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Proper choir name

Is there a technical reason to call a church choir either "Chancel Choir" or "Sanctuary Choir" or is just a matter of semantics?
Many thanks for all answers
Replies (16): Threaded | Chronological
on September 20, 2014 8:47am
Before 1973, my church choir was called the chancel choir. That year, our present organ was installed in the loft at the rear of the sanctuary. At that time, they were renamed the Sanctuary Choir, because they're no longer in the chancel. Splitting hairs, perhaps, but some of our members are pretty adamant about it.
on September 21, 2014 4:21am
In actuality, the sanctuary is that area where the altar stands or the space behind the sanctuary rails. Today, most sanctuaries and chancels are contiguous. The congregational seating area is the nave. Your choir might more properly be called the gallery choir.
on September 21, 2014 9:05am
I've been director of choirs in  two different Presbyterian churches with two different names for their adult choirs---one was the Sanctuary Choir and one was the Chancel Choir.  Had an interim gig a few years ago in another Presbyterian church and that choir was called the Sanctuary Choir.  It was never explained to me in any of them, why they were called what they were and quite frankly, I didn't care what they were called. 
The church we attended (and where my Mom was the soprano ringer)when I was growing up called their choirs the Senior Choir (adult), Junior Choir (youth) and Cherub (young children) and the Bell Choir was called the Chimes.....seemed pretty simple and descriptive to me!
Hope we've helped you,
on September 21, 2014 8:37pm
Histroically "chancel" and "sanctuary" are synonymous terms so it seems to me it is a matter of semantics. However, I think it is fair to say that most in our culture are probably not familiar with the word "chancel" and when asked would define a sanctuary as a "church" (mening church building).  That doesn't make it right but language and terms evolve. Because of common knowledge and the desire to be relevant, if I were to choose a name for a church choir I would prefer sanctuary over chancel. But that's just MHO.
on September 22, 2014 10:03am
Scott, I am curious as to your source that "sanctuary" and "chancel" are historically synonymous.  I have not ever seen that anywhere that I have looked, which included prior to making this reply.
on September 23, 2014 8:32am
Hi Nan
This was shared with me by a well-resected architect and architecutal historian in the Seattle area who I have brought in to present pre-European tour lectures on historic architectual styles so my presbyterian/protestant singers would better appreciate the interior spaces of catholic churches, cathedrals, and to also identify sytlistic elements of churches from historical periods.  His comment was in the context of both ancient and modern churches where there is not an architectual element (such as an altar rail) separating the chancel (or presbytery) and the nave.
I just googled it up and also found it at though I have no idea as to his crediblity.
Internally I too prefer to use mutliple and historic terms for education, connection to past cultures and generations!  But being in one of, if not the most, unchuched regions in the U.S. (the Northwest), we find terminology to sometimes be divisi between churched and unchurched, and not very relational in advertising public concerts because it is simply not understood.  
Like yours, my choir doesn't seem to care, or, prefers not changing, but understands when advertising.
And then there is another church in town whose name is "Cathedral Choir" and yet, the church is not a cathedral.  Go figure!  Semantics and hair spliting indeed.
on September 24, 2014 10:08am
Thanks, Scott!  I love learning new things and appreciate the variety of ways we can name something or understand something.  It brings a depth and richness, and I will remember this!
on September 24, 2014 10:16am
And Scott, I enjoyed reading the entire glossary, by the way!  I also have since found a source I forgot to reference, the "Worship Wordbook" from Augsbug Fortress that speaks if the sanctuary in a similar way.  So all of these times we have referred to the entire "room" as the sancutary, we have been a bit off.
Fascinating stuff!
on September 28, 2014 3:08pm
Architecturally, the "chancel" is the (often elevated) area at the liturgical "east" end of the building.  It is composed of two main areas: 1) he "sanctuary" and 2) the "choir."  The area of the altar where the priest stands to celebrate the eucharist is the sanctuary.  Sometimes there is an altar rail in front of the sanctuary dividing it from the choir which is the rest of the chancel area.  That "rest of the chancel area" in front of the sanctuary often includes seating for the choir and clergy.  That area is called the "choir" and with, the "sanctuary" composes the whole of the "chancel."
