Let’s face it, Gospel choirs are pretty scarce in the Gospel music industry these days. It is getting increasingly more difficult to find material for a Gospel choir to do week in and week out. And yet the Gospel choir is still very much a staple in the average African-American church. Invariably choirs have had to turn to the ensembles, groups and praise teams that dominate radio these days for material to sing every Sunday. This can cause several issues though, because these songs aren’t written to be sung by a choir. Quite often the harmony is more advanced. The songs are often more complex structurally too. Most of all though, the vocal ability is usually beyond what the average choir has been exposed to.
However, we have to be on our post week in and week out, regardless of how slim the pickings are for Gospel choirs to sing. So in spite of all the challenges that sometimes come with them, choirs almost have no choice but to add songs done by ensembles, groups and even solo acts to their roster. The good news is that many of them can still be done well with just a few adaptations. Below I’ve listed a few easy ways to modify these songs to fit your choir better.
1. Change the key
Songs by acts like Marvin Sapp and other popular Gospel artists are often out of the range of most Gospel choirs.. It may not even be the whole song, just one section of it. Don’t be afraid to drop the key a half-step or so. For some reason in our culture we really hate to do this. We’ll completely sacrifice the sound, our voices, scream and yell- anything to avoid changing the key. But very often dropping just a half step down would make a huge difference.
2. Eliminate difficult passages
It’s typical to run across a passage or section of songs like these that just wouldn’t work for a Choir. I had such an instance in a song our choir is doing for an upcoming musical. The song, Maurette Brown Clark’s “I Hear The Sound Of Victory”, makes the transition to choir pretty well except this one spot in the bridge where the background singers were simply too high for a choir to do it in chest. I knew trying to get them into a solid, connected head tone for the passage was not going to happen. We would have just ended up in a weak, airy falsetto, which would not be good. So I decided to simply eliminate that passage from the song. It actually tightened the song up and improved the flow, believe it or not. So don’t be afraid to take out a certain verse, bridge or other element if it’s going to bog you down or just doesn’t fit your choir’s dynamics. Take a good look at the passage and decide if its critical to the song’s message or if the song would suffer without it. If the answer is no, then go for it.
3. Omit the lead vocals
Sometimes either you don’t have the personnel to provide the lead vocals for a particular song, or you just don’t have the “right” personnel. But many songs can and do work without the lead vocals. We have more than one that we do with or without a leader, depending on the situation.
4. Simplify complex harmony and/progressions
Ensembles and groups often do some pretty complicated things with the vocal arrangement. Sometimes they may have 4 to 6 part harmony in some spots. Sometimes the entire group will do a riff or something. Don’t hesitate to simplify things like this. It’s often a much better solution than trying to get your whole choir to do it. Even if they accomplish it, it simply won’t come off very well in most cases.
At the end of the day no matter how the Gospel music industry continues to change, we have to continue to adapt if we want to continue having Gospel choirs in our churches. I for one would not like to see them go away any time soon.
Is your choir struggling vocally? Struggling with harmony? Why not book a workshop? Both Shena and myself are available for workshops anywhere in the Dallas Ft. Worth area. I’m also available for travel. Just contact either of us by clicking on the Book Sessions page on the website.
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