Our guide to choirs comes with a quiz so you can find out which type would suit you and your voice best
Check out our guide to ten different types of choir – and take the quiz to find out which one would suit you!
Choral society or symphony chorus
Team players will love working with a large choir to produce a big, beautiful sound. Choral societies and symphony choruses can have anything between 50 and 400 singers: you’ll revel in meaty choral classics like Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand and the Requiems of Verdi and Mozart.
But don’t worry if you haven’t sung them before: the combined experience and sheer power of all those voices means you can risk fluffing a few notes in rehearsal without ruffling too many feathers. The only downside is that, with this many singers, buying a round in the pub after rehearsal can be a bit of a nightmare.
Keen choral singers with a bit of experience under their belts will fit right in with a chamber choir. Numbers vary, but most have between 16 and 40 singers in total. This means that you’ll have the collective decibels to tackle works with an orchestral accompaniment – hello, Handel’s Messiah! – yet can also create an intimate sound.
Some ensembles will want to test your blend and sight-reading skills, so you may have to brace yourself for an audition – but the rewards of singing within a close-knit choral community will be more than worth it. Remembering everyone’s name is relatively painless, and tours are the best.
You’re an experienced chorister: your sight-reading is shipshape, you don’t mind singing one to a part and you’re more than happy to develop a musical speciality (especially if there’s the chance of earning a few bob). Why not try forming your own consort?
These smaller groups are often formed by young singers looking for an opportunity to shine on a crowded choral scene. Find a few talented chums and a snazzy, Italian-sounding name and you’re in business. Who knows, if the mix is right, you could end up rivalling the likes of I Fagiolini and Stile Antico – or even old-school consorts like The King’s Singers and The Tallis Scholars.
Churchgoing may be in decline, but the Anglican choral tradition is far too strong an institution to go down without a fight and church choirs number among some of the finest in the world. Remember, you’ll always need to be available (and hangover-free) on Sundays. You may also have to be at least open to the idea of reading music, as many church choirs only rehearse for an hour or so before the service.
If your sights are set on joining a large church or cathedral choir, be warned: many top-flight choirs in the UK have only professionals on their books. Plus, although many top choirs now accept girl as well as boy trebles, some still don’t use women sopranos and altos. Luckily, with church choirs singing most Sundays, there’s plenty of opportunity to try before you buy.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the utter joy of gospel music. Unlike classical choirs, which sing from sheet music, gospel choirs usually learn by ear – and there’s plenty of opportunity for self-expression, even improvisation.
Some choirs sing well-known gospel tunes, while other branch out into pop classics. Those feel-good harmonies provide the perfect uplifting background for a wide range of music. Get involved.
Barbershop, a cappella or close harmony group
If you prefer to sing with just a few other people, there are plenty of opportunities out there – especially if you’re willing to start a group of your own. You’ll need a good sense of pitch and great listening skills to blend with just a few other singers. Many arrangements for groups of this size have quite complex harmonies, so you’ll also need to be willing to work hard on holding your line.
But the fun and flexibility you get from working with such a small team is worth it. Plus, if you’re into beatboxing, you’ll be snapped up by a cappella groups riding high on the Pitch Perfect wave.
If you’re more interested in creating music than performing it, then circle singing could be for you. Circle singing is big in the USA, where it was popularised by the singer-songwriter Bobby McFerrin. It was McFerrin coined the word ‘CircleSong’ to describe a type of community singing where singers standing in a circle improvise to create a song.
At a typical circle singing session, a leader will improvise and feed in short tunes, motifs and beats which are taken up and adapted by people in the circle, thus building up a song. There’s no rehearsal, so performance, just singing. It mimics a musical tradition shared by indigenous cultures all around the world and while it might sound weird, it’s actually super-fun. Look up a group near you.
If you’re not keen on classical, but still want to experience the amazing feeling of singing with hundreds of other people, then give Rock Choir a whirl. It’s a huge network of UK community choirs that specialise in singing well-known, feel-good pop songs.
There aren’t any auditions, and everything’s taught by ear. It’s perfect for anyone who wants a friendly introduction to the world of choral music (or to step up their shower singing repertoire by several orders of magnitude).
Sacred Harp is a form of singing that will appeal to anyone who likes their music a) niche and b) loud. A musical tradition that originated in the southern states of America in the 19th century, its repertoire consists of a cappella religious songs in four-part harmony that you quite literally bellow. There isn’t really any other way of describing it. This is not a singing activity for the faint of heart or voice.
Sacred Harp is now enjoying a modest revival, both in the USA (where it never really went away) and worldwide. It’s particularly popular with folk singers and hipsters: Google it to find a Singing near you.
You’re fabulous and you know it. Time to make like Glee and join a Show Choir – big, glitzy ensembles that combine choral arrangements of show tunes with fully-fledged dance routines and often costumes, too.
Don’t listen to the haters. The reason all other singers sometimes look cross during episodes of Glee is that they secretly wish they were in Show Choir, too.