Usually, the best practice for teaching music to a choir is to practice a song at several rehearsals before you have to sing it. And that’s the way that choir directors prefer to operate.
But sometimes there are situations where you don’t have that luxury. What do you do then?
The secret is advanced preparation. Even if it’s a last-minute situation for the choir, you are ready for it. You know that things like this will happen sometimes, and you already have a plan for what you can do. Here’s how you make your plan.
When do situations like that happen?
Now, I’m not saying that we should make it a standard practice to bring new material to a choir at the last minute. Quoting from my choir directing page: “Practice the song at more than one rehearsal. I find that choirs remember music MUCH better if they are able to rehearse on more than one occasion. Two rehearsals are pretty good, three or more are great. If you have only had one, you’re gambling.”
But sometimes you have to take that gamble. I’ve been in situations like that plenty of times. It often happens at conferences, workshops, and other meetings where several churches are coming together. They’ll have a mass choir that gets one rehearsal and then sings that same day. Since the singers are from a lot of different assemblies, there may not be any songs that they all know. And the musicians may not be the one you usually work with, either.
P. A. W. International Men’s Choir
As a director, you should ALWAYS be prepared!
Have music in mind that you can teach any time!
As a choir director, you should have a “teaching repertoire”, songs that you are ready to teach at a moment’s notice. And be sure that some of the songs in your teaching repertoire are pieces that a choir can learn in just one rehearsal and still perform well.
When I would go to those state conferences, I saw a lot of directors teach songs to the state choir. Some of them would decide to teach their very favorite song. But that favorite song didn’t always work out. Many times the state choir would learn a song in the afternoon, and then by the time of the evening service they had forgotten it completely. They couldn’t remember the words, or how a part of the tune went, etc.
Always think about whether a song will work well for a particular event. And for events where you have limited rehearsal time, you want music that will “stick”.
What kind of songs am I talking about?
What makes a choir song really easy?
These are the things to look for:
They should be easy songs for the choir AND the musicians to learn in one day. No complicated tunes or tricky harmonies, not a lot of words to remember, and chord patterns that are not difficult to play. It’s a challenge to find songs that are easy without being cheesy. When you find one, it’s a real treasure.
In order to widen the possibilities, you can include songs that would require more preparation for the lead singer. Often, you can find at least one person who either knows the song already or they are a quick learner (I believe that it’s OK to let a lead singer look at a copy of the words while they sing). And sometimes the director can just do the lead themselves.
The box on the right will take you to the list of my favorite one-rehearsal choir songs. And those suggestions may inspire you to think of other songs you know that would be just as easy for a choir to catch onto.
And see my tip below for how to prepare your materials so that you’re ALWAYS ready.
Kodak 20111 CD-R 80 10 Pack Paper Box with 10 Sleeves
Here’s a good way to be prepared for the next conference, workshop, or any situation where you might need to teach a choir song on short notice!
Get some blank CDs and burn yourself a collection of easy-to-learn choir songs. Then just keep the CD with you all the time along with your other music-related stuff. That way, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to teach a song in a short amount of time, you’ve got some good easy material at the ready. Just hand the CD to the musicians and they can start learning the song.
Index of one-rehearsal songs
I’ve got a few different song lists here. One list is very well known songs, another is songs that might not be familiar to everyone, and there’s a list of holiday songs.
These are songs that are very well known (that’s my own judgment; I hear them often, it may be different where you are). They are easy enough for a choir to learn in one rehearsal and perform well, but since they’re very popular, they might give the impression that you couldn’t think of anything to sing, so you just went for something that everyone knew. But if the choir is going to be singing a few different songs, including one that’s very common is OK.
Also, while these songs may be very familiar to us, they will still seem new to a choir of teens or kids. And it can be delightful to hear classic songs get a new breath of life that way. (I also have another web page that is specifically on the topic of working with a choir of young people).
“Your grace and mercy brought me through
I’m living this moment because of You”
The only things that’s difficult about this song is trying to sing it without crying. The choir does an easy chorus, and the lead singer has two verses. The melody on the lead verses is also easy, so even if your lead singer doesn’t already know the song, they’ll be fine as long as you give them a copy of the words.
A reverent worship song that starts out mellow and builds in intensity when it gets to the bridge. What makes it an easy one to learn is that the lead singer feeds the words to the choir as the song goes along, so there’s very little that the choir has to remember.
