Pope Francis’ Encouragement to Choirs

Pope Francis’ Encouragement to Choirs

Music is truly a powerful tool. It is an art form that has been speaking to people’s hearts for thousands of years. Though styles have changed with time, the passion and purpose of music remain the same. Within that powerful sphere of music, we find many different outlets in which it can speak emotion and comfort into people’s lives. And in the time that I have spent as a musician, I have never seen any musical outlet bring people together quite like a choir.

Unfortunately, choirs are often misunderstood and underrepresented. One of the most challenging parts of a choir is getting each member to blend their voice with the person next to them and create unified harmonies. This does not mean that each person gives up their voice – but rather that they join their voice with others. Each member of a choir comes from different backgrounds, they like different things, and each one may have differing opinions on the way the music should sound. When choir members let these differences sit at the forefront of their minds, choir rehearsal tends to go … not so well.

I recently came across an article published by the Vatican News site which touched on the message that Pope Francis spoke to the musicians participating in the 3rd International Meeting of Choirs. In his speech, Pope Francis discussed the importance of a choir member’s humility when performing. Music is a sacred art – and when it is done correctly, God can use it as a tool for evangelism. Pope Francis stated, “You are the musical animators of the whole congregation. Don’t take its place, depriving the people of God a chance to sing with you and bear witness to the Church’s communal prayer.” This is a very important point to remember, yet it is one we may often forget.

A church choir is meant to inspire the members of the congregation to lift their voices in praise alongside the singers in the choir. Unfortunately, members of the choir can get so caught up in their own beautiful voices, they take away the congregation member’s motivation to join in. Pope Francis encourages choir members to continue to “promote prayer in liturgical celebrations” and praises them for using their gifts as an “instrument of evangelization to the extent that you bear witness to the depth of the Word of God, which touches people’s hearts…”.

Even the simplest music can be used as a beautiful form of expression. H.T. FitzSimons offers a wide selection of music for all difficulty levels – so that all people can be given the opportunity to make music – unhindered by their backgrounds or experiences. Ubi Caritas is an example of simple music that can still evoke powerful emotion and beauty. Written by James Syler, this a capella motet for SATB voices is short, simple, and powerful. The lyrics serve us an excellent reminder of what we should strive for in our church choirs and congregations: “Christ’s love has gathered us into one…” It is that same love that can draw church choir members together to make beautiful music that praises God.

There are very few things as inspiring as hearing a choir come together and make music – somehow, it just strikes at the very core of human existence. In the Vatican News article, Pope Francis puts it this way: “Music and song can often make certain moments unique in a person’s life because they become a precious memory that has marked their lives.” The years I’ve spent singing in a choir have given me much time to consider the parallels between choral singing and living life on this earth. Any director will tell you – their choir sounds the best when they are listening to one another and working hard on perfecting their own part. Life can teach us a very similar lesson. When we are truly focused on the tasks that we have to do in life, we can often let our determination blind us from those around us who are craving love. But when we are focused on our tasks yet still take time to listen to those around us, we become more beautiful humans. Our spirits can work together and sing harmonies that have never been heard before.

It is very important for choir members and directors to remember why we do what we do – especially in a church choir setting. The music we make – however simple or beautiful it may be – is meant to remind people of God’s power and love towards us. And, as Pope Francis stated, music can also “make the Gospel efficacious in today’s world, through a beauty that still captivates and makes it possible to believe, entrusting ourselves to the love of the Father.” The glory is not our own. Our duty as sacred musicians is to trust that God will bless our hard work and our best efforts – and any praise that will come as a result should be placed back on the One who gave us a voice.

In Praise of Mothers

In Praise of Mothers

Mothers are quite possibly one of the greatest gifts that God has ever given to humankind. It is most often our mothers that teach us to be kind, gentle, and loving. The scriptures lay out direct examples of the kind of women God calls us to be in Proverbs chapter 31 – “She will do good and not evil all the days of her life… She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (KJV)

The standard set before us in Proverbs 31 may sometimes seem like a daunting task for women. Balancing busy work schedules, relationships, and families can take its toll on women – causing them to become exhausted and overwhelmed.

Scripture offers the greatest example of love and patience to mothers through not only the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 but – most importantly – through Jesus in the New Testament. Without his example, we would not know what true love is.

