Choir placement
  • RA981
    Posts: 11
    I'm seeking the collective wisdom of the group…

    I work in a church where the organ is located in a less than ideal place (over in an alcove on the side of the church) and there is no designated choir area. I've attached a pdf of the church layout as a visual.

    I've started a choir and for the time being they are going to have to sit in the pews (along with the congregation) until we come up with a more choir-friendly area. My questions to the group are…

    1) When should the choir stand? This may seem like a strange questions since I would think most musicians would answer "anytime they sing!" However, with their placement in the midst of the assembly, I don't think that's a feasible option. I'm leaning toward having them stand and sit with the congregation until they sing a choral piece, which at that time I'll have them stand to sing. Thoughts?

    2) The church has great acoustics. But since the choir will be toward the front of the church and facing the sanctuary, should we employ the use of microphones. Aesthetically, it won't be the most pleasing since when everyone sits down, there would be two boom mics in the middle of the pews. I'm leaning against using the mics. Thoughts?

    Moral of the story: When you build a church, have a designated music area!!
  • MBWMBW
    Posts: 175
    Wow! Very tough problem as you describe it. Is it not possible for the choir to stand near the console? Is there room for movable chairs near the console? Are you conducting from the console?

    Given the choir sitting among the congregation: I would have them sit and stand along with the rest of the congregation. Standing for choral pieces makes sense-but having them face the sanctuary is less than ideal. I would do anything possible to get them out of the pews-either for the entire Mass or just for the choral music.

    I am not always against mics-but I am against them 99% of the time because they are not well done. I would be against mics in your case both because of the difficulty of micing them well, and because of the disruption caused by their presence in the pews.

    HOWEVER, to now argue the opposite of what I said above: have the choir stand whenever they sing and mic them all over the place. When the congregation and powers-that-be see the incongruity of the situation, they may be motivated to help you find a permanent, satisfactory solution to this very tough problem.

    Good luck, I hope you find your way to a good music area.
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  • RA981
    Posts: 11
    The good news is that the parish leadership realizes that there needs to be a distinct choir area. Although we've discussed various options, we agreed to wait since the choir is brand new and we didn't know how many people would sign up and actually stay. Unfortunately, there is very little room by the console. I'm going to have two violinists join me for an upcoming Mass and even that is going to be very tight around the console. I am conducting from the console.

    For a church built in 1951, I am very surprised they didn't build a choir loft. I have a hunch that when they built the church, they built a lower church (our current church) first with the hopes of building an upper church at some point. Maybe they didn't raise the necessary funds to build the upper church.
  • Drake
    Posts: 196
    I once sang with a choir that had a similar (though not identical) issue. There was no choir loft and the organ was at a back corner of the chapel. The choir ended up occupying the two or three pews in front of the organ. When we sang, we had to turn away from the sanctuary and face the organ where the choir director stood. Additionally, the church was small and the acoustic not great. There was standing room only almost every Sunday, and the simple number of people in the chapel deadened the sound. In fact, most of the men in the choir stood/knelt along the back wall or in the side aisle during the entire Mass.

    I'd say our situation was better than what you are describing in that our position at the back made us less of a distraction when we stood to sing. Otherwise, we had some of the same challenges.

    We stood whenever we had to sing, except during benediction, when we knelt and sang at the same time. Also, our use of the organ was usually limited to the entrance and recessional hymn. Most of what we sang was unaccompanied.

    If your use of the organ is similarly limited, it might be possible to have the choir at the back of the church most of the time (which should also help with the microphone question). Otherwise, I would just do my best to make the choir the least distracting as possible and impress on everyone in the choir the need for all the more reverence. After giving glory to God, the choir's main job is to help the congregation pray.

    I'd also recommend against microphones if possible. In my opinion, if the acoustics are good, let the church be your instrument.
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  • can they stand/ sit in benches or movable chairs along the wall in front or behind organ? back to the wall helps sound acoustics,
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 377
    We have a choir loft but aren't allowed to sing from it. It's 'not in the spirit of Vatican II'. Anyone in a similar situation?
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  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    image

