Choral Speaking for Advent Readings

This information about choral speaking came from Gerry Hendershot during our October 2016 roundtable on Advent and Christmas planning resources.


My contribution to the discussion of Advent planning was “choral speaking” of lectionary readings.  I learned about this liturgical practice in a course at Wesley Seminary in DC taught by Frederika Berger, then a professor of liturgical arts.  It was once very popular in schools and churches in the U.K., and is still popular in some parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia.

There are many styles of choral speaking, but all comprise scripted and rehearsed performance of a poetic text by multiple readers. Here is a short example:

As the example shows, a few readers with a little practice can create a dramatic effect.

We have done choral speaking of Advent scripture at Pilgrims (www.churchofthepilgrims.org) about eight times since 2001.  I have been the director during those years and have honed a process that works for us. Here is a script that illustrates how the lines of scripture passage can be divided, assigned to speakers, choreographed, and spoken.  The format is cryptic, but I explain it to the readers.

I have found that we can do successful choral speaking at Pilgrims with as few as four readers, and as few as two short rehearsals—one after worship the week before, and another before worship on the Sunday of performance.  If your congregation is small, like Pilgrims, it may be difficult to line up readers the first time.  But my experience is that once they do it, they are eager to come back.  After doing it a few years, we have a “stable” of willing readers.

Choral speaking is one way to include poetry in liturgy.  With my partner Nancy Arbuthnot at Western PC in DC, we promote use of poetry in liturgy, education, and spiritual formation.  Our web site is www.verseandvision.org and we have a Face Book page.