Choosing sacred music for a holiday like Mother’s Day may often be difficult for church music directors. The music for this day should reflect our love and respect for our mothers, but also speak of Christ’s example to us. It may be beneficial to music directors to choose music that can apply to both topics. Songs such as True Wisdom Brings Peace is an excellent example of this. Composed by Allan Robert Petker for accompanied SATB voices, this selection speaks of God’s wisdom that is planted as a seed, and it contains a beautiful prayer for peace that is laced throughout the melody. As the text continues, it speaks about the tenderness of God’s wisdom – “True wisdom is open and kind… for the wisdom of God will listen and hear…” Beautiful poetic lines such as this allow both audience members and singers to recall the tenderness of their mothers and other influential figures in their lives. The versatility of the lyrics makes this selection an excellent choice for Mother’s Day.

True wisdom does indeed bring peace. The wisdom and tenderness of our mothers shape us into the people we become as adults. I recently heard a preacher remind his congregation that God uses his creation to point back to Him. He created mothers as a reminder of God’s unconditional love for us. God is always there for us to pick us up when we fall – to dust off our wounds, send us on our way, and give us hope for a better future. Lifting our voices in song is one of the best ways for us to show thanks to our Creator for his mercy and goodness toward us. There is nothing so sweet to the ear of God than the sound of his children’s praise.

Introit and Kyrie

Introit and Kyrie

Out of the many Requiems that have been composed over the centuries, only a few have remained important to Western Music in the modern day. Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem remains one of the most meaningful and influential requiems in modern music today. The powerful melodies make it instantly recognizable by music lovers everywhere. H.T. Fitzsimons is pleased to offer a unique arrangement of the opening movement of Fauré’s RequiemIntroit and Kyrie arranged in a capella voicing for SATB format.

introit and kyrie

This emotional and stirring anthem from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem invokes a sense of deep emotion upon first listen. With minor key centers and legato voice lines, the music expresses an earnest plea to God for help and deliverance. The ancient text conveys desperation and longing, making this arrangement ideal music for Passover and Good Friday services.

Throughout the majority of this piece, parts move in time with each other – which reminds the listener of the unified prayers to God for deliverance. This unity is one of the main factors that separate this movement from the rest of the Requiem.

As the opening movement of the mass, it is the job of the Introit and Kyrie to grab the attention of the listener and prepare them for a time of worship. This piece does that job almost effortlessly. The a capella voicing brings a sincerity to the movement that can sometimes be hidden behind the bombastic accompaniment of the original. The crescendos and decrescendos throughout the movement work to enrapture the listener and evoke a sense of compassion and longing to be a part of the music.

The inspiration for an a capella arrangement for this piece came from the death of a beloved parishioner at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Fransisco, California. Fauré’s Requiem was this parishioner’s favorite piece, and it was requested that it be played at their memorial service. However, in a church with no organ or piano, conductor Stanford Doyle was moved to edit the piece. In doing so, he created something remarkably moving, yet still, he managed to stay true to Fauré’s original masterpiece.

The arrangement is set for SATB a cappella voicing, and it is an emotional selection for any liturgical service. This piece is an excellent choice for a strong bass and baritone section.

SATB Voicing

Suitable for Lent or Holy Week services, as well as funerals and memorial services.

Recommended for a strong Bass and Baritone section

How to Transition Church Music Between Seasons

How to Transition Church Music Between Seasons

For church music directors everywhere, much of their motivation behind choosing pieces of music revolves around what season of the year it is. With Easter and Palm Sunday around the corner, churches everywhere are pulling out their most exciting and uplifting music selections. A lot of thought is put into music selections that will be used for important performances and holidays.

How to Transition Church Music Between Seasons

But what about the weeks of the year that are not holidays? What songs should choirs sing in the awkward gaps between Easter and Mothers Day, or Thanksgiving and Christmas?

It may be easy to neglect those weeks of the year that are not as “important” as holidays in the church calendar – but congregation members look for spiritual encouragement through music all year long. And it is up to music directors to find song selections that will uplift and inspire congregations.

Praise and adoration are excellent music topics that are not only perfect for Easter and Palm Sunday but are acceptable and inspiring all year round. Praise is a mindset. Singing songs about praise can allow choir members to open up their hearts and voices in unity and use their energy to make a joyful noise unto God. Even when choirs become burned out from doing the same thing week after week, songs of praise can uplift them and revive their joy.

At H.T. Fitzsimons, we offer a wide variety of songs about praise, as well as a vast selection of choir music appropriate for all seasons. Sing Praise to the Lord is a beautiful traditional song based on the tune “Laudate Dominum” composed by Charles Hubert Hastings Perry in the mid to late 1800s. This selection perfectly captures the essence of choral praise. With beautiful organ accompaniment, the SATB voices sing victorious melodies that are sure to capture the hearts of all who hear it.

