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This module suggestions of small ensembles that can be reoganized giving the more talented singers another opportunity to perform repertoire particularly appropriate to small ensembles. Discussion question adn projects are also included.

Organizing small ensembles

There are several types of small ensembles that can be formed from the membership of the concert choir, including the madrigal, chamber choir, mixed quartets, jazz choir, etc. Each will vary in its makeup and in the repertoire it will perform. Two of these possibilities will be discussed in this chapter—the madrigal group and the chamber and jazz choir.

First, one must ask, "Do I need or want a smaller, more select ensemble?" The answer will ultimately depend on the situation and the people involved. Much of this discussion pertains primarily to school situations but the same principles can be applied to church and community choirs. Most directors and schools find these ensembles to be desirable. They give the most talented singers an opportunity to be involved with repertoire that they would not otherwise be able to sing. It also gives the finest singers a chance to become more musically involved than the large choir experience may allow. The choral director also has a chance to work with the most gifted singers in a unique situation and with a repertoire he would otherwise miss. In either a community or church situation there are usually some singers more talented than others and a small ensemble opportunity can benefit both the singers and the conductor. One could use such an ensemble in a special church service and a small group could have a special place in a community concert, or make special appearances on behalf of the community choir.

In a school the administration can usually see the advantage for the fewer highly gifted and motivated music students. They will also probably view the group as a good public relations vehicle for the school. This attitude is normal and although it may not be culturally idealistic, it does provide an opportunity for this type of ensemble to flourish.

The large performing ensemble such as the concert choir can perform a wide variety of repertoire but there are some works that lend themselves to performance by a smaller number of singers. It is also easier to meet short notice performances with a smaller ensemble. Ten to twenty singers can rearrange schedules easier than the larger group of sixty or more.

The Madrigal

The Chamber Choir and the Jazz Choir

Discussion questions

1. Will singers, and particularly student singers, today be enthused about performing music of several centuries ago with some of the appropriate instruments?

2. How can a director know the difference between music that can be successfully performed by a madrigal and that which cannot?

3. How many performances should a special ensemble give during one school year?

4. Must a director lower the selection standards in order to accommodate the inclusion of popular music? Can popular music meet the same criteria as applied to the choice of other repertoire.

5. Under what conditions is it justified to project a tour for high school students that will last several days?

6. If a director cannot meet with either of the ensembles discussed in this chapter during the regular school day, should he postpone organizing them until they can be incorporated in the school schedule?


1. Learn to play a recorder. Play madrigal parts with others. As a class, perform several madrigals with recorders, alternating verses with voices and without the voices, or substituting for several of the voice parts.

2. Where a lecturer on early instruments is available, meet with him to have the use of early instruments discussed and, if possible, demonstrated.

3. Individually, or in small groups, write a script and select music for a madrigal dinner.

Suggested readings

Aitken, Gene. "Individual Miking: The Setup and Rehearsal." Jazz Educators Journal

October/November, 1985.

---------. "Rehearsal Techniques." Jazz Educators Journal February/March, 1984.

Catalog of Music for a Madrigal Dinner. Belwin-Mills Publishing Corp. Cosman, Madelaine Pelner. Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar of Celebrations. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981. Dwiggins, Rose R. "One Step at a Time for Show Choirs." Music Educators Journal

February, 1984. Fissinger, Edwin. The Madrigal Concert: Choral Music for the Madrigal Dinner, Ren-

Renaisance Fest and Madrigal Concert. Milwaukee: Jensen Publications, Inc., 1981. Fredrickson, Scott. "Vocal Improvisation: A Practical Approach." Pop, Show and Jazz

Choir Magazine. Fall, 1984. Grentzer, Rose Marie. "The Chamber Ensemble." Choral Director's Guide, pp. 55-

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Source:  OpenStax, Choral techniques. OpenStax CNX. Mar 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11191/1.1
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