It starts off in unison with a gentle, soothing melody, and then builds more and more intensity by adding harmonies and key changes. They do six key changes and end up singing very high, but you can easily limit the key changes to make the song easier to sing.
A good, old-fashioned foot-stomper. The lead singer has two verses, but every line of the verses starts with “He is . . .” and then some attribute about God. Give your lead singer a little crib sheet to sing from and they’ll be fine. And the choir chorus and vamp are super easy.
I’ve used this song with good success with mass choirs at state conferences and district meetings.
“God is an awesome God
He is an awesome God
Great and mighty is His holy name
He is an awesome God”
This song came out in 2006 and spread like wildfire. It’s very easy for the musicians, since it has one chord progression that just repeats throughout the song. And the choir part is also very easy to latch onto and remember. There are some slightly intricate parts in the vamp that could be left out if you need to.
I first learned “God Is” at a pre-rehearsal for a national church convention. Several songs were covered in that particular rehearsal, but “God Is” was the only one that I could easily remember the next day. The rest of the songs took a few more rehearsals to really get a good grasp on. It’s also a favorite for my home church choir.
Key: Starts in F minor, then goes up in 1/2 steps several times. If you’re trying to make the song as easy as possible, of course, you wouldn’t want to do a gazillion key changes.
A classic. This is the song that first put Kirk Franklin on the map. I remember first learning it from Donnie Golder at a national church conference; I was crying by the end of it. And yes, we learned it in one rehearsal.
Usually, a song with this many words would not be a one-rehearsal song. But with this one the pauses at the end of each phrase are long enough for the director to mouth the words to the next phrase before the choir comes back in (that’s what Donnie did). Also, it has lots of singing in unison, the only harmony is in the chorus. The original recording includes a spoken-word lead, but that’s optional.
The same structure as Kirk Franklin’s first hit, Why We Sing. Pauses at the end of each phrase, just long enough for you to mouth the next words to your choir. And lots of unison. And beautiful. This type of song is one of Kirk’s best talents.
The lead singer has to know the verse, but that’s it. The choir chorus is only five words. A lively, happy song that everybody has a good time with.
The original version by Hezekiah Walker is only on iTunes.
Key: Starts in Db, then changes keys countless times. You probably won’t want to go as high as they do.
You may also be interested in this really nice bilingual version by the Heritage Christian Center Mass Choir. They have the chorus in English and Spanish and also lead verses in both English and Spanish.
Simple and lively with an old-school gospel charm. The lead singer sings the chorus first, and then the choir follows with the same chorus. The bridge and vamp are just variations of the same words and melody.
It starts with unison, which is always helpful. Only few words to learn. But beautiful and inspiring. Kinda goofy that it’s not available for purchase as a single. You can only get this song by buying the whole album.
Key: D, then Eb, then E. For most gospel musicians, D and E are not their preferred keys. They would probably like it better if you start in Db, then go to D, then end in Eb.
My home church choir loves this song. I usually try to teach songs at three rehearsals before we sing it in service. I did follow that policy with “Battlefield” as usual, but the choir took to it so easily that they would have been able to sing it the next day if we needed to.
Norman Hutchins has recorded two slightly different versions of this toe-tapper. The one on the Battlefield album is the easiest version. That’s the one on this Amazon link (unfortunately, it’s only available on the album, not as a single). There are only a few words that the choir has to learn and the tune and parts are very simple and straightforward. The lead has a few more words to learn, but they’re pretty familiar phrases. The version available on iTunes is from a different album and it has some additions and variations that are not quite as easy as the other version.
LESS COMMON one-rehearsal songs
These are songs that you don’t hear a lot (at least, I don’t hear them a lot out where I am). In my opinion, that makes them better choices than the really famous ones. I generally prefer NOT to have the choir singing a song that everyone in the church was already listening to in their car on the way to the meeting.
A fun, spirited song. I chose the Brooklyn Tabernacle version rather than the Barnes Family version because the Brooklyn Tabernacle recording features the choir more prominently.
The lead singer would need to be familiar with the verse or be given a copy of the words. The lead part is flexible enough that it wouldn’t matter whether the singer remembered exactly how they did it on the record, they can just sing it however they feel it.
An energetic (but not too fast) song with an easy choir chorus and vamp. The lead part is easy, too.
