Sacred choral music is so important to the history of the church, western music, and the spiritual experience of parishioners who come to worship. There is something otherwordly setting text to music can add to a spiritual experience. I have included a list of a few of my favorite pieces to sing/use in services.
- Lotti, Crucifixus a 8
- Brahms, Geistliches Lied Op.30 what an “Amen” section!
- Tavener, Song for Athene
- Rutter, Nativity Carol
- Palestrina, Sicut Cervus
- Paulus, The Road Home
- Durufle, Ubi Caritas (based on chant)
Conducting for Organists
I think having a clear gesture is important and when conducting chant I think gesturing every note is helpful.
When leading the group AND playing the organ at the same time, I utilize eye contact, breathe, and cue with a big head nod.
Tips for organists: Leading worship in a traditional setting
- Exploring different hymn arrangements. You must get the number of verses correct, it’s often useful to see what the other hymnbook(s) have to offer.
- Introductions to hymns: using familiar cues.
- Every hymn needs an introduction.
About 10-20% of the time (and especially at Christmas), the hymn will be very well known. That means you can get away with playing the last phrases of the verse or chorus for your intro. However, for 80-90% of hymns, if you do this, it won’t be enough for the congregation to remember the start! So, if you are in any doubt whatsoever, play the first phrase or two or play the last verse.
- Another tip is to pull out more stops / add extra volume. It makes the last verse a real declaration of worship, and encourages the congregation to sing more enthusiastically. Consider that your average worshipper does not sing confidently. Having a louder accompaniment lessens their fear of being heard!
Choral music in a church is for the function of praising God, the music of the choir leads and enlivens the congregation singing together and creating a feeling of unity, upliftment and bringing the congregation into a state of collective harmony. The choir is present to sing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs.
Introductions to hymns: using familiar cues
Organists can get away with playing the last phrases of the verse or chorus for the intro or play the first phrase or two. You then hold the final note of the intro for an extra beat or two. Preferably a full bar with a bit of breathing space built in. This indicates to the congregation that it’s their turn. Then, if your instrument allows it, this is a good time to increase the volume through that final note. That’s another cue for the congregation. The congregation won’t generally recognise that this is what you’re doing, but again it’ll help them to stay in time.
Tone and expression Do look at what the hymn is about, and play the different verses at different volume or organ stop setting. It will help convey those words more expressively. The congregation will notice, and they will then pay more attention to the meaning behind what they are singing.
O Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles) at Westminster Abbey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1wHyMR_SCA
There is a vast and diverse range of sacred choral music that is important to know, spanning different eras, styles, and cultures.
However, here are some examples of sacred choral music that are considered among the most important and influential:
- Mass in B Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach – This is one of Bach’s greatest choral works and is considered a masterpiece of Baroque music.
- Messiah by George Frideric Handel – This oratorio, with its famous Hallelujah chorus, is a staple of the Christmas season and one of Handel’s most popular works.
- Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – This is one of the most beloved and frequently performed choral works, with its hauntingly beautiful melodies and solemn themes.
- Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi – This joyful and exuberant choral work is a perfect example of Vivaldi’s lively and virtuosic style.
- St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach – This is another monumental work by Bach, telling the story of the crucifixion of Jesus through choral and solo singing, and is considered one of the most important works in Western classical music.
- Ave Maria by Franz Schubert – This is a beautiful and beloved setting of the Hail Mary prayer, with its soaring melodies and rich harmonies.
- O Magnum Mysterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria – This Renaissance motet is a stunning example of Victoria’s rich and expressive choral writing, with its lush harmonies and intricate counterpoint.
- Cantata No. 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” by Johann Sebastian Bach – This is another of Bach’s great choral works, with its uplifting and joyful themes and intricate choral writing.