The Choirmaster's Manual/Chapter 11



Practise soft chords with crescendo and diminuendo.

\new ChoirStaff <<
\new Staff <<
  \new Voice \relative c'' { \stemUp c1\p\< c\f\> c4 r\! r2 \bar "." \mark \markup { \musicglyph #"scripts.ufermata" } \override = #'harmonic d1\p\< ^~ d\f\> ^~ d4 r\p r2 \bar ".." }
  \new Voice \relative e' { \stemDown e1 e e4 r r2 | f1 _~ f _~ f4 r r2 } >>
\new Staff <<
  \new Voice \relative g { \clef bass \stemUp g1 g g4 r r2 | a1 ^~ a ^~ a4 r r2 }
  \new Voice \relative c { \stemDown c1 c c4 r r2 | d1 _~ d _~ d4 r r2 }
>> >>

Arrange work before starting.

Allow boys and men to sit down occasionally. Too much standing is fatiguing, and one does not get such good results towards the end of practice.

On trying new music, it is advisable to take it at a slower tempo than indicated, and without regard to expression, etc., to begin with.

Begin practice with uninteresting items, as the choir is fresh, and, let us hope, keen.

Never repeat a piece in practice without giving a reason. Do not go through the whole composition to correct a single error.

Practise hynms piano, except where a special effect in expression is required. It saves the voice, and good piano singing is a rarity.

Psalms. In very few churches in America are the Psalms sung regularly, but in many the Canticles are chanted, especially the "Venite." It is a good plan to read over the preface of the Psalter to the choir. The most important point is, that all the words in front of the accented note, called the "recitation," must be sung evenly with good expression, and when the accented note is reached, the first note of the chant, as written, is taken in strict time, the vertical lines corresponding to the bars in music. Each measure has two beats. Whenever three or more syllables have to be sung against the two half-notes often filling a measure, the measure must be divided so as to accommodate the increase of syllables. When three syllables are in a measure, it is an invariable custom to put a period after the first, or first two of them, thus:

"And to re | member • His | holy | covenant"

to show where the half-measure is. In this case, the two half-notes
\relative d' { \stopStaff \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/2 \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f d2 d }
being sung
\relative d' { \stopStaff \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/2 \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f d4 d d2 }
the counter-effect is often marked
\relative d'' { \stopStaff \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/2 \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f d2 d4 d }

If there is no syllable after the accented note, it is held for two whole beats.

\relative e' { \key e \major \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f e1_\markup \left-align \tiny {[Lord: 2 beats] } | fis2 a | gis4 gis gis2 \bar ".." }
\addlyrics { "1. Blessed be the Lórd" God of Is -- ra -- el. }

The length of accented note when other words or syllables follow it, is often left to discretion.

Might be taken:
\relative e' { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tuplet 3/2 { e2 e e } | f a | g g \bar ".." } \addlyrics { Might -- y sal -- va -- tion for us. }
\relative c'' { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f c4 c c2 | s2 s s s \bar ".." }
\relative c'' { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f c2 c4 c | s2 s s s \bar ".." }
\relative e' { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \autoBeamOff e2. e8 e | s1 s \bar ".." }

The same thing may be said of verse 3. In verse 4 the word "savèd" should not be divided evenly
\relative d' { \stopStaff \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/2 \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f d2 d }
, but the three-quarter measure given to the accented syllable:
\relative d' { \stopStaff \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/2 \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f d2. d4 }
This is an invariable rule for two syllables.

It is NOT advisable to mind stops in the ordinary way. A slight stress on words, as in reading, suffices to give point. * = breath-sign; and although minding of stops is often advocated, on no account must one be noticed after the accented note, or the "two-beat rhythm" will be destroyed.

Hymns. In hymn-singing a different view of phrasing comes to light. So many hymns without any stops at the ends of lines almost compel a stop, by reason of the cadence in the music, but in these cases no stop must be made. Hundreds of examples can be adduced, but one, hymn No. 82, "Weary of earth," must suffice:

V. 2. So vile I am, how dare I hope to stand
In the pure glory of that holy land?

Most choirs pause at "stand," thinking only of the musical effect and ignoring the words. This hymn demands a breathing-place in the middle of lines, too, and it will be an interesting experiment for any choirmaster to carefully read over the words of this hymn, mentally marking the proper breathing-places, and then get the choir to sing it, and note the unanimous faults in this direction.

The time of hymn-tunes should be slightly altered, if the verse demands a different treatment, and stops in many cases must be marked to give pointed expression to the words; e.g., in "The Church's one foundation," No. 491:

V. 1. Last two lines rall. e dim.

V. 2, line 4. Mind commas, and accent "one Lórd, one Faíth, one Bírth."

V. 3, line 6. "The cry goes up" [pause; then ff], "How long."

V. 5. Carry line 1 to line 2 with one phrase.
Line 6. Stop after "Lord."
Line 7. Stop after "them."

Most words may be analyzed like this, to the edification of the listener and the musical benefit of the singers.

Monotoning. Monotoning should always be taken with the "head-voice." The carrying down of the head-register causes no fatigue; on the other hand, the "chest" tones often used on
\relative g' { \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 g1 }
are wearing and wearying to the highest degree.

Care must be taken that the attack of the new sentence should not be slurred up to ("scooped"), but the tone continued evenly throughout. It is not necessary to breathe after each sentence in the Lord's prayer, for instance.

All work should be finished with plenty of breath to spare. If there is no breath the throat closes.


No congregation can be expected to listen to music badly sung. One of the essentials of good music is thoroughness of detail.

No two voices are alike, so after the main principles are grasped there is excellent opportunity for the application of original ideas.

Practice may be a benefit, or a detriment. It must be guided by understanding, if it is to benefit. An exercise has no value unless the principle involved be clearly understood.

In conclusion, this book does not intend to say all there is to say on a vast subject. Its purpose will be fulfilled if it induces choirmasters to train boys with clear head-tones, even registers, and clear articulation. Many other excellent works dealing with the theory of music, the physiological side of voice-production, and exercises for producing facility, etc., are in existence and may easily be obtained, if one wishes to pursue the study of voiceproduction further. Should this desire be awakened in anyone, this little work will not have been written in vain.