Choral Music and Importance of Choral Music

Jesu, meine Freude

Choral music has always held a prominent position in American musical life. According to a Chorus America’s study, estimated 42.6 million Americans regularly sing in choruses today. More than 1 in 5 households have at least one singing family member, making choral singing the most popular form of participation in the performing arts for both adults and children. Music is an art, entertainment, pleasure, and medicine for the body and soul. Playing and listening to music is intrinsic to all cultures and has surprising benefits not only for improving memory and focusing attention, but also for physical coordination and development. Let’s drive deeper into what is choral music and understand its importance.

What is Choral music?

Choral music is music performed by a group of singers or a choir. The singers may perform without accompaniment, or may be accompanied by any instrumental combination, from piano to full orchestra. Choral music is necessarily “polyphonal” i.e., consisting of two or more autonomous vocal lines. Choral, chorale, choir, and chorus stand in obvious relationship to one another and are in some respects used interchangeably when a body of singers, for example, is referred to as a choir.

Below are definitions of common used musical terms in choral music

Choir – Group of singers in a chorus

Chorale – A hymn sung by the choir and congregation often in unison.

Chorus – A group singing in unison.

Classical – The period of music history which dates from the mid 1700’s to mid 1800’s. The music was spare and emotionally reserved, especially when compared to Romantic and Boroque music.

Duet – A piece of music written for two vocalists or instrumentalists.

You may refer to the full list of definitions here – Glossary of Musical Terms

Types of Choral Music

There are various types of choir depending on the participating members in the choir group. Few of the most common types are:

  • Mixed choir (with male and female voices) – This is perhaps the most common type, usually consisting of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices.
  • Male choirs – with the same SATB voicing as mixed choirs, but with boys singing the upper part (often called trebles or boy sopranos) and men singing alto (in falsetto), also known as countertenors.
  • Women’s choir – a choir of adult women, high voices only, usually consisting of soprano and alto voices, two parts in each.
  • Men’s chorus – a choir of adult men, low voices only, usually consisting of two tenors, baritone, and bass.
  • Children’s choir – This includes boy choirs. Boy choirs typically sing SSA or SSAA, sometimes including a cambiata/tenor part for boys whose voices are changing.
  • Boys’ choir – a choir of boys
  • Girls’ choir – a choir of girls, high voices only

Types of Choral Music based on Institution

Choirs can also be categorized based on the institutions they belong for example –

  • Church (including cathedral) choirs
  • Chorale – dedicated to mostly sacred Christian music
  • Collegiate and university choir
  • Community choir (of children or adults)
  • School choirs

Brief History of Choral Music

The Beginnings – During the latter part of the medieval period, a style of vocal music called organum evolved out of Gregorian chant. With multiple, independent parts, this was arguably the first example of polyphonic vocal music in Europe, laying the groundwork for the choral music of the Renaissance era. Two kinds of choral composition were prominent during this time: the motet, a kind of Latin religious work; and the mass, another kind of sacred composition based specifically on settings of Liturgy – both were largely written for an a cappella ensemble.

Baroque Period – Increased interaction between vocalists and instrumentalists grew as the late Renaissance into the early Baroque period. Baroque music forms a major portion of the “classical music” canon, and is now widely studied, performed, and listened to. One of the popular key composers of the Baroque era includes J. S. Bach. His composition performed by ChorSymphonica can be viewed here.

Classical Works – Composers became increasingly preoccupied with the potential of instrumental and symphonic music during the Classical period, but choral works were never far from the surface. Mozart also composed a number of fine sacred choral works, especially masses, his patron being an archbishop. The Coronation Mass and Great Mass are widely thought to be among the highlights of his oeuvre, yet the most highly-regarded arguably his Requiem Mass.

Romance – As the influence of the church began to wane during the 19th century, composers adapted pre-existing forms for more secular ends. Beethoven also used choral texture to add extra weight to his secular compositions, perhaps most famously in his Ninth Symphony. Another fine example of Beethoven’s choral writing can be seen in the cantata Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage.

Importance of choral music

Research has shown for some time that singing in a choir has tremendous benefits for physical and mental well being, leading some to campaign for it to be prescribed as a treatment for medical conditions. Choral music brings out the hearts and souls in perfect harmony which is the kind of emblem what we need in today’s world. Let’s go through the importance of choral music in our lives.

  1. Strengthen feeling of togetherness

Humans are wired for rhythmic togetherness; from choral singers, musicians, and dancers, the science is coming in that we bond best when we are making music with each other. Research led by psychologist Nick Stewart of Bath University indicates that people who participate in a choir enjoy a greater feeling of togetherness and being part of a collective endeavour than others involved in different social activities.

  1. Reduce stress levels and depression

For the Singers – Singers develop breathing techniques to create phrasing and musical expression. This has many physical benefits like singing increases blood flow, improves sleep, boosts your immune system, releases chemicals like endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin, which affect our moods and happiness. And it also transports the singer to another level, to a place where they no longer think about their day-to-day worries.

For the Audience – Watching a concert also leads to reduced negative mood states (afraid, tense, confused, sad, anxious and stressed) and increased positive mood states (relaxed and connected).

  1. Benefits of choir at schools

Singing is very important for children; an inclusive activity whereby all children can be equal and connected. Singing helps children’s memories. Practising musical patterns and rhythms helps form neurological pathways, with huge implications for children’s learning.

  1. Improves discipline and teamwork

Choirs truly know what teamwork means. Preparing for concerts not only requires the discipline of attending weekly rehearsals, but it also develops the skills of listening, concentration, teamwork and developing confidence. Choirs bring people together with a sense of purpose.

  1. Bridges social gaps

Choral groups and choral singers are diverse in the broadest sense: involving people from every region of all ages, in numerous musical styles from classical to gospel. Many choristers testified to the degree to which their choral singing made them more aware of other people’s life experiences, helping them to bridge social gaps.

Final Words

With the advent of modern music, many people think that choral music has fallen by the wayside. But this is categorically untrue. More than ever, people seek the togetherness and intimacy that singing with others affords. This is seen with the myriad of choral groups available in every major city in the world. The advent of technology also introduces a new kind of creativity in choral music.

A number of qualitative studies on the benefits of choral singing have been undertaken with diverse samples of singers, and these provide evidence on a range of social, psychological, and health benefits associated with choral singing. Singing increases self-esteem and confidence, helps reduce anger, depression and anxiety, reduces stress, increases mental awareness and stimulates creativity thus improving overall well being. But most of all it is fun and rewarding.