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord is a rousing anthem offered by H.T. Fitzsimons that will uplift and inspire. Optional trumpet accompaniment is included in this selection for SATB mixed voicing and organ.

Many more praise-focused songs are offered at H.T. Fitzsimons that are wonderful choices for all seasons of the year. Traditional and liturgical choir music continues speaking to people’s hearts, just as it has done for centuries.

During transitional weeks of the year, music directors may find their choir members losing focus. With no upcoming holidays to focus on, music rehearsals can seem long and unprofitable to choir members. To keep things exciting all year round, try incorporating new styles of music into choir practices. If your choir is used to singing music with piano and organ accompaniment, try an acapella piece. Try introducing a song with an accompanying solo instrument that is out of the ordinary for your choir- such as My Prayer by Richard Burchard with lyrics by Stephen Bock, which contains a beautiful solo cello accompaniment. Songs like this can make sacred music exciting – even to those who have been involved in it for years.

When it comes to choosing music, it is important to put thought into every selection – even those selections that will not be used for important holidays or performances. Music is a powerful tool that can be used to impact people’s lives all year round. Remembering this can motivate musicians to incorporate emotion into the pieces that they are singing – and ultimately, it is a reminder that we seek to use this powerful tool to praise God and give glory to Him.

Keeping Choir Members Engaged

Keeping Choir Members Engaged

We have all found ourselves in situations like this: Choir practice begins, the director announces which piece the group will begin working on first, and a collective groan is heard throughout the room. This can happen for any number of reasons. Perhaps the piece is too long. Perhaps the piece is too difficult. Or perhaps the piece is just not rewarding to sing. Whatever the case, a groaning choir is a discouraging choir. Most often, the music the group is singing sets the mood for how the practices will go. Practices and performances will go much smoother when choir members are excited about the music they are learning.

What do People Like?

How do you choose music that appeals to a wide variety of people? People have different tastes and opinions, but it’s okay to ask choir members what they’re personal preferences are. Most choir members are excited to talk about music that interests them. Especially consider the ideas that come from choir members that have been actively involved in the choir for many years. They’ve seen and heard a lot of music over the years – find out the things that have really stood out to them. It can be a chance for the choir to try new things and learn more about each other in the process.

Order

When planning out the choir rehearsal, consider the order in which you put the music. Give your choir members something to look forward to. If you know a certain piece really stands out to them and is exciting for them to sing, consider practicing it toward the end of rehearsal.

During a recent choir rehearsal, I heard one of my fellow singers say “It’s a good thing we practiced that movement last. If we had done it toward the beginning of rehearsal I don’t think I would have made it.” Knowing that an exciting song is on its way can increase choir members’ energy and drive to keep going for the rest of the rehearsal.

Keeping order in the rehearsal is also something many choir directors struggle with. If the music is slow and people are restless, chattering among choir members can distract even the most committed singers. Exciting songs motivate members to focus and be involved in all of the music – even when the director is rehearsing with other parts.

Choosing the Music

Choosing music that choir members love may be a daunting task at times. Tastes differ, and all it takes is one grumpy choir member to bring down the others and steal the joy out of rehearsal. Some songs are naturally more exciting. But not all songs have to be upbeat or include body percussion in order to be engaging.

With Easter approaching and choir practices lengthening, you’ll want to choose music that choir members are excited to sing. It’s also important to take into consideration different skill levels when choosing choir music. There are many diverse options to choose from at H.T. Fitzsimons. Easter Anthem by William Billings and arranged by Hugh Chandler is an excellent choice for an exciting Easter piece. The music is not incredibly difficult. Soprano, alto, and bass parts intertwine to create beautiful polyphonic melodies. This piece is a stirring example of music that is rewarding to sing and perform. For many choir members, hearing themselves create resounding chords among other voice parts is some of the most rewarding singing they can do.

Alleluia by Will James is another excellent piece to keep choir members engaged. This selection is an especially powerful choice for Easter Sunday. For a liturgical church that follows the traditional somberness between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Alleluia is an exclamation of joy that is sure to keep everyone excited and engaged. Arranged for a four-part a capella for mixed chorus, Alleluia’s moving melody lines offer just enough difficulty to keep choir members focused. This piece offers a rousing and joyful message that everyone can enjoy.

It’s Never Too Late

Perhaps you find yourself already too invested in boring music to turn back. Your choir members are disinterested, but it’s too late to change the songs. You can still work to keep an exciting atmosphere in your rehearsals! Try implementing new warmups at the beginning of practice. Share a little bit about the piece with your choir, and tell them why you chose it. Often times, choir members may be disconnected to a piece of music because it does not mean anything to them – find ways to give the music new meaning!

