What is a Choir?

Robert Eaton
ACDA East President, 2010-2012

We are members of ACDA (American Choral Directors Association), which means we are choral directors. So…  we direct choirs and choruses. So…  What is a choir?

This perhaps seems like a silly question. We all know what a choir is, after all we direct one! I’d like to suggest, though, that a definition of choir/chorus in a broad sense might address some of our issues relative to membership, help us to articulate who we are, and perhaps expand the horizons of many of our members but most especially the young aspiring choral directors.

For some a choir is a group of vocalist trained to sing synchronously, creating a unification of sound, musical intonation, rhythm, and diction. As we prepare for our National and division conferences we expect to hear the most outstanding and excellent examples of such vocalization. We expect precision, quality and nuance in tone, unified diction and vowels, and dynamic control. Hopefully in many of these ensembles we will also hear the expression of human compassion, exuberant and joyful outbursts and artistic humility.

Many more of us ‘choral’ directors have choirs that, while striving for some degree of precision and vocal refinement as described above, utilize a much broader definition of a choir. I’d like to suggest that a choir is a community of voices that; join together to express the fullest range of human emotions and experiences; that collectively is exponentially more powerful than the individuals’ voices within the community; and that because it is a uniquely human instrument physically connected to the human psyche and the human ability for speech it is unique among all other musical instruments or ensembles.

Within these parameters fall many a small church choir, senior citizen choirs, choirs for the autistic, hospice choirs, etc. We probably won’t hear many of these at our conferences (although in Providence we are planning a session on ‘alternative’ choirs) but they are no less important. In fact, it can be argued that the survival of choral music and a measure of our success in promoting the choral art is rooted in these millions of communities of voices.

I would like to strongly recommend that the future of choral music and the choral art will be greatly enhanced if more of our ‘established’ and prestigious choral directors directed some of these ‘community of voices.’ Those of us with ‘established’ choirs should mentor and nurture these ‘alternative’ choirs and their directors. The purpose and soul of the choral music is rooted in these expressions. We must not forget our roots. That song began as and continues to be sustained cries of emotion, of pain, joy, love, grief. Song began as sustained exclamations of human emotion. A choir is a community of voices expressing together that experience.

Bob Eaton
President, Eastern Division ACDA