Tempo: Moderately fast
Originally by Edwin Hawkins
He’s alright with me”
Now this one would be for a choir that has strong singing skills but limited rehearsal time. The tune and words are very easy to remember, but the song uses some high notes to make its declaration.
“He’s Alright” was first done as a workshop song with the Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar Workshop. The original Edwin Hawkins album from that workshop is out of print now, but here’s a link for a version by Joe Pace and the Colorado Mass Choir.
Tempo: Moderate with a strong beat
But you can find the original Hawkins version on YouTube: He’s Alright
by the L.A. Mass Choir
“I’ve been redeemed
I’ve been redeemed”
For this one, you need a really good lead singer who can carry the song and minister to the congregation. The choir has a chorus and bridge that are short and repetitive but very beautiful. A good song for Easter.
“Redeemed” is a song that came through for me in a big way at a state church conference. There had been miscommunication and confusion the whole day about whether they were going to do a mass choir, where and when rehearsal might be, and who would conduct the rehearsal. About few hours before service time, it was finally decided that there would be a rehearsal and I would be one of the directors in charge. With no advance preparation, I came in to the rehearsal, taught this song, got a dear friend of mine to do the lead, and it brought the house down in the evening service.
A beautiful song that also carries a lot of emotion, especially if you preface it by talking about the story of Job. The chorus is easy and repeats a lot. The only potential challenge is the bridge, but that’s not too hard either.
I Just Can’t Tell It All
by the P.A.W. International Mass Choir
“I just can’t tell it all
I just can’t tell it all
I just can’t tell it all
He’s been so good, so good to me”
This is NOT the Edwin Hawkins workshop song.
An easy chorus that’s done first by the lead, then the choir. On the middle section also, the lead sings it first, and then the choir follows. The vamp is a lot of fun and if you wanted to make it even easier, you could have the lead singer introduce the vamp parts as well, doing it “audience participation” style.
Key of Bb
My Soul Is Satisfied
written by Alex Hamilton
Right now my soul is satisfied”
My Soul Is Satisfied is my favorite one-rehearsal song. It requires a good lead singer, but it’s super easy for the choir. They only have to say three words, except for the altos who say six words. The lead does all of the heavy lifting.
I used this song the first time I ever directed a mass choir at a church conference and it was perfect. I introduced it to the lead singer the evening before and let him read the words as he sang. The choir ate it up in the rehearsal, and when we did it in the service, they wouldn’t stop singing!
For years I’ve taught this song without knowing quite where it came from. But in 2009 I got an email from the gentleman who wrote it! He had done the song once with James Cleveland’s Gospel Music Workshop of America, but the GMWA album is out of print. But on his website he has a recording of it with his community choir. That album is called God Canby Rev. Alex Hamilton and the Voices of Inspiration. (Hear samples from “God Can” album)
Even though the James Cleveland album is no longer in print, somebody posted the GMWA version of “My Soul Is Satisfied” on YouTube. Thank you, StyleNMan!
Yup, I wrote this one. I specifically wrote it to be a one-rehearsal song for our District Choir. It has a lot of words which gives it some interest, but it’s an echo song. If the lead singer knows the words that’s fine, but they could also read the words as they sing, and the choir just repeats after the lead for most of it.
Tempo: Moderate with a strong beat
One-rehearsal songs for the HOLIDAYS
Most of the time we try to plan our Christmas and other holiday music well in advance. But if the situation arises where you need a holiday song that you can teach fast, what can you bring? One good song choice for Christmas is Emmanuel, which we talked about earlier on this page. Here are a couple other suggestions as well.
A lot of us grew up singing this song, but even a choir that hadn’t heard it before would do well with this as a one-rehearsal tune. There are enough pauses in it to give a director time to mouth the words to anyone who needed that, and the melody is easy and natural. This is a great one to do as a last song for a Christmas concert.
Key of F
Out of the recorded versions I saw on Amazon, the one by Mariah Carey was the best.
Most choirs need to prepare special music when Christmas time rolls around. There are some songs that are perennial favorites that we all love. And it’s good to be able to pull out something new once in a while as well.
Here are my picks for the best gospel choir music for the holidays.
You can click on a title to go straight to that song. With each song I will also give my opinion about how easy or hard each song is for the singers and for the musicians. These difficulty levels are expressed on a scale of 1 to 5, so “1/5” means that a song is very easy, while “5/5” means that it is very challenging. In my opinion, anyway; you’re free to disagree.
