Bringing Choral Preview Clubs Into The 21st Century

One issue I’ve dealt with as a music director in a mid-sized rural church is piles of printed music that tend to collect over the years. Every church with even a halfway active music program probably has a similar closet or, in my case, several large cabinets and shelves stacked with music that is too good to throw away, but not quite good enough to actually use. (Seven or eight years ago, I filled up the bottom of the church custodian’s pickup truck bed with music dating back to the 1970s, and we hauled it off to the dump)

One reason music tends to collect is choral clubs. Various music publishers offer clubs at rates ranging from $30 to $100 per year. Most of these come with a coupon that can be redeemed for most of the club price if you make a purchase during the year. Throughout the year, they ship packets of anthems and collections of music along with a CD so you can sample everything.

While I’m not what I’d consider to be a “green” fanatic, it’s worth noting that choral clubs are relatively wasteful models for getting products in front of potential buyers to consider. Most of the music is previewed just one time if at all, and then sent straight to the closet to collect dust. What choral companies aren’t yet offering is a way to preview music online with the same ease offered by a choral club. I’ve only seen a few baby steps in that direction.

LifeWay Worship is offering one of those baby steps. They have a Facebook page called “The Choir Room” where they post videos in a talk show setting and preview new music being sold by LifeWay. A new show is posted each month. While the anthem is being played, they display two or three measures from the printed music rather than showing an entire page. This method serves the dual purpose of making it easier to see on a small screen while protecting their copyright interests. Piecing together all those screen shots to get the complete printed score would be more trouble than it would be worth for someone wanting to avoid making a legal purchase. Plus, the low resolution wouldn’t look very good when they got done stealing it.

This method of previewing music is every bit as good as viewing it on a piece of paper and not nearly so wasteful. Regrettably though, when I went to look up some of the anthems I saw in the most recent episode of The Choir Room at Lifeway’s website, they provide no link to view the video preview there. The only preview option at their actual point of purchase is an audio clip which is too short for me to tell whether the entire arrangement would work for my choir.

Some choral companies offer DVD accompaniment tracks in addition to standard CD accompaniment tracks. Brentwood-Benson provides a video preview of the DVD on some of their anthems, usually with the complete song (EXAMPLE). This is fine for previewing what the video looks like and getting to hear the full song, but it does not aid a worship leader who wants to visually check out vocal part ranges on the score.

I’d love to see all the major choral companies move to offering video previews similar to what LifeWay is offering through The Choir Room, but on the same page where they sell their anthems. They could promote new releases by simply sending out an email every few weeks with a list of titles and links. Those videos would have to be cheaper to produce than all those boxes they stuff every month added to the cost of shipping those boxes added to the fact that it’s all a net loss when any customer redeems a coupon. This 21st century approach to marketing would save all those pieces of product from going to waste in the closet, and go to paying customers instead.

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David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both and David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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  1. Reply March 20, 17:34 #1 Valleta Lanier | eMusicForWorship

    David, I appreciated this article so much… my husband is Gary Lanier, composer/arranger and published with most of the choral publishers. However we have always had our own publishing ministry through the years… Last year we started The concept you have mentioned here is exactly what we have begun to do. Gary believes there should be an easy way to review music online, then purchase downloadable products, thereby cutting down on the cost for churches and the publisher… a win, win situation. We just started developing our choral division for this purpose… Here is a link to one of the newest releases, LORD HOW GREAT YOUR ARE, with a video preview and link for purchase. You will notice we sell only downloadable choral music at on low cost of $19.95 for the church which includes an UNLIMITED COPY LICENSE… downloadable tracks are also available. Hope you enjoy and thank you for the article… encouraging to know that there are some music directors ready to move into the 21st century! LOL!

  2. Reply April 05, 08:39 #2 LeviSJ

    I’ve been watching the archive videos of the Choir Room. There’s some good stuff there, and I really like the way they preview their new songs on there. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Also, regarding the above comment for eMusic, thanks for posting your comment. I’ve found some great music on your site I might try out for our choir.

