For other meanings of the word, see Choir (disambiguation).

A choir or chorus is a musical ensemble of singers.

Children's choir
Children's choir

Terminology: A vocal ensemble which sings in a church, or sings exclusively sacred music, is called a choir, whereas an ensemble which performs the non-soloist parts of an opera or musical theatre production (or sometimes an oratorio) is called a chorus. For most other ensembles those two words may be used interchangeably. Other equivalent terms, often used in the names of choirs to provide variety, include chorale. There are also terms for more specific types of choir, such as glee club, barbershop quartet and madrigal group.

A choir usually has eight or more singers, typically with two or more singers on each part; a chorus is typically larger still, with many singers on each part. Smaller vocal ensembles are usually called trios, quartets, quintets, etc. (e.g. barbershop quartet), or a vocal group or singing group. Template:Spoken Wikipedia


Structure of choirs

Choirs are often led by a conductor or choirmaster. Most often choirs consist of four parts but there is no limit to the number of possible parts: Thomas Tallis wrote a 40-part motet entitled Spem in alium, for eight choirs of five parts each; Krzysztof Penderecki's Stabat Mater is for three choirs of 16 voices each, a total of 48 parts. Other than four, the most common number of parts is three, five, six and eight.

Choirs can sing with or without instrumental accompaniment. Singing without accompaniment is typically called a cappella singing (although this usage is discouraged by the American Choral Directors Association[1] ( When singing with instrumental accompaniment, the accompanying instruments can consist of practically any instruments, one, several, or a full orchestra. In Anglican church music the accompanying instrument is almost always an organ.

For rehearsals, a piano accompaniment is often used even if a different instrumentation is planned for performance, or for rehearsing a cappella music.

Choirs can be categorized by the voices they include:

  • Mixed choirs (i.e. with male and female voices). This is perhaps the most common type, usually consisting of soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, often abbreviated as SATB. Often one or more voices is divided into two, e.g. SSAATTBB, where each voice is divided into two parts, and SATBSATB, where the choir is divided into two semi-independent four-part choirs. Occasionally baritone voice is also used (e.g. SATBarB), often sung by the higher basses.
  • Male choirs, with the same SATB voicing as mixed choirs, but with boys singing the upper part (often called treble or boy soprano) and men singing alto (in falsetto), also known as countertenor.
  • Female choirs, usually consisting of soprano and alto voices, two parts in each, often abbreviated as SSAA.
  • Men's choirs, usually consisting of two tenors, baritone, and bass, often abbreviated as TTBB (or ATBB if the upper part sings falsetto in alto range, as is common in barbershop music).
  • Children's choirs, often two-part SA or three-part SSA, sometimes more voices.

Choirs are also categorized by the institutions in which they operate:

Finally, some choirs are categorized by the type of music they perform, such as

  • Symphonic choirs
  • Vocal jazz choirs
  • Show choirs, in which the members sing and dance, often in performances somewhat like a musical.

Skills involved in choral singing

Choral singers vary greatly in their ability and performance. The best choral singers possess (among others) the following abilities:

  • to sing precisely in tune and with a pleasing vocal timbre which blends with the other singers;
  • to sing at precisely controlled levels of volume, matching the dynamics and expression marked in the score or prescribed by the conductor, and not sing so loudly as to be markedly detectable as an individual voice within the section;
  • to sight-read music fluently;
  • to sing solo passages when required;
  • to memorize or near-memorize the music, and thus be able to keep eyes on the conductor as much as possible;
  • to read and pronounce the sounds of foreign languages accurately and in the pronunciation style specified by the leader;
  • to remain completely alert for long periods, monitoring closely what is going on in a rehearsal or performance;
  • to monitor one's own singing and detect errors. In British choirs, it is often the custom for a singer to raise a hand to indicate to the conductor that he/she realizes he/she has made a mistake and will not repeat it;
  • to accept direction from others for the good of the group as a whole, even when the singer disagrees esthetically with the instructions.

Singers who have perfect pitch require yet another skill:

  • to sing music in keys other than that in which it is written, since choirs often sing music in transposed form.

Historical overview of choral music

A great number of composers have written choral works. However, composing instrumental music is an entirely different field than composing vocal music. The requirements of including text, making it intelligible, and catering to the special capabilities and limitations of the human voice makes composing vocal music in some ways more demanding than composing instrumental music. Due to this difficulty, many of the greatest composers have never composed choral music. Naturally, many composers have their favourite instruments and rarely compose for other types instruments or ensembles, and choral music is in this sense not a special case. On the other hand, many composers of all eras have specialized in choral music, and for the first thousand years of western music history choral music was one of the only types of music to have survived intact.