For musicians: 2/5 (because D and E are often not a gospel musician’s favorite keys)
Lead singer required? No.
From the album “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration”
This is, of course, based on the original Hallelujah Chorus by George Frederick Handel, but it adds a black gospel flavor to it. It still has some places with some classical-style counterpoint, so it’s a challenging piece for gospel choirs to sing. But it definitely makes an impression.
“Have you heard about the baby, the child of Bethlehem?
Have you heard the blessed story, ’twas peace, goodwill toward men?”
This is a gorgeous 4-part a cappella piece that conveys the excitement felt by those who learned about the birth of the Savior. You know how it is when you’ve got some amazing news and you just can’t wait to tell someone? It’s like that.
OK, you’re probably thinking that I’m nuts for putting this song on a Christmas list. But I think it’s very Christmas. Christmas is about Jesus coming to save the world when no one else could do it. I’ve used this song twice in Christmas concerts.
“Jesus is the reason For the season, yeah Yes He is Oh yes He is yeah”
This funky tune is a good one for a youth choir if they have the skills. It includes a really nice counterpoint section based on the chorus from “Angels We Have Heard On High”, but it takes some practice to get it right, so don’t try teaching this song at the last minute unless you have a super-sharp choir.
Lead singer required? Well, I suppose you could do it without the lead verse, but it’s so much better with it.
Now Behold the Lamb
by Kirk Franklin
“Now behold the Lamb The precious Lamb of God Born into sin that I may live again The precious Lamb of God”
This is one of my personal favorites. Just a beautiful piece of music that expresses the feeling of reverence and worship that Christmas should be about.
You know how we feel about a newborn baby sometimes, where we just want to sit there and look at him, even if he’s just sleeping? That’s what Christmas is to me. The wonder of just being in the presence of this special child. Just to look at Him. Just to BEHOLD Him.
Lead singer required? I suppose so, but I think it goes fine without the verses.
Oh Bless the Name
by the New Jersey Mass Choir
From the album Heroes
“Hallelujah, Oh Bless the name of Jesus”
I don’t think this one was written to be a Christmas song, but I like using it for Christmas. Very majestic sounding.
Tempo: Moderately slow.
Key: D minor / F major.
For singers: 3/5
For musicians: 2/5
Lead singer required? Yes.
Still the Lamb
by Mary Mary
“Still holy Still righteous Still the Lamb of God”
This song is a whole Christmas pageant all by itself! It has some pretty verses for your lead singer to do solo, plus dramatic spoken word parts for that person in the choir who is called to preach (or maybe have the pastor do it!), and then a chorus for the whole choir.
“Sweet little Jesus boy Born in a manger Sweet little holy child We didn’t know who You was”
This version is done by Take 6. A gorgeous rendition of an old Negro spiritual. Our choir does an arrangement that has the general feeling of the Take 6 version, but we don’t try to actually do all of those harmonies.
Make your holiday preparations easier! Practice tracks for some of the songs on this page are available for purchase from ChoirParts.com.
And if you want to request parts for a song, we’ll do a custom job, just for you.
Good old Christmas carols
Break out the hymnbook! You’ll find plenty of 4-part arrangements of classic Christmas carols. For example, in the African-American Heritage Hymnal, there are choir arrangments for about 15 Christmas songs, including favorites like Joy to the World, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Silent Night, and more.
More Gospel Christmas Songs
These are from the BlackGospel.com website. The list below is NOT all choir songs, a lot of them are solo songs as well. But you may find something that is good for choir or could be adapted.
Directing a youth choir is both an opportunity and a challenge.
Teenagers are capable of so much energy and enthusiasm. If they take what they’re doing to heart, there’s no stopping them. But sometimes it takes some work to get them in the right emotional/spiritual state to apply themselves to the work at hand.
Choir directing is a spiritual ministry, but there are practical ideas as well that can make your ministry much more effective. How can you make the most of the abilities that God has given the young people that you work with?
Youth Choir Tip #1: GET TO KNOW THEIR VOICES
A youth choir can sometimes cover a wide vocal range. There may be a mixture of younger kids with higher voices and older ones whose voices have dropped. If you have teen boys whose voices have changed already, they could be in the baritone or even bass range!
