How Do You Select Literature for Your Choirs?   

“Who would have thought that a little assignment for a choral methods class would still be around more than forty years after it was written!” exclaims MENC member and retired choral director Willard Minton as he recalls his criteria for choosing choral literature. “This list I prepared for an undergraduate class assignment still helps me make decisions about the music I place in front of my choirs.”

Minton’s guidelines:

  • Does the work have a worthwhile text? Sometimes the most beautiful music has the most horrible text, and vice versa. Are there any “taboo” subjects or words? Do the words inspire or in any way make us feel there is value in repeating them?
  • Is the piece well written? Does it stand up to musical analysis (harmonies, rhythm, etc.)? Some music is poorly written. We have only so much time to do so much music – shouldn’t that time be spent on something good, rather than something trite or “junky,” or which is musically insulting?
  • Is the piece within the realistic grasp of the group? Constant attention must be paid to the level of difficulty of a piece. All groups need to be “stretched” occasionally, but most ensembles will respond better to music that they sense will be attainable. Just what do I want to teach by using this selection? Another factor is the amount of rehearsal time available to prepare the work.
  • Will the piece be received well – does it fit the needs and expectations of the listeners as well as singers? Will the choir be able to sustain its enthusiasm for the piece over the length of time necessary to learn it and perform it? Ideally those who listen (the audience) should enjoy the work as much as the choir does. Any group must remember for whom it performs.
  • Other factors: Is the work accompanied or not, and if so, by what instrument? Are there soloists? How does the piece fit into building the concert program  – is there a variety of styles, keys, historical periods?  Is the piece worth spending the money on and adding to your choral library? Will you perform it more than once? Is this one of those pieces that just reaches out and grabs you and says “Sing me!”?


Minton is happy for others to copy his list, or to change it and create guidelines that work for you. “Once you find a set of standards which helps you provide the best possible music for your students, stick with it and reap the benefits!” he says. “Your choirs will thank you sincerely!  We owe our students the best possible material with which to work.”

Willard Minton is retired from public school teaching and remains active as the director for the senior choir at his local church in Connecticut. Excerpted from Spotlight on Teaching Chorus.
–Sue Rarus, April 15, 2008, © National Association for Music Education