The term "chancel choir" or simply "choir," therefore might refer to a group of singers or the PLACE in which they sing.  "Sanctuary choir" really makes little sense.  A choir would not sing from the sanctuary, the area around the altar.  But, as is often the case with modern non-sacremental and non-liturgical denominations, there is no altar and the entire building is called "the sanctuary." 
Most choirs sing from the seating area formally provided for them which itelf is called "the choir."  But calling it a "choir choir" wouldn't make much inappropriate.  I hope I haven't muddied the water hopelessly.
on September 22, 2014 10:01am
In the current configurations in most of our sanctuaries, there probably isn't a need to split hairs, since most choirs no longer are located in the chancel (the area around the altar.  Choirs were often behind the altar.)  I call my choir the chancel choir because their location is in the transcept right next to the chancel, and the floor is raised to the same level as the chancel.  I don't think anyone in my present choir would care too much, either way.  I don't mind use of special language, as it is a chance to share some knowledge and learn about where our customs have come from.
on September 23, 2014 8:08pm
You could always meet in the middle and call it the Chanceluary choir, or perhaps Sanctuancel choir..
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 24, 2014 9:57am
IMHO, in most cases it seems to be simply a case of attaching an ecclesiastical term to the the name. Cathedral seems a bit of a stretch for a church that isn't in fact a cathedral, but there are some churches that call themselves cathedrals when all they seem to mean by it is very large church. Chancel and sanctuary are synonyms when referring to the specific area within a church, but the latter has, of course, a wider range of meanings. I suppose one person might prefer chancel because it's the traditional term in a particular denomination, or maybe just because irt sounds nice or is easier to type than sanctuary, and nothing wrong with that. It generally isn't necessary to differentiate it from, say, the north transept choir. For many churches, just calling it "the Choir" might be sufficient, or, when appropriate, "the  [name of church] Choir." In any case, it won't affect the quality of the singing much.
on September 24, 2014 12:44pm
As Nan Beth Walton contended, and speaking from a Catholic perspective, chancel and sanctuary are not synonymous.
Actually, I don't think it matters much what a director wants to name the choir. I suppose one could name them the Balconey Choir, if that's where they were located. Or maybe the Narthex or Vestibule Choir, if that's the area in which they would be located. Of course, we know they wouldn't. The point is that I believe far too much is being made of this. Directors should be able to use whatever name is decided on. I do agree with your point that "just calling it 'the Choir' might be sufficient, or, when appropriate, 'the (name of church) Choir.' In any case, it won't affect the quality of the singing much." You make an excellent point.
on September 25, 2014 5:18am
Good Morning to All:
Many, Many thanks for this great discussion regarding the proper choir name, it has been extremely enlightning to me to see the many diverse opinions.  I guess the bottom line, for me, is "you pays your money and you take your choice" and that is a good thing. We have an excellent Minister of Music (Rev. John Moore) a good choir, getting better, would be even better if we could get more Basses (tough, being the "other" Bass) and of course you can always use "more" Tenors. Again, Thank You all for your wonderful input.
on September 26, 2014 9:08pm
I greatly admire the great Russian choirs and love their sound.  Apparently they don't share America's struggle for basses.  Unlike here, there singing is quite appropriate for the macho male and the basso profundo is the bomb!  There's nothing sissy to them about singing tenor or even contra tenor either.  Oh well.        
on September 25, 2014 10:54am
With today's wide variety of church architectures I like a simple name like "the choir of (church name)."   If there are multiple choirs it still only makes sense to me to have names like "chancel, gallery, sanctuary, etc." if that is the distinguishing location from which they sing.  It's true the "sanctuary" is not the whole interior of the building but the area where the alter is located and the priest stands for eucharist.  The "chancel" is the whole area which includes the sanctuary and the area in front of it where, usually, seating is provided for the choir and clergy.  That division of the chancel with seating is, oddly enough, called "the choir."  So there you have it.  Yet MORE confusion!!!!  If we're talking about "The Choir of St. So and So's" church...are we discussing people or architecture?  Oh bother!  Sometimes I can imagine God standing with Gabriel on a Sunday looking down at all our doings.  Gabriel nudges Him and asks, "Lord, where did they got all this?"
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