You must know the vocal ranges of your singers so that you can choose the right songs for them and arrange the songs the right way to match their voices. Spend a little time with each singer. Play notes on a keyboard and have them sing the notes. Write down what the highest and lowest notes are that each singer is comfortable with.
Now when you choose a song for your youth choir, you’ll know whether they would be able to sing it just like the recording or whether you need to change the key or rearrange the parts. Do make the effort to adapt the song so that it fits their range. You wouldn’t want to give them anything that would be a strain and hurt their young voices.
Youth choir tip #3: YOU MAY HAVE TO BOOST THEIR CONFIDENCE
Lamarr Henry is a young man who sings with confidence and power, but not all youth choir members have it like that.
You remember being a teenager, right? The self-consciousness, the worrying about what your peers thought of you, the whole ordeal of growing up. That’s what your youth choir members are going through right now. When it comes time to sing, they may be shy and hesitant. The kids who are fantastic singers (and know that they are) will be ready and willing to sing out. But the ones who are not sure of their abilities will hold back. That’s why youth choir directors often hear themselves saying things like, “I know you can sing louder than that. I can hear you a block away when you’re talking with your friends in the parking lot.”
It will take time and patience for your choir singers to come out of their shells. One thing that will work in your favor is the fact that music is something that humans respond to instinctively. When you hear a song that you know really well, you will probably start singing along without even noticing that you’re doing it. The same thing will happen with your youth choir members. They will get comfortable with the songs and singing along with them will feel easy and natural.
Another thing that will help them overcome shyness is when you build a rapport with them and also encourage them to bond with each other. When they start to see the other choir members as friends, they will be less self-conscious and they will sing with more boldness.
Youth choir tip #4: THERE WILL BE PRACTICAL ISSUES TO DEAL WITH, TOO.
Some of the things that are very easy with an adult choir can be more challenging for young people.
For example, in an adult choir, almost every choir member will own a car. Once you announce a rehearsal, you don’t worry too much about how people will get there. But most members of a teen choir will be at the mercy of others for their transportation. You will be communicating with the parents about the choir’s rehearsals and performances. Sometimes young people may not be able to come to a rehearsal because other people in their family have commitments for that day.
Also, it is a challenge to find a good time for rehearsals. Parents don’t like for their kids to be out late on school nights, so having rehearsals on a weeknight may not work out. If rehearsal time is during the weekend, there may be conflicts between choir rehearsal and other activities that young people are involved in, like sports and family outings.
Another issue that may arise is that some young people have parents who are no longer together. If a child spends part of their time with one parent and part of the time with the other, they might only be able to come to rehearsal on the weeks that they are with the parent who is supportive of their choir activities. The other parent may not be interested in making the drive.
So just keep in mind that even the most devoted members of your youth choir may not be able to attend all of the rehearsals. What this means to you is that you should make sure that any songs the choir is learning get practiced at several rehearsals before you sing them. That way if a choir member misses a rehearsal, they will have more chances to learn the material before they have to sing it.
BEST GOSPEL CHOIR SONGS FOR YOUTH CHOIRS
Your youth choir can really sing anything the adult choir would sing, but there are some songs that seem to be a natural fit for the energy and the sound of a youth choir. There are many (many!) songs in the gospel choir repertoire that are geared toward younger choirs. The suggestions below are favorites of mine that I think would be great for a youth choir, but there are many many more. Maybe the songs listed here will give you some ideas for other material that would be good for your choir.
Sheet music for 99 1/2, for sale at musicnotes.com.
For singers: 2/5
For musicians: 2/5
Lead singer required? Yes.
Do You Know Him
by Hezekiah Walker
“I know a man from Galilee
If you’re in sin, He’ll set you free
He’s the one that’ll save your soul
Heal your body and make you whole
Oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh
Do you know Him”
This one is a toe-tapper, but doesn’t sound old-fashioned. The harmonies on the middle section of the song are rather progressive, and the arpeggiated “oh”s in the chorus will take some practice as well, but once they’ve learned it, it’s likely to be a favorite.
The song has an invitational theme, good for outreach events as well as for church services.
“Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord
Let everything that hath breath
Praise the Lord
For His mighty acts
And His wondrous works
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord”
A powerful anthem with a semi-classical feel. This one will take some serious rehearsal time for any choir, youth or adult, but the results are worth it.