    David, this seems as good a place as any to ask, so maybe you can help me out.

    I’m new to the choir director thing and I’ve only been at this church for a couple of years, and so far we do things differently than I’m used to. I am accustomed to singing congregational songs and maybe having the choir sing once every couple of months or so out of a separate hymnal or collection of songs photocopied from other hymnals–something different once in a while.

    At my church now, the choir sings every service out of either the red back hymnal or a photocopied collection of about 80 songs, and we rarely do congregational songs. As a result, we have people in the congregation that never sing and, over time, we end up singing the same songs quite often. I’m directing an Easter cantata now (“One Holy Lamb” from Word Music), so I know some of the choir members have a slight affinity for new songs in a choral style (rather than hymnal style).

    But (and this is my question), how do you think I can work in these choral arrangements in so we can do something other than the same 90 or so songs? How does your church do it? I would appreciate any pointers or suggestions.

    • Reply April 07, 11:23 admin Author

      For most services, we sing two or three selections with the congregation from The Celebration Hymnal. In addition to providing the hymn number, we also use a screen for our larger services. This gives people who can read music the option of using the book, while those who only sing melody can look up at the screen. Some people think the screen automatically equals a different style of music, but it can be very effective to get people to look forward while singing rather than burying their head in a book.

      We have a CCLI license.
      That means we pay an annual fee permitting us to display lyrics on a screen, record congregational singing, and even print our own music for the congregational singing. I’m in the process now of creating a second hymnbook for the choir to use. This way, I can put the words on the screen for a song for the congregation to use, while the choir sings parts behind me, and I’m not stuck with just the hymns that are in The Celebration Hymnal.

      Another method I’ve experimented with in recent years is having the congregation simply sing-a-long with a choral recording. Obviously, these can’t be overly elaborate, or you’ll lose the congregation. A good source for this is They have every song from the latest Baptist Hymnal, plus much more. These can be purchased for 99 cents per song with the orchestration and choral vocals. Hearing those other voices helps congregations sing with more confidence. The nice thing about the lifewayworship site is that you can get recordings of songs performed exactly as it’s printed in the hymnal…no extra repeats or “choral” type endings.

      The biggest issue that would concern me if I were in your position is your photocopies. Do you not realize your church is routinely breaking the law? One of the first things I did after being hired was to destroy all photocopied music I could find. It might never be challenged, but if it ever is, the music director is going to be the first one who must answer questions.

      (There is a difference between creating printed music from scratch the right way using a CCLI and simply photocopying songs, by the way.)

      • Reply April 07, 16:51 admin Author

        As a follow-up, Levi and I exchanged a few emails regarding what the CCLI license permits, and I ultimately called CCLI for some clarifications.

        Owning a CCLI license means that, within certain very specific parameters, there are some types of music that can be photocopied. This is limited to hymnbooks and chorus books that are specifically designed for congregational singing only, and the CCLI license number must be added to the printouts. Obviously, the publisher must also be one that has a standing agreement with CCLI to license their songs.

        In other words, as along as Levi’s church is following those guidelines, they are not breaking the law. I didn’t want to leave that point hanging here!!

        I also want to thank Levi for the follow-up emails that sparked this research. I learned something new today. He couldn’t have known at the time, but this information is actually going to save quite a bit of work for me. I am in the process of creating a custom songbook for my church’s congregational singing. I am only six songs into the process with a goal of adding another 100-150. That should go a LOT faster now that I know I can legally use existing hymnbooks as source material under the CCLI license.

  3. Reply April 08, 07:43 #3 LeviSJ

    Thanks for taking the time to help me out, David. I’m glad it helped cut out a good bit of work for you.

    Our pastor and I have a conviction about this, and we want to do it all correctly. Knowing there is a law holds one accountable to it, and I don’t think God would bless our church much if we skimmed over this issue.

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