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How I Would Start an SCA Choir

When I started directing the Collegium last fall, I was taking over an already established choir, a very different task than starting a choir from scratch. It has it’s own perks (don’t have to do much recruiting) and pitfalls (high expectations), but it’s not the same thing as starting a new choir from nothing. I’ve thought about what it would be like to start a new choir quite a bit because I don’t know how long I’ll be in Ann Arbor and there’s a pretty strong chance that my new Barony or Shire or whatever won’t have a choir. So if I were to start a choir tomorrow here’s how I’d go about it.

Step 1: “Blow Thy Horn”

First I’d try to get an idea of who the musicians and singers are in the local group. If they have dancing I’d join the dancers because chances are there’d be an overlap between singing and dancing. I’d also send some feelers to the fighters and whoever else is in the group. Let them know that I’m interested in getting it started. Truthfully my minimum for starting a group would be pretty low. As long as I had two other people interested I’d probably try to start something. There’s plenty of one, two, and three part music out there… especially medieval and renaissance music, so there’s no real absolute need to have more than that. Not that I’d be complaining if we had 12 people show up to the first rehearsal, though. ^_~

Step 2: Find a Place and Time to Practice

Next I’d talk to other groups in the local chapter to find out where and when they practice. If there’s one big gathering of all the SCA activities I’d be set. We’d just practice then. If practices are on separate days, I’d see if it’d be feasible to use the same space the dancers or fighters use for choir practice. I could also try to coordinate times with those groups too. Many people prefer having only one or two nights dedicated to SCA stuff, so having choir rehearsal before dance practice can be a good way to encourage dancers to join the choir. If you’re wondering “Well don’t you need a piano?”, I’ve been using a fairly portable keyboard for the past year. It’s a lot more freeing than depending on a piano.

I’d also see how people felt about having rehearsal at someone’s house. When I was living in Bryn Gwalad (Austin, TX) their music guild did just that, and I must say there was something really homey and comforting about playing music in someone’s home. I’ve also had music rehearsals at my 500 square foot apartment (both choral and instrumental), and while a bit cramped it still worked. Chances are there won’t be 15 people at the first rehearsal so space probably wouldn’t be a concern. We could always look for bigger places later.

Step 3: Selecting Music

In general cpdl is your friend. You’ll find lots of public domain sheet music, and by public domain I really mean free. Just keep in mind there’s a lot of stuff on there that’s not within the SCA’s scope.

In my hypothetical new choir of 3 people, I’d probably start with the following categories:

  • Music from Carmina Burana
  • Rounds / Canons
  • Music by Thomas Ravenscroft
  • Motets (specifically ones without sharp part divisions)

There’s some music in the Choral Music Editions section of the site. Some of the songs in there aren’t really appropriate for the tiny, choir though. Here’s a short list of songs I’d start out with:

  • Summer is Icumen In
  • Five Reasons by Henry Purcell
  • Tosse the Pot by Thomas Ravenscroft
  • We Be Three Poore Mariners by Thomas Ravenscroft
  • We Be Souldiers Three
  • Bacche Bene
  • Tempus Transit Gelidum
  • In Taberna
  • Non Nobis Domine
  • Now Wolde Y Fayne

Step 4: Rehearse

After that it’s time to have some rehearsals. I’d email people some of the music of varying difficulty ahead of time and have them send me more music suggestions if they have any. Then at the rehearsal I’d assess the skill level of the choir and figure out where to go from there. And then there’s the whole having fun making music thing. ^_~

Step 5: Find Opportunities to Perform

Especially at the beginning I’d limit performances to just within the SCA so that I could make a sincere attempt to recruit people to join us. Also it gives us a chance to hone our skills before inflicting ourselves on the public. So basically I’d try to get us to sing before court or before feast or things like that. We could also hang out and sing at fighter practices. You get the idea. I’d also have the choir go caroling since it’s a low stress kind of gig.

From there it’s just sing and grow. There’s a bit of upfront work to get started, but really it’s not all that complicated or difficult. Yay Choir!

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