Medieval music

The earliest notated music of western Europe is Gregorian Chant, along with a few other types of chant which were later subsumed (or sometimes suppressed) by the Catholic Church. This tradition of a cappella choir singing lasted from sometime between the times of St. Ambrose (4th century) and Gregory the Great (6th century) into the late Middle Ages. During the later Middle Ages, a new type of singing involving multiple melodic parts, called organum became predominant for certain functions, but initially this polyphony was only sung by soloists. Further developments of this technique included clausulae, conductus and the motet, which was to become a predominant Renaissance form. The first evidence of performance with more than one singer per part comes in the Old Hall Manuscript (1420, though containing music from the late 1300s), in which there is occasional divisi (where one part divides into two different notes, something a solo singer obviously couldn't handle).

Renaissance music

During the Renaissance, sacred choral music was the principal type of (formal or 'serious') music in Western Europe. Many of the greatest composers of the time composed hundreds of masses, motets and other works for singing by choirs--mostly a cappella, though there is some dispute over the role of instruments during certain periods and in certain areas. Some of the names of composers of this time include Guillaume de Machaut, Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and William Byrd; the glories of Renaissance polyphony were choral, sung by choirs of great skill and distinction all over Europe; indeed most of the secular forms of music of the Baroque derive in some way from the flowering of music during this intensely creative time.

Baroque music

One of the first great choral composers of the Baroque era was Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643), a master of counterpoint, who conclusively showed some of what could be done with choirs and many other musical ensembles, using the new techniques pioneered by the Venetian School and the Florentine Camerata. Monteverdi, together with Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), demonstrated how music can support and reinforce the message of the lyrics, just as Palestrina had done several generations earlier. They both composed a large amount of music for both a cappella choir as well as choirs accompanied by different ensembles.

A century later, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was the next to make his prominent mark in history. Due to his work as a cantor, he came to compose an overwhelming amount of sacred choral music: cantatas, motets, passions and other music. He is also famous for his vast output in chorales, essentially stylistically harmonised hymn-tunes. Bach's influence through his choral writing on the development of classical harmony is not to be underestimated.

Classical and Romantic music

Major composers of choral music include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, and Johannes Brahms. Sacred music escaped from the church and leaped onto the concert stage, with large sacred works unsuitable for church use, such as Beethoven's Missa solemnis, Luigi Cherubini's Requiem, and Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem. Template:Sect-stub

20th and 21st centuries

As in other genres of music, choral music underwent a period of experimentation and development during the 20th century. While few well-known composers focused primarily on choral music, most significant composers of the early century wrote at least a small amount.

The early post-Romantic composers, such as Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninoff, contributed to the genre, but it was Ralph Vaughan Williams who made the greatest contribution of this type, writing new motets in the Renaissance style with the new harmonic languages, and arranging English and Scotting folk songs. Arnold Schoenberg's Friede auf Erden represents the culmination of this style, a tonal kaleidoscope whose tonal centers are constantly shifting (similar to his Verklaerte Nacht for strings from the same period).

As the century progressed, modernist techniques found their expression in choral music, including serial compositions by Schoenberg, Anton von Webern, and Stravinsky; eclectic compositions by Charles Ives; dissonant counterpoint by Darius Milhaud (Cinq Rechants) and Paul Hindemith (When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd). Because of the difficulty of singing atonal music, these compositions are rarely performed today, although enjoyed by specialists. However, the primitivist movement is represented by Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a composition widely performed.

Neoclassical styles found a more enduring legacy in choral music. Benjamin Britten wrote a number of well-known choral works, including War Requiem, Five Flower Songs, and Rejoice in the Lamb. Francis Poulenc's Motets pour le temps de noël, Gloria, and Mass in G are often performed. Hugo Distler wrote a huge amount of modern music modelled on the forms of Bach. In the United States, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Randall Thompson wrote signature American pieces. In Eastern Europe, Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly wrote a small amount of choral music.

Post-World War II music took experimentation to its logical extreme. Sinfonia by Luciano Berio includes a chorus. Krzysztof Penderecki's St. Luke Passion includes choral shouting, clusters, and aleatoric techniques. Richard Felciano wrote for chorus and electronic tape.

Minimalism is represented by Arvo Pärt, whose Johannespassion and Magnificat have received regular performances.

Avant-garde techniques:

Black spirituals came into greater prominence and arrangements of such spirituals became part of the standard choral repertoire. Notable composers and arrangers of choral music in this tradition include André Thomas and Moses Hogan.

While it is too soon to discern trends in the 21st century, the spirit of more practical tonally-oriented music which dominated the last decades of the 20th century seems to be continuing, although Eric Whitacre has achieved considerable attention by combining tonal music with tone clusters and similar experimental techniques.

Famous choirs

Professional choirs

Amateur choirs

Children's choirs

Missing image
Vienna Boys' Choir

Church choirs

See also

External links

eo:Ĥoro nl:Koor pl:Chór (muzyka) pt:Grupo coral fi:Kuoro sv:Kör


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