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Church Choirs and the Aging Voice

I am a grad student at Indiana State University. As part of our Choral Literature course we are to post a question, but regardless of the assignment I am intrigued by this topic.
My question(s) for the choral community: When working with a church choir, which often has older members, how do you go about picking your repertoire? Older voices, especially in untrained singers don't sing as high or as loud as one would want. What composers or repertoire do you look at? Likewise, what pedagogical exercises or issues do you address in the church choir rehearsal scene, given that it is usually a volunteer-based choir and not a lot of time to address what students learn in an academic setting?
Thank you for your insight in advance!
Katrina Welborn
Replies (12): Threaded | Chronological
on November 5, 2015 4:27am
Good question, and quite timely, Katrina.
Many of my colleagues will undoubtedly have different thoughts on this topic, but this is what has worked for me for over 15 years...
My sopranos have a tough time singing beyond an F at the top of the treble staff, so I avoid anything that goes to an A. When we do have Gs I resort to my vocal training to show them what works for me. My only regular alto has been the only alto for many years, so she needs to be reminded to tone it down for balance sake at times. I do have a bass with an extremely deep voice who needs to be reminded that air and energy are needed to keep him in tune.
I am the youngest singer (47) and the only tenor, so male high notes are not a concern for me.
As far as repertoire goes, a lot of new pieces have limited ranges, so I'd suggest perusing publisher catalogs, such as Hope and finding pieces that work for both you and your singers.
on November 5, 2015 12:12pm
F at the third bar below the five lines is hard to sing not only for sopranos but even for alts. But A is easily sung by all of them inspite of their age.
Am I not right?
on November 6, 2015 9:30am
I was speaking of sopranos at the top of the staff. My alto has no problem singing below the staff.
on November 5, 2015 5:48am
Hi, Katrina--This is a common situation that Michael Kemp has been addressing.  Googling "Michael Kemp aging voice" brings up, among others:

Best wishes!
Pearl Flamberg
on November 9, 2015 9:40am
Thank you!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 5, 2015 8:08am
Katrina, I am an aging (55) church choir director who has dealt with this issue a lot. I benefited greatly from attending the ACDA national conference in Salt Lake City and attended the sessions on the aging voice, and the voice session by Dr. Ingo Titze of the National Center for Voice and Speech. You can probably find materials from these sessions on the ACDA website. The most helpful exercise we learned was the straw exercise for rehabilitating a weakened voice, or just strengthening any voice. Essentially, you sing into a straw, starting with simple easy tones, and building your range and endurance, as you would any vocal warm-up. You can sing entire songs into the straw (no words of course). You can hear an immediate difference if you have the choir sing some piece, then have them sing it into their straws, then have them sing it again normally. The back pressure that the straw creates, causes the vocal folds to vibrate in their full depth, causing the person to develop a full mixed register and strengthened support system. You can find more about this online. Dr. Ingo Titze is on youtube demonstrating this, and you can find info and more videos at I keep a straw in my car and do this while I drive. I encourage all my singers to do this too.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 5, 2015 8:18am
An excellent resource regarding some of these issues is sing Better As You Age   by Victoria Meredith.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 5, 2015 10:06am
Thank you for caring about the older singer!  One of the challenges with older singers is balancing sophisticated knowledge and sometimes experience with declining physical ability, including loss of range, diminished breath support, and loss of muscle tone in the vocal mechanism as well as in their body.  I have found that great, classic, basic choral repertoire is satisfying because of its quality, yet is not too demanding.  A good example of what I am referring to could be found in a choral collection such as "Master Choruses" or in many of the more accessible choruses from Handel's works.  It is also possible to stretch the older voice with patient training with breath support and good posture.  Some of the best "exercises" can simply be a small portion of the piece you are currently working on sung on a neutral vowel with good breath support. Using portions of the music as vocal exercises will help the chorus not to think you are "wasting their time," (although we all know that it is no waste of time to warm up the voice properly--it is necessary!)  Some of the wobbly tone can be improved with good support.  Another help is having younger singers come alongside the older ones to provide vocal energy, example, and leadership in tone.  Some of my most faithful choir members are 75+ and can produce a beautiful sound with loving leadership!  Best wishes to you!
on November 5, 2015 12:31pm
"Aging voice" is harmful only for solo sigers. In chorus it sounds as very nice hue or tinge or color for to give proper mood and sound for the voice of youngsters.
"Oldies but Goldies"!
However I convinced that some ingenious youngsters (not all of them) give an impuls for oldies. It is a mutual process. Is not it?
on November 9, 2015 9:43am
Yes, some of the most faithful choir members are 75+ and work so hard! Thank you for the insight into exercises for this age group. It's definitely important that there is purpose behind the warmups and exercises and making that known to the choir members so they don't passively do the exercises.
Thank you!
on November 12, 2015 8:55am
Model and teach good vocal technique, including excellent, energized posture.  Breath support (management) is an elusive concept, especially for untrained singers, so expect to be teaching it forever.  Encourage all of your singers to drink plenty of water, exercise (especially aerobic), and sing every day.  Remind them to keep their brains and vocal mechanisms continuously engaged while they sing.  (Auto-pilot doesn't work for their voices or the music.)  Do not assume that your older singers will lose their high notes and don't assume that they can't regain them if they seem to have lost them.  Don't dumb-down your music.  Include pieces that stretch their vocal technique and their musicianship.  Keep your expectations high. 
'Aging' soprano and choral director
on November 12, 2015 8:23pm
Hi I have been a church choir director for years, but also conduct a retirement home choir and have worked in nursing homes as a choir/sing-a-long leader. All of these ideas are great, and I want to emphasize the importance of a good warmup. I find they have to work harder to sit up straight (some really cannot stand), and we usually start with physical stretches which open up the chest, then breathing deep, then singing slow 5 notes down then up. I work hard to start and end exercise on the same note, then have them listen, audiate, breathe, then phonate when I move to the next note. They need to find their own good sound, mezzo-forte, sort of in a talking range. I usually start fairly low and go lower, on A major, down to maybe F Major, then move up by half step, to about D or E Major, on Mee-Mee-Mee . . . Then I do some fast arpeggios (on Tah Tah Tah . . .) going up, and take them pretty high, to A at least, letting anyone who wants drop down an octave. Then we do some slow arpeggio type things, or scales, and blossom on the high notes by holding and crescendoing. Also, messa di voce is great training. About 25% of my one hour rehearsal is warmups, and after a few minutes of working on their own voice, i ask them to begin to listen and blend with their neighbors. One of my ladies is 91 and she vocalizes right up to Bb. A bass in his 60s has some great low notes, and sopranos in their 60s still have the high notes for singing in choirs but sometimes not much stamina. Generally speaking, I have found that women's voices drop lower and men's voice raise up higher when they get into their late 80s and 90s. Hope this helps.
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