Over the summer months, when the workload is a little lighter, I try to lay out music for the entire upcoming choir season, September to June: hymns, service music, psalm settings, choral music, and prelude and postlude music. The first step of listing all the dates with each Sunday and holy day of the church year often prompts ideas for music. I don’t always start planning with the first Sunday of the season and work chronologically. I’ll think about music I’d like to do on more festive Sundays: the choir’s first Sunday (Rally Day or Homecoming), All Saints Sunday, Christ the King, Christmas. Usually I select more challenging music for those dates, and then have to make sure that the preceding weeks don’t have music quite as taxing to learn so that we can accomplish it all well. I try to plan in waves of level of difficulty. Some services might have almost sight-readable anthems or pieces the choir has done a number of times in the past so that we don’t have to spend much rehearsal time on them and can concentrate on the more challenging music coming up. Once I’ve settled what is happening on the more festive Sundays, I start filling in the remaining Sundays.
Planning two (or more) years ahead
As the current year progresses, sometimes I think of a piece that I would really like to do on a given Sunday, so I’ll plug it in the next year’s schedule right then. Similarly, if I find a great new piece, I will look up when the related readings occur and put it on the calendar for the next Sunday those readings appear in the lectionary. When I get to planning that year, I then already have a few pieces filled in. I can always change them if my thinking has shifted in the meantime.
Singing the Psalms
I have always been particularly attracted to the singing of psalms in a variety of styles: Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) psalm tones, plainsong chant, Anglican chant, and a variety of other psalters. Normally we don’t sing the same setting style two weeks in a row. I plan them so that the congregation sings verses sometimes, but most of the time I have the choir sing verses in some choral setting with the congregation singing a refrain. In the summer months I schedule Summer Choir about every two weeks. Whoever shows up 45 minutes before the service to rehearse is in the choir that day. Usually that means a unison psalm with organ, or unaccompanied plainsong chant, and congregational refrain. Other summer Sundays I have a soloist lead the congregation in singing the psalm verses to an ELW tone or a simple plainsong chant. A couple of times during choir season I might have the choir sing an anthem-style psalm setting without the congregation participating.
It’s not set in stone
Just because you have laid out the entire year doesn’t necessarily mean that’s exactly how it will or must happen. I think of it as my fallback plan. As the season progresses I may decide I didn’t give the choir enough to do, or that I am over-taxing their abilities. Or I found a new piece that I think the congregation will particularly find inspiring. Or something major has happened that needs to be reflected in a given Sunday’s music. I just look at the next few weeks and change the schedule.