The end of the choir season brings welcome rest to church musicians. Summer is also when choir directors discover new music and organists practice difficult pieces that they lack the time to learn the rest of the year. Perhaps most important for the success of a music program, summer is the time to plan ahead.
John Sheridan is director of music and organist at Christ Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he directs and oversees several adult and children’s choirs. In summer he plans the entire new season of music for the church. “If I’m not planned, I feel like I’m in utter chaos,” he said.
The church has a summer choir that sings pieces that are easy to learn quickly. Sheridan said he often welcomes participants who do not have time to sing the rest of the year.
St. Andrew’s Church, Denver, has a similar summer choir, which rehearses an hour before the service on Sunday. “We do not vest nor process, and I program relatively easy or familiar anthems,” said Timothy Krueger, choirmaster. He schedules a quartet of staff singers. “I found that, without them, volunteers — and especially those who just wanted to ‘try it out’ — were frightened to do summer choir because of the fear that they might end up being the only person on their part who showed up on a given Sunday,” he said.
This month at St. James Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina, parishioners are invited to make hymn suggestions that will be sung during the summer. “We try to be liturgical and fit in as many as we can,” said Brad Gee, director of music and organist. “This gives the congregation a sense of ownership, to get to pick a favorite hymn they love.”
St. James’ choir continues to sing in June and July. The choir is open to anyone. “We have gotten two to three new choir members who have begun in the summer,” Gee said.
Gee plans the first half of the year in summer, hires musicians, and orders new music. During the break, he also hopes to organize a children’s choir. “We’ve seen a resurgence in young families, so I plan to talk to the parents about working out a doable schedule, in light of the kids having so many other commitments — dance, soccer, chess.” He would be happy to have the children sing monthly, “full service, vested, full participation.”
The choir at St. Mark’s Church, Jacksonville, Florida, goes through the summer, and with nearly a dozen paid singers in the mix, is able to sing “some pretty good stuff,” said James Holyer, director of music. Even so, the music load is lighter, allowing Holyer time to “recuperate and rejuvenate,” he said. He usually attends a music conference or takes a continuing-education course, learns new pieces on the organ, and has time to compose.
In August, he will spend three days at the Diocese of Florida’s Camp Weed, with the children’s choir to rehearse six hours each day in preparation for the new choir season.
The choir of Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, will be in residence July 28 through August 3 at the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.
At home in Phoenix, the choir will welcome newcomers. “Usually, about half of the cathedral choir joins this group so there is a dedicated core of folks to carry the liturgy,” said Erik Goldstrom, canon musician.
Goldstrom will complete plans for the choir through Trinity Sunday. “I will go through the lectionary week by week and slot in anthems and motets in a measured way,” he said. “This aids not only in having a huge task accomplished before the choir returns — trying to do this piecemeal throughout the year is tortuous — but also in rehearsal preparation. I know which pieces are looming so I can work out how many weeks in advance I need to introduce a piece so that it is thoroughly learned before presenting in the liturgy. I begin planning the Music at Trinity series in May so that I can send out offer letters no later than June and have the information to the printer in July so that by August I have all my PR materials for the season ready for distribution and start up in September.”
He will also practice and look for new music while taking two weeks off to go hiking.
A traveler in the summer, Sharon Downey, canon musician at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, Pennsylvania, often visits colleagues. “I like to go through their choral library,” she said. “I have done that quite consistently for 10 years. It’s a good way to find music that I would not know about otherwise. Some of it is not published, but done by members of their cathedral.”