Choruses

As a follow-up to our discussion about whether Southern Gospel songs need bridges, let’s look at a different question. Do Southern Gospel songs need a chorus?

Back 200+ years ago, in the days where Watts and Newton defined hymnody, choruses were unheard of. Today, it’s probably a conservative estimate to say that at least 95% of Southern Gospel songs either have a chorus or are (only) a chorus.

To what extent does a song in our genre need a chorus? Singers, do you only cut songs with choruses? Songwriters, have you ever written and pitched songs without chorusesโ€”and what was the result?


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30 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Music is now a major commercial enterprise…CDs, radio, live concerts, etc. Choruses are good for giving fans something they can easily remember and attach themselves to. And when fans do that for your songs, it inevitably makes you money.

  2. Do SG songs need choruses?

    Of chorus. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I think they need a course, but they need verses to go along with the course. If it’s seven words you want to hear repeated 15 times or more then it’s another type of music, no criticism to those who like to stand for 20 minutes and sing the same words off the wall.

  4. I think choruses are a good idea if you want your song to be memorable. That doesn’t mean it’s required to make it a good song, just that if you want it to stick with people, if you want them to be able to carry it home with them, you need a chorus. For example, I love the song “Through” by the GVB, but I do have trouble remembering it because it’s a bit meandering. I suppose it technically does have a chorus, but there’s nothing that comes back and gets repeated. It’s basically a continuous lyric that just starts and then…just ends. Now don’t get me wrong, I think this song is light-years ahead of plenty of other SG songs with a more accessible format, but I think the best case is a combination of quality and accessibility.

  5. Oh yeah, and I would also add that it’s a completely different story when you’re talking about a “praise chorus.” One of the ways to write a truly awful P & W song—make sure your chorus has no more than four distinct words, so that by the time your audience is done hearing it, they want to scream.

    • Case in point: “How Great is Our God”

      • Actually, that’s one of the few P & W songs I actually *can* stand. But I agree that the chorus is hardly inventive. I mostly like it for the verses. But there are much more annoying praise songs out there.

      • I’m sure there are ones that are more annoying . . . at least I’ll take your word for it!

        I won’t go so far as to say I dislike all P&W – after all, great songs like “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” and “In Christ Alone” have come out of P&W.

        Oh, and by the way, neither have choruses. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Absolutely. But those songs are the exception, not the norm.

        Incidentally, the master-mind behind those songs and that style of music in general is Keith Getty. You might already know this, but he and his wife are a Northern Irish couple who have been reviving the art form of hymns lately, writing new hymns in an attempt to bring some quality to the music of the church. I think you would really enjoy their stuff. Here’s a fascinating interview with them:

        http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/preachingworship/worship/withonevoice.html

        And here is their website:

        http://www.gettymusic.com/

        Their stuff isn’t exactly SG…but if you like doctrinally rich songs with a Celtic twist, try the Gettys!

      • Yes . . . because of the doctrinal richness of their lyrics, they are one of only two or three non-SG artists I listen to with any regularity (the others being Steve Green and Michael Card).

      • Have you tried Fernando Ortega? Very similar to Michael Card—smooth, low-key vocals, deep lyrics, and beautifully understated music.

      • Stylistically, I love him. I did buy one of his CDs about ten years ago – the one that had “This Good Day.” About half the songs were secular, and since the key thing I look for is Biblically sound, thought-provoking lyrics, that was the only Ortega project I ever purchased.

      • May I recommend The Shadow of Your Wings: Hymns And Sacred Songs. A 2006 project we received as a Christmas gift this past year. The entire CD is composed of either hymn settings or scriptural meditations. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest pieces of art to come out of CCM—ever. It is one of a very few projects I have where I literally love every single track. Lyrics and music flawless, production exceptionally rich. And great backup singers—Vince Gill and Alison Krauss both make guest appearances among others.

        Go get it!

      • Sounds neat – if I come across it at the right price, I’ll pick it up. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Well…does $9.98 seem reasonable to you? Because that’s what it’s currently going for at Amazon. I’m not on your budget, but at 13 songs plus a bonus track I’d say it’s a great deal!

    • For an artist I’m not too familiar with, I’d generally go for about $7 or $8, counting shipping. For artists I know, I’m not opposed to paying full price.

  7. As I said before, the modern worship movement is filled with good music. Unfortunately, there are quite a few bad songs that are not worth singing at all. If anyone would like to hear some of the songs that are worth doing, please check out the songs and artists listed below (search for them on YouTube). These songs are hardly “7/11” songs. Rather, these songs are singable and of good quality, both in terms of artistry and theological soundness.

    Chris Tomlin– Mighty is the Power of the Cross

    Paul Baloche– You Have Been So Good

    Paul Baloche– Your Name

    Tommy Walker– Only a God Like You

    I encourage everyone to listen to these songs and be open to the reality that God is working in the hearts of those who listen to and worship through this style of music.

    • I would add “Mighty To Save” to that list as well. Newer song, but surprisingly good.

      • Absolutely. I can’t believe I didn’t add that to my small list! Great song.

      • I can think of a LOT of good worship tunes that aren’t 7/11 style (really – those are FEW and FAR BETWEEN).

        Check out:

        “Revelation Song” (Phillips Craig & Dean/Kari Jobe)

        “How He Loves” (David Crowder Band)

        “Indescribable” (Chris Tomlin)

        “You Alone Can Rescue” (Matt Redman)

        “All of Creation” (MercyMe)

        “Glory to God” & “Salvation Is Here” (Lincoln Brewster)

        “Jesus Saves” (Travis Cottrell)

        “Glory to God Forever” (Fee)

  8. In every genre of music, especially immediately following its inception, there is a proliferation of music produced, both good and bad. Time has a way of letting the cream rise to the top. This is true in classical, pop, rock, southern gospel, blues, jazz, praise & worship, etc. How many thousands of pieces were composed by contemporaries of Mozart that are no longer played or sung? How many convention songs have never been recorded or popularized since the turn of the 20th century? Same goes for praise & worship. There are great songs out there and a lot of not-so-great songs and a lot of really bad songs. I don’t think we should be bashing any genre if we haven’t allowed time for the cream rise to the top.

    • The only counterpoint would be if the case was made that some of the most popular P&W songs (especially of the 90s) had weak theology.

      It’s one thing for a forgotten song that never got published to be poor. If the most popular songs in a genre are poor, that is different.

      • Very true! I was only speaking from a musical/compositional standpoint. A church music director’s (or soloist’s, or group’s, etc.) first filter should ALWAYS be theological accuracy. After that comes the musical potential.

      • Got it. Thanks for clarifying! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