Toolkit: Start a Chorus



The singers play a major role in the repertoire selection process. Research has shown that people usually are most emotionally attached to the music they heard between the ages of 12 and 25, and this rings true with the songs most often requested by our singers. Younger music directors will need to become familiar with music of the relevant time period and be open to suggestions from the singers. Music directors should know and become familiar with a wide range of music styles and genres. Establishing a theme for each performance (for example, “Friends & Family,” “An American Sampler,” or “Peace, Love, Joy”) will provide some structure to the program.

In addition to the factors that would guide the selection of repertoire for a typical chorus, the music director will want to consider these factors in choosing songs for a chorus that welcomes people with dementia:

  • Familiarity of the song. A familiar song will be easier to learn; an unfamiliar song will challenge and inspire the singers
  • Availability in desired vocal parts (typically three or fewer parts)
  • Appropriate difficulty level
  • Ease in adapting to meet singers’ needs (for example, transposing to a lower key or simplifying harmonies)
Try to have at least 80% of the repertoire be familiar to most of the singers. The performance repertoire is usually 8-10 songs. Each rehearsal session covers 4-6 songs during the learning phase.

Knowing how much and how often to challenge the chorus is one key skill of a successful music director. As the chorus rehearses, certain pieces may be too difficult or not work well for some other reason. In these cases, it may be necessary to delete or add pieces to the repertoire. Some singers may find it difficult to adapt, so keep changes to a minimum and try to take care of all repertoire changes within the first week of rehearsals.

Suggested music


The right mix of simple and more complex arrangements challenges the singers to reach their potential without frustrating or tiring them. Our chorus has had fun with rounds and partner songs. Simple movements can serve as memory triggers and add total body engagement. Two-part harmonies are easiest to teach, but published arrangements are not always voiced for adult men and women. When challenged to learn three-part songs (SAB), our chorus has had remarkable success. Some editing, transposing, shortening, or adaptation of an arrangement will often be necessary to fit the particular needs and skills of the chorus.

Music and Lyric Preparation

Copyright rules generally require that the chorus purchase one octavo score for each singer. It may be necessary to buy or prepare large-print versions for some singers.

Some singers will benefit from a lyrics-only version of the sheet music. Others might prefer printed music showing only their part (S, A, or B) rather than all the parts.

Music Notebooks

Each singer receives a personalized three-ring notebook of sheet music in the format that works best for that singer. The notebooks include the complete version (music and lyrics—all parts) of each song and a lyrics-only version, each marked with corresponding measure numbers, and any other specially adapted version prepared for the singer. A song index is in the front of the notebook and colored numbered tabs separate the songs. Singers take their notebooks home to practice during the week between rehearsals.

Music/Lyric Sheet Example

Practice CDs

Part-specific practice CDs can be an extremely helpful learning tool for singers. Under the direction of the music director, a male singer, a female singer and accompanist record each song and prepare separate versions emphasizing each SAB part. Each singer receives a copy appropriate for his or her section and uses it to learn and sing along at home.

Copying sheet music, and performing or recording music of any kind composed by another person, raise questions about copyright laws. While some traditional tunes and older classical music are in the public domain and are available for use without permission, copying the printed (paper or electronic) versions or recordings of that same music usually requires permission of the copyright owner. Additional information about music copyright is available on the MTNA Copyright Guidelines for Music Teachers website. The Choral Public Domain Library includes an extensive collection of choral works that are not subject to copyright restrictions and are available for free.

Suggested Music

Songs that have been popular with the Minneapolis Giving Voice Choruses are listed below. Some arrangements were modified to make them more singer-friendly. Sheet music is available online, including a wide selection of music (on ChoralWiki) you can download free of charge.

“I Love the Mountains” Traditional round
“Down by the Riverside”
arr. Barham
“How Can I Keep From Singing”
arr. Althouse
Traditional hymn
“Take Me Home Country Roads”
Denver, arr. Lojeski
Popular song
“Home on the Range” Western folk song
“Lida Rose” from The Music Man
Barbershop quartet
“Walk in the Light”
arr. Thomas
Gospel hymn
“This Little Light of Mine” Traditional spiritual
“Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof
Harrick and Bock, arr. Barnett
American musical
“Ma’Oz Tsur” (“Rock of Ages”)
Hebrew lyrics by Mordechai
English lyrics by Azstrow & Gottheil
Hebrew folk song
“Stand By Me”
Leiber & Stoller, arr. King
Popular song
“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from Oklahoma!
Rogers & Hammerstein
American musical
“Happy Trails”
Evans, Evans, & Rogers
Western folk song