Unison and Two-Part Choral Anthems: A Rationale
The Episcopal church that my wife and I serve has many "pluses":
- a faithful choir of 12-15 members (many aging—as am I!—but good singers)
- a lovely 19th-century neo-gothic building with good acoustics
- a three-manual pipe organ that is well-suited to the worship space
- a dedicated priest who is beginning to attract new members.
The church is located in New England, and that's where its "minuses" lie. Together with the Pacific Northwest, New England is the most "secularized" region of the United States. Our church seats 300 people; perhaps 75 people are present at worship. The majority of our choir members are among the church's core membership. Each of them has other church responsibilities in addition to the choir. That limits the amount of time and energy they can dedicate to the choir. Furthermore, the size of the worship space (its peaked roof is about 75 feet high) hinders the choir from filling the room with vocal sound.
The limitations I've just described have made it advisable for us to sing either unison or two-part (men/women or ST/AB) anthems. In a large space, six people singing each of two musical lines creates a more convincing musical sound than 2-3 people singing each of four parts.
Composers and music publishers have provided us with some two-part musical gems—but far too few to supply a three-year cycle of anthems (determined by the three-year lectionary adopted by the Episcopal Church). The solution: arrange or write unison or two-part choral anthems!