“Let us worship, let us sing
Hallelujah to the King
Let us raise our voices high
Praise the name of Jesus Christ
Oh oh, oh oh”
This is a VERY energetic song with a lot of unison (you can really do it all in unison if you want). It takes some work to learn all the lyrics, but it will probably be a favorite once they’ve learned. Fun to sing, and a great one to get the congregation singing along.
“I am not forgotten
I am not forgotten
I am not forgotten
God knows my name”
A song with a great message for your youth choir members. Teenagers are often plagued with feelings of inadequacy and isolation, thinking that no one cares about their lives. This song brings a reminder about the love of God.
I-i-i-i-i-i-i-is Thy name”
This is a well-known and well-loved song. In fact, I’ve written a whole web page about Perfect Praise because I consider it one of the “standard songs” of the gospel choir repertoire. It was originally recorded the Soul Children of Chicago, so it was a youth choir song from its inception!
It does well either as a regular song to sing in service or as a “show piece”. It sounds tricky at first, but with a little practice it starts to come naturally.
NOTE: On Amazon and on iTunes, the title of this song is incorrectly listed as “Perfect Peace.”
There is also an instrumental track version of this song, done by Fruition Music. They call it “Oh Lord How Excellent” and credit it to a different artist, but it is the same song, done as an instrumental. If you use this as accompaniment music, your choir can sing the song even if you don’t have a musician: Oh Lord How Excellent (Eb) Richard Smallwood.
For singers: 3/5
For musicians: 3/5
Lead singer required? Not really. There’s one on the original recording, but all she does is sing the same verse that the choir does.
Power Belongs to God
by Hezekiah Walker
“There is nothing too hard for God
Nothing too hard for God
Power belongs to God”
Key: Ebm, then Em, then Fm, then F#m, then Gm.
A progressive, energetic song that expresses faith and confidence. But it does take some work to learn!
Lead singer required? I’m supposed to say yes, but my choir does it without the lead verses and it’s still great.
Say the Word
by Rodnie Bryant
“If you want to be born again
Say, say the word”
This is a sassy one with a message of evangelism. Good for altar calls and for events where there are unchurched people in attendance. The counterpoint in the first section of the song is a favorite and the call-and-response in the last part of the song encourages audience participation.
A classic youth choir song, originally recorded by a choir of young people. Along with the instrumental track from Saunders Music that I have listed below, the “Growing Up” album by Walt Whitman also has its own instrumental version of “Shabach” on it, in case you don’t have a musician.
Link: Instrumental track for Shabach, from Saunders Music.
For singers: 3/5
For musicians: 3/5
Lead singer required? No.
On the album Love Like This“Stand up, and be a witness
And be a witness for the Lord”Tempo: Fast
Key: AbAn energetic tune about being bold in proclaiming your faith.The album “Love Like This” is out-of-print, unfortunately, so the few copies to be might be expensive. But the song is currently on YouTube (see below).
For singers: 3/5
For musicians: 2/5
Lead singer required? Yes.
Video of Stand Up by Phil & Brenda Nicholas
From the album “Love Like This”
When my choir does it, we don’t do all those spoken word fill-ins that Phil does.
That’s Where I’ll Be
by Hezekiah Walker
“That’s where I want to be
Rooted and grounded in Thee
And with Your help, I see
That’s where I’ll be”
I love this song. The message of stability and faithfulness is great for young people.
Lead singer required? It’s better if you use one, but you could do without.
Why We Sing
by Kirk Franklin
“Someone asked the question
Why do we sing?”
Key: Starts in Db.
When this song first came out, it was overwhelmingly popular, to the point that it was in danger of overexposure. But I think it can still be brought back, especially as a song for youth choir. Lots of unison makes this an easy one for young people to learn.
Andrae Crouch is a premiere influence in the world of contemporary gospel music. He was a pioneer in bringing modern rhythms, instrumentation, and harmonies to the black gospel tradition.
He also broke racial barriers, as many white Christian artists covered his songs. His contributions as a performer and songwriter are unparalleled by any living gospel musician.
This page takes a closer look at Crouch’s craft as a songwriter.
I picked out some great Crouch music for your listening pleasure. The songs are also available from Amazon.
I see Andrae Crouch as an inspiration and an example of what I want to do as a songwriter.
Andrae at his best creates music that feels so natural that it seems like it has always been there. We can’t imagine not having that song in our collective consciousness. The greatest example of this is Bless His Holy Name. Can you read the 103rd Psalm and NOT hear that music?
