Choosing material for choirs can be a joy or a nightmare depending on your point of view. I can’t possibly allow choirs free reign on what they sing… they all want to sing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for a start. (and no, I’m not even attempting it) so I offer a selection from the ‘spell book’ of songs.
There are some utterly brilliant songs in the world that simply don’t translate very well for choir. Maybe they’ve relied on the vocalist’s distinctive voice which is obviously lost once a choirs gets their tonsils around it, or there is a massive instrumental section which leaves us all standing around either dancing, or going ‘oohhh’ or ‘ahhh’. I have learned the hard way that some songs simply are too hard to teach (Don’t get me wrong, for starters!)
Then you have to pitch to your audience. If I’m running Christmas workshops, do they want carols or songs? If it’s a company with a specific brand, can I find a song which mentions their products? How old are the singers I’ll be working with? How many of them are there?
I have come up with what I call ‘quick win’ songs (thinks Coldplay’s ‘Viva la Vida’ and ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’). Things which are familiar, popular and arranged in just 2 harmony parts so we can crack on, nail it and everyone feels they’ve achieved something – which of course, they have.
I’ve got a trickier list with more parts which could take longer to learn (Snow Patrols ‘Chasing Cars’ in 4 parts, Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ in 6 parts) to give the singers a little push and extend their singing ability.
There are occasions when I take suggestions from clients – but be aware, I arrange everything myself and sometimes it’s really quick and easy. Sometimes it’s a nightmare (Anything by the Beach Boys!)
Currently my spell book of songs has around 100 pieces – most already arranged, recorded and some occasionally with actual sheet music of my arrangement. And I love them all.
It’s not simply a matter of me picking my favourite things and forcing them on to my singers – it’s about creating a well rounded set list, something for everyone, old stuff, new stuff, fast stuff, slow stuff, easy stuff and tricky stuff. This is what keeps our singers interested and this is why the ‘spell book’ method works for me.