Alice Parker Week: Precepts for Song Leaders

It’s Alice Parker Week: In addition to being a living legend as a composer and arranger, Alice is a beautifully polished author. Her writings exhibit the same clarity and parsimony of her music. I’ve selected some quotes from her books as meditations for this week.


Use you own most natural, expressive voice. Sing lightly, so you can reflect the most subtle curves of text, pitch and rhythm. Vary the tone for different tunes: “endless, subtle variation” is nature’s law. Require the group to sing lightly. I call this “listening singing” and it’s the opposite of the football cheer. Loudness is not an end in itself. I spend much time quieting people down so that they hear themselves and each other. 

If you teach one verse carefully–to establish just the right tempo and tone, mood and function–you have set up a kind of momentum that should carry through the song. […] By your attitude, keep inviting everyone in the room to participate from young to old, from accomplished musicians to beginners.

Above all, teach the whole. Demonstrate what you want to hear, in listening, focus, sound, appreciation of text. Go for the “sound in the room,” the sound being made right now, here, that would be different if one person left or another entered. Listen so intently that you make everyone hear better. Respond so openly to the suggestions of text and tune that you increase everyone’s awareness. Set the mood and keep it. Find the sound, and don’t let it go.

From  Melodious Accord: Good Singing In Church (GIA), pages 79-80

I want to read these lines again and again and again.

Listen so intently that you make everyone hear better. 

Whether you’re leading a congregation in song, or conducting a choir at any level, it is your job to listen first and foremost, and always respond to the moment.

Do this and your collaborators will leave aching for more.