His music also brings back memories of my youth. I’m a child of the 70s and this is the music we listened to at home on LPs. When I got older I began to appreciate the sophistication of his work compared to the gospel music that came before it. But at the time all I knew was that I loved his songs.
Andrae Crouch’s best songs have a natural flow to them. It doesn’t sound like the words had to be manipulated to fit the tune, they feel like they were made for each other.
When I write a song, it’s almost like I hear it sung already, because I hear it.
There are some songwriters who toil and sweat at crafting their music, which can be a wonderful thing the produces great art. But there are other songwriters whose music seems to come out all by itself. Andrae is in that second category. It’s his gift, that’s all there is to say.
He says himself: “Well, about 90% of my songs just flow out. On my new album coming out, about 70% of those songs were written in middle of sermon I was giving. I just start singing it.” (GospelFlava)
My dad used to tell me not to use any trendy effects, to just stay close to the mic, and then your songs will have staying power.
The reason his songs are so popular for congregational singing is because he has an unmatched talent for writing songs that are simple and accessible, but moving at the same time (“easy but not cheesy”, not everyone can achieve that).
Another important characteristic of his music is that musicians at any skill level can play it and sound good. I’ve been playing piano and organ in churches since I was 11 years old. When I was starting out, I would play Andrae Crouch’s songs with just the basic harmonizations I knew at the time. Even though I wasn’t playing it the way Andrae did, the music didn’t sound “dumbed down”, it was still beautiful. As I matured as a musician, I began to incorporate some of the more sophisticated chord progressions that are in the actual recordings of the songs. Some songwriters create music that is challenging to experienced musicians but inaccessible to beginners. Being able to reach everybody at their level is just awesome. “The secret is to be honest with the writing. I don’t just write a song because I think it’s lyrically hip. If it’s not in the Word, if I can’t verify it in the Word, if you’re writing to pay the bills, it will pass away. People will only be changed by the Word. Don’t give a pity party for the way you feel, but stick to what the Word says you will be.”
“[My father] also used to tell me to give the people at least two chances to hear the lyrics in a song. So that’s what I try to to, to make the song repeat the words so you know them.”
Here he sings Through It All, preceding it with a part of his life story. He talks about his upbringing as a preacher’s kid and his deliverance from a life-threatening illness.
“I contribute a lot of my success to the fact that I was focused. I was looking at some of my lyrics not too long ago, and when I wrote them, it’s from my heart.”
Andrae Crouch (Ensound) The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power sung on the Mike Douglas Show (and Mike Douglas is in the choir!)
Andrae’s opinion on gospel hip-hop (I found it very interesting):
“Now, we have some kids rapping here at my church and I always tell them if you have a distinctive style that may not be in the church at all, you’re limited in the direction of that song. I think people receive more when it’s repetitious. So what I tell the kids is to remember to write a song, a melody, something that will allow the song to live on without you . . . When you get done rapping and beating, no one can deliver the rap lyrics exactly the way you can. But if you’ve incorporated singing into it, the song has a better chance of being remembered and even recorded by other people later on, so the song lives on even after the initial popularity fades.”
The best selections from the 30-year history of Richard Smallwood’s musical contributions
Smallwood first came to the attention of the gospel music world in 1982 with the first recording of the Richard Smallwood Singers. Since that time, both with the Richard Smallwood Singers and with Vision, he has provided us with songs of incomparable beauty, sophistication, and inspiration. The songs below are my picks as the best out of Smallwood’s works.
(The photo is of Smallwood’s first album, which, sadly, is out of print.)
“Angels, watching over me
Angels, watching over me”
I still get tingles every time I hear this one. Built on a delicious chord progression for the instruments, with beautifully moving verses and a simple but very catchy chorus. The bridge of the song references the old spiritual that was Smallwood’s inspiration: “Angels Watchin’ Over Me”.
“Praise Him with the timbrel and dance
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet
Praise Him with the psaltery and harp
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord”
This song is BIG in every way, almost symphonic in form. A majestic anthem that’s a favorite for concerts. It is especially important that you have tenors who can sing with power if you want to do this song.
Key: Bb minor
NOTE: “Anthem of Praise” has five vocal parts — First Soprano, Second Soprano, Alto, First Tenor, and Second Tenor.
