One thing I know for sure is that no one choir director is like another. All choirs are just as unique. Music must be chosen to not only suit the occasion but to suit the singers. I am not an arranger as I find that writing arrangements a very pedantic exercise. It is a very good thing that there are people who love to arrange pieces for choirs to sing. Now, if you are not a musician who enjoys arranging the music, let's talk about how to find just the right music for our choirs.
I remember once saying to a choir director something about how a huge choir had a great sound. He said that when you had that many voices it wasn't as important to get the notes right as the largeness of the sound covered a myriad of sins. It is more work in a large group to keep everyone on time on the attacks and cadences.
With a smaller group then not only must starts and stops be perfect but the harmonies are right out there in detail. It is most important to work on the harmony and balance. Knowing that, choosing the right arrangements of songs is paramount. If the song is too intricate it may not be worth the time it takes to learn. If the piece is not one your singers really enjoy, you may discard it or work on it a bit and come back to it. We have done just that with a number of pieces. When we came back to them, they had a different feel because they had some knowledge of them and the songs came along more quickly. Even Kristy has grown to love Banks of Doon and the tenors have almost forgiven me for Over the Rainbow. Tee, hee.
It is most important that the singers understand why music is written the way it is. When they know why there are dissonances and resolutions they are much more able and willing to work through the hard bits.
The only nod to arranging that I make is that sometimes we will slow or speed a piece or section according to the meaning and the sound we feel makes it work. Oh yes, there are times when those attempts are laughed at by all. Others are accepted with a sigh of relief when it feels that much better to sing. A few times we have had to change notes in a chord where the originals seem to make no sense.
Anytime we change an arrangement we are very aware that we must honour the composer's intention as we know it. We would never change an arrangement substantially because, you remember, I am not an arranger. We would make only small changes helpful to us in presenting the music more singable for us.
If more changes were needed, then we need to get a new arrangement.
Yes, we can use creative license to make the music better. I think it is important to know your singers and be willing to firstly choose music that suits your choir and secondly to challenge the singers. Too big a challenge will make them feel at odds, but too small a challenge or in my view, too much music that is the same, creates dull songs and eventually a lack luster group.