Being involved in a choir is a uniquely beautiful experience. Relationships are made among members that can last a lifetime. It’s important to give choir members a reason to come back. When they sing songs with passion and excitement, they keep the art of choral music alive.

Introit and Kyrie

Out of the many Requiems that have been composed over the centuries, only a few have remained important to Western Music in the modern day. Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem remains one of the most meaningful and influential requiems in modern music today. The powerful melodies make it instantly recognizable by music lovers everywhere.

H.T. Fitzsimons is pleased to offer a unique arrangement of the opening movement of Fauré’s RequiemIntroit and Kyrie arranged in a capella voicing for SATB format.

This emotional and stirring anthem from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem invokes a sense of deep emotion upon first listen. With minor key centers and legato voice lines, the music expresses an earnest plea to God for help and deliverance. The ancient text conveys desperation and longing, making this arrangement ideal music for Passover and Good Friday services.

Throughout the majority of this piece, parts move in time with each other – which reminds the listener of the unified prayers to God for deliverance. This unity is one of the main factors that separates this movement from the rest of the Requiem.

As the opening movement of the mass, it is the job of the Introit and Kyrie to grab the attention of the listener and prepare them for a time of worship. This piece does that job almost effortlessly. The a capella voicing brings a sincerity to the movement that can sometimes be hidden behind the bombastic accompaniment of the original. The crescendos and decrescendos throughout the movement work to enrapture the listener and evoke a sense of compassion and longing to be a part of the music.

The inspiration for an a capella arrangement for this piece came from the death of a beloved parishioner at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Fransisco, California. Fauré’s Requiem was this parishioner’s favorite piece, and it was requested that it be played at their memorial service. However, in a church with no organ or piano, conductor Stanford Doyle was moved to edit the piece. In doing so, he created something remarkably moving, yet still, he managed to stay true to Fauré’s original masterpiece.

The arrangement is set for SATB a cappella voicing, and it is an emotional selection for any liturgical service. This piece is an excellent choice for a strong bass and baritone section.

SATB Voicing

Suitable for Lent or Holy Week services, as well as funerals and memorial services.

Recommended for a strong Bass and Baritone section

FRANZ SCHUBERT

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert

Composer

Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of piano and chamber music. His major works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 (Trout Quintet), the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 (Unfinished Symphony), the three last piano sonatas (D. 958–960), the opera Fierrabras (D. 796), the incidental music to the play Rosamunde (D. 797), and the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795) and Winterreise (D. 911).

Born to immigrant parents in the Himmelpfortgrund suburb of Vienna, Schubert’s uncommon gifts for music were evident from an early age. His father gave him his first violin lessons and his older brother gave him piano lessons, but Schubert soon exceeded their abilities. In 1808, at the age of eleven, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt school, where he became acquainted with the orchestral music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. He left the Stadtkonvikt at the end of 1813, and returned home to live with his father, where he began studying to become a schoolteacher; despite this, he continued his studies in composition with Antonio Salieri and still composed prolifically. In 1821, Schubert was granted admission to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as a performing member, which helped establish his name among the Viennese citizenry. He gave a concert of his own works to critical acclaim in March 1828, the only time he did so in his career. He died eight months later at the age of 31, possibly due to typhoid fever.

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Choirs

Choirs

A choir is defined as a group of singers combined in a musical ensemble to create a single musical piece. Music written specifically for a choir to perform is called choral music. The word choir is easily interchangeable with the terms chorus, however, the term choir is most often affiliated with a church, while the term chorus is more likely to be associated with musical ensembles that perform in large theaters or concert halls.

While these associations exist, however, the terms are hardly confined to them. In reality, the actual term choir is quite broad. Choirs may perform a variety of music and are not limited to any specific genre. It is not uncommon to watch a common choir perform any piece ranging from classical to popular music. Choirs may sing without any instrumental accompaniment (commonly referred to as acapella), with a piano or organ, with a small ensemble, or with an entire orchestra that could include anywhere from 70 to 100 musicians.

The structure of choirs is quite simple. The ensemble is led by a conductor or choirmaster, who directs the singers with hand, arm, and face gestures. Most choirs consist of four separate sections to sing a four-part harmony. This structure is not rigid and there can be an infinite amount of parts, as long as there is at least one singer to sing each part.

There are many different types of choirs, categorized in different ways. Some are categorized by gender: there are male choirs, female choirs, and mixed choirs. Other choirs are categorized by the institutions in which they perform: church choirs, collegiate choirs, community choirs, and school choirs. Additionally, other choirs such as gospel choirs vocal jazz choirs are categorized by the type of music they sing.