Lead singer required? You can get by without one if necessary.
from the “Textures” album
He died on Calvary”
A powerful and emotional song with a blues influence. An excellent choice for Good Friday or Easter. The lead verses are the predominant part of the song, but the choir backup is also well-crafted and very moving.
Tempo: Slow, with a strong beat
Key: G minor, then A minor, then Bb minor
originally on the “Richard Smallwood Singers” album
“I love the Lord, He heard my cry
And pitied every groan”
Some of the most beautiful harmonies ever. When Richard Smallwood’s first album came out, this was the song that really gave us the first impression of who he was as a songwriter. Soloists love to do this song, but it’s SO MUCH more beautiful when it’s done by a choir!
“No more weeping, no more wailing
Our troubles will be over down here”
I don’t know why this song doesn’t get more attention. A beautiful song with a melancholy tone, but a hopeful looking up at the same time.
Key: G minor
I couldn’t find any resources online for “I Won’t Be Troubled”. No lyrics, chord charts, sheet music, nothing. But even if you have to work out the arrangement all on your own, it will be worth it.
For singers: 3 / 5
For musicians: 3 / 5
Lead singer required? Yes
from the “Adoration” album
“You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to you”
Smallwood’s masterpiece. The intricate harmonies, the way he builds the sense of grandeur and strength as the song progresses, and the powerful “Amen” at the end make “Total Praise” an example of songwriting at its best.
Happy May! This month’s article: Choosing songs with the right message for the right time and place
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)
There is such a wealth of music in the gospel choir repertoire, you can find a song to fit any occasion, any mood, any type of service, and any type of audience. When you’re choosing songs for your choir to sing, think about what music will work best for the occasion and for the listeners.
Mother’s Day (May 12): Some churches will feature a women’s choir on Mothers Day. Others will have the men’s choir or youth choir sing to the mothers instead. If you’re looking for ideas for men’s choirs or youth choirs, check out these pages:
Last month I started sending out friend requests to readers of this newsletter that I found on Facebook. But I sent out too many requests too fast and Facebook started complaining (when send out a lot of requests in one day, they’re not sure whether you really know all those people or whether you’re doing something shady).
I hope everyone’s Easter was as blessed as mine. We had a beautiful service, and I have to give some love to my choir; they presented some wonderful inspired music and did a great job on it.
Anyway, let’s talk about some choir stuff as we move into the second quarter of the year.
This month’s article: Why you should space out your practices for a song —
Someone wrote to me (I think they directed a school choir) asking about good gospel songs to use in choir competitions. I wrote a page with a list of suggestions and I would love for people to add any other suggestions they have —
There are no major church holidays in April this year.
But we can look ahead to May!
Does your church doing anything special for Mothers Day? Some churches will feature a women’s choir on Mothers Day. Others will have the men’s choir or youth choir sing to the mothers instead. If you’re looking for ideas for men’s choirs or youth choirs, check out these pages:
March 24, the Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday. Consider doing songs that talk about the majesty and worthiness of Jesus. Some of my favorites areBehold the Lamb of God by the Indiana State Choir, Jesus Is Lord by Andrae Crouch, Job’s Song (Blessed) by Hezekiah Walker, and Hosanna by the Wilmington-Chester Mass Choir .Easter is coming!
Hi, everybody! Welcome to the debut of the ChoirParts.com newsletter!
My goal is to bring you useful articles about choirs and choir directing, news about what’s going on at the ChoirParts.com website, and a space where we can ask questions and share knowledge and experiences.
Valentine’s Day is this month of course. Does your choir like to do songs about God’s love on V-Day? I made a blog post with some of my favorites, and I’d love for you to add any suggestions that you have: http://the-church-choir.blogspot.com/2013/01/what-should-choir-sing-for-valentines.htmlFebruary is also Black History Month. Some mainstream choirs might enjoy exploring some gospel songs during February. And choirs that sing gospel all the time might want to try some spirituals. There’s a lot of great music out there!
Does your church observe Lent? Think about songs that deal with self-examination and purification. There are even gospel songs that could fit in, like “Take It Away from Me” (Wilmington-Chester Mass Choir) or “Search Me” (Ricky Dillard).
It will be Easter before you know it! Easter is March 31st this year. Start now thinking about your Easter music. Here’s a page with plenty of gospel choir ideas for Easter: Best Easter Songs for Gospel Choir
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Let me know what you would like to see covered in this newsletter.