A choir is a group of singers who perform together, either with or without instrumental accompaniment. A chorus may also be used to refer to a choir. Choirs are incredibly diverse around the world, ranging from casual secular groups that meet and perform on a regular basis to highly organized church choirs with a diverse range of very disciplined singers. The choir performs both secular and religious music, and some choirs also adapt existing musical pieces for performance.
The chorus has a long and illustrious history. A chanting chorus was used the Greeks to accompany stage performances, and the medieval church used chanted plainsong to accompany religious services. With musical compositions featuring multiple parts that could be sung together or individually, the concept of a polyphonic or “many voiced” choir gradually emerged, and modern choirs typically perform polyphonic compositions that showcase a range of voices.
Choirs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Mixed choirs include both men and women, and men’s, women’s, and children’s choirs, including gender-divided children’s choirs, are also available. The types of compositions performed vary greatly, depending on the choir members and the environment in which they perform.
A conductor leads a choir in the same way that an orchestra conductor leads an orchestra. Singing in a choir requires more than just opening your mouth and belting out tunes. The choir members must be in perfect sync or the performance will sound “off,” though it may be difficult to pinpoint why the performance is off. A good choir is made up of people who sing in unison, on pitch, and with voices and volume levels that complement one another.
When a choir is well-organized, it can put on a show that is both unique and compelling. The oratorios of Handel are among the most well-known works written for choirs. Choral performances are particularly popular around the holidays and at classical music festivals, though choirs can also perform jazz compositions and works from other genres.
Some communities have informal community choirs that are open to anyone who wants to participate. Those interested in joining such choirs must typically be able to sing and read sheet music, as well as be willing to commit to a practice schedule. Choirs can also be found in educational institutions, religious parishes, and musical performers’ collectives such as city orchestras and opera companies.