy churches in America now pay each singer of
a chorus of from twenty to forty voices, and engage, in addi-
tion, a good solo quartet. Such a combination, carefully
organized, and under competent leadership, is equal to the
finest compositions to be found in the literature of church
music, and gives great satisfaction. As a rule, a second mixed
quartet, a male quartet, and a female quartet can be organized
from such a force, on the lines heretofore indicated. The
church and the director possessing such resources are to be

In organizing a church choir, whether paid or voluntary,
the items of balance and blend must receive due attention. If
the chorus is to number sixteen or less, it may sometimes best
be made up on the quartet basic, that is, twelve voices means
three singers on each part. Care should be taken to secure at
least one quartet of full, low voices, as was indicated in treating
of the Double Quartet.

In a chorus choir of say twenty-five singers, the bass
should number seven, the soprano eight, and tenor and alto five



each. Here it must again be pointed out that, owing to
great differences in voices as to sonority, nothing short of
actual test in the singing of an anthem will enable the
Director to know w^hether he has secured a good balance of
tone. It will usually be found, however, that the bass and
soprano must average a larger number of voices than the other
divisions if these parts of the compositions sung are to have
due effect. Few organizers realize the importance of securing
a solid bass. AVhen this division is sufficiently powerful, and
sings with firmness, the music has a solidity highly gratifying
to the cultivated ear. There is also much less danger of
flatting. Too often chorus choir singing has the effect of a
vocal trio, ( soprano, alto and tenor, ) with the pedal organ
filling in the bass which the voices fail to supply.

Herewith is given : —

A Table

Showing Compass of Chorus Voices ; Also Kange of Best Notes.

Actual pitch is indicated.

Compass. Best Notes.

High ( lyric ) Soprano.



High Mezzo-Soprano.
(Commonly called Soprano.)




Low Mezzo-Soprano.
( Mezzo-Contralto. )







High ( lyric ) Tenor.

Low Tenor.






Note. — There may be, in any chorus, exceptional voices in each class, of
a range exceeding the limits here indicated. Cultivation and practice will
bring to many voices increase of range and of sonority. Young voices develop
in surprising ways, and it is therefore advisable for the choir director to make
frequent examinations of voices and re-classifications of his forces. Let it be
distinctly understood that this table applies only to average chorus voices,
and not to solo voices. Best notes are those tones in a voice which can be
sung with power, and for a considerable time without fatigue. On these
notes intonation is most certain, and clearness and smoothness in delivery is
most easily attained.

The classification of voices is a matter of knowledge and
skill upon the part of the examiner. The division to which a
voice belongs is not to be decided upon the item of compass
alone ; but the chief point is to discover the natural timbre and
level of the voice. Sometimes lyric or high sopranos are
exceeded in upward range by mezzo-sopranos, but their natural
tone quality or timbre, light and flute-like, bird-like, together
with their facility in runs and scales^ and power to sing for
a considerable time above third space C freely and easily,
shows their class ; Lamperti, the elder, says :

''A soprano may be recognized by the facility with which
the upper G is emitted ; no difficulty will be experienced in
enunciating words on the highest notes, nor in holding a long
breath upon them. This is the crucial test, because there are


sometimes contraltos that can sing up to the high C, but they
cannot pronounce words on the upper notes without f'ffort and
great detriment to the voice. ^^ The above test of ease in pro-
nunciation and ability to hold a tone for a long time, at a high
pitch, should also be applied to male voices. A baritone may
be able to sing high A at a climax, but this does not prove him
a tenor. Many tenors, through lack of proper cultivation, are
unable to sing rightly from D upward, and so can scarcely
reach the high G except with great effort. Such may well be
classed with low tenors or baritones, notwithstanding that their
lower notes may be comparatively weak. In America mezzo-
sopranos and baritones predominate ; there are more high
sopranos than tenors or low basses.

The actual classifying of voices is best done in private,
each voice being examined separatelj^ The tricks that voices
play mth their owners, under the nervous strain of an exami-
nation, are manifold and odd, and the examiner must be on
the alert to guard against being misled as to the real nature of
the voices he listens to. A pleasant, friendly, cheerful manner,
on the part of the examiner, is most helpful in this connection.
If the candidate can be made to feel and act naturally — to
permit the real voice to show itself under the influence of a
friendly chat, and a pleasant smile, the result will be satisfactory.

Where for reasons it is necessary to classify voices from the
mass, in the rehearsal room, there is perhaps less nervousness
on the part of the candidates, but the task of the examiner is
made somewhat more difficult. He may walk about among
his singers while the test exercises are being sung, noting the
characteristics of the voices as he passes, and later assigning
parts. Or, he may call up a number of male or female singers,
indiscriminately, listen to their singing, and assign parts at
once. A finer subdivision can be made later by taking members
from each division in fours, and putting them through the



Voice-Classification Tests^

No* J. Moderato

Lah, lah, lab, lab,

Lab, lab, lab, lab, lab, lab.

No, 3.


No. 4.






\^ \^ ■■^' v^r .^1

12 3 4 5

lah, lah,

Lah, lah, lah, lah, lah.

No. 5.





ab, lab, beb, nee, po, too. Lab, beb, nee, po, too, lab, beb, nee, po, too.

Note. — These test exercises should be used from the lowest pitch given
for each class of voice, and worked chromatically upward to the limit of the
voice as it appears. The syllable ' ' lah ' ' should be made without movement
of the jaw ; the face should wear a pleasant expression and the upper part of
the body should be bent slightly forward. The arpeggio and skip, are of far
more value than the scale in bringing out the true character of the voice.
The syllable "lah," done as directed, has also a special value in this connec-

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Online LibraryFrederick William WodellChoir and chorus conducting; a treatise on the organization, management, training, and conducting of choirs and choral societies → online text (page 1 of 10)