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  • You don't happen to work for a small, rural parish in central Indiana that just recently renovated their worship space, do you? That floor plan looks EXACTLY like our old church space, which is now the chapel. We did what you are doing in terms of placement (choir in the pews with people, seated up front) for quite some time. There are two schools of thought when it comes to choir posture during Mass: 1. They should stand whenever they sing. This is supported by the academics and physiology behind how the singing voice works, and can be defended readily. 2. They should sing from the postures required by the Mass. This is supported by the rubrics for congregational posture during the Mass (kneel when you're supposed to, etc), and makes sense for a liturgical choir to sing from the correct posture. It can also be done so that the rules regarding correct singing posture are still obeyed and the sound (more importantly the choir's voices) doesn't suffer. In keeping with your floor plan and placement of the choir in the pews with the people, your idea of having them sing from whatever posture the liturgy requires at the time is the best practice, I think. It wouldn't be out of keeping to have them stand when performing a choral work as you have described and I think your idea would be very effective. Ditch the mics if you can.
    Thanked by 1RA981

  • 1) When should the choir stand? This may seem like a strange questions since I would think most musicians would answer "anytime they sing!" However, with their placement in the midst of the assembly, I don't think that's a feasible option. I'm leaning toward having them stand and sit with the congregation until they sing a choral piece, which at that time I'll have them stand to sing. Thoughts?

    2) The church has great acoustics. But since the choir will be toward the front of the church and facing the sanctuary, should we employ the use of microphones. Aesthetically, it won't be the most pleasing since when everyone sits down, there would be two boom mics in the middle of the pews. I'm leaning against using the mics. Thoughts?

    Moral of the story: When you build a church, have a designated music area!!



    The choir should stand when the congregation does, and only otherwise to indicate what "should" be happening, when it isn't self-evident. Many people think choirs cant sing kneeling, but I did it all the time, as I recall, when I was a whipper-snapper in a very fine choir. At the liturgically conscious Episcopalian church where I spent my formative years, the idea of standing as necessary for singing would have been considered, um, uninformed.

    From the purely practical point of view, if you want an endless stream of complaints about blocking sight lines and such, have the choir stand any time it is doing its job, regardless of what the congregation is doing. Charges of "elitist" and "thoughtless" and such await you by the bucket load.

    Since the church has great acoustics, use them. Have the choir sing directly at the tabernacle (assuming it's where it belongs) -- and let the long axis of the church do its job. Not to sound like a broken record (to those who've heard me say this before) but the use of microphones by choirs, cantors and organists is not necessary to satisfy a liturgical need, but to satisfy an errant idea of liturgy. God doesn't need a hearing aid, and people in pews will visibly calm down when not assaulted by all that buzz.


    In short, most of your instincts are spot on.
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  • The choir has to be placed high enough in the the building so that anyone can turn and look at them so they are sending out a direct sound at each person, which is then warmed up by the building reflected sound.

    Otherwise you are doomed to microphones.

  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    Can we see some pictures of the building? What else is over at the side where the organ is? Your diagram has a lot of space over there...
  • You'd be better off with the organ where the choir is and the choir where the organ is...looking at the flat floor plan. This plan seems really, really unworkable for a program to succeed.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    The diagram doesn't tell us enough... we need photos of the church.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    I saw a Presbyterian church with a similar layout. However, they had room in the back to rearrange some pews, put in a raised platform, and put choir and organ in the back. Without actual pictures, it is hard to tell what would work from this diagram.
  • If the choir is in the pews with the people and the organ is off to the side, the powers that be do not want or understand to know why this will not work and probably will not be able to be change.
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  • How, precisely, do you direct a choir which must look away from you in order to be "part of the congregation"?
  • NO to microphones regardless of the acoustics -
    but if the acoustics are as good as you say, why would you even contemplate microphones?

    Um, come to think of it: having singers sing through microphones is, since what people hear is not the human voice, but an electronic amplification of it (which renders the human voice a thing not unlike the 'sound samples' which are touted so proudfully by the makers of organ simulacra - 'digital' ones, yet!), perilously akin to listening to a recording of them; and, therefore they become, so far as what is heard may be taken as crucially relevant, the producers (or performers) of, the complicitors (or accomplices) in, a sort of choral simulacrum. (I know that this logic will bring howls of laughter from some quarters - and, maybe, a begrudged understanding from a [very] few, more pelucid, others - which is why I offer it, actually, rather tongue in cheek, in fun [even though it contains a kernel of truth].)

    (The foregoing can have been purple if you like.)
  • RA981
    Posts: 11
    Thanks, all, for your feedback. I'm going to go with my gut instinct. The placement of the choir is only temporary. We'll just have to work with what we have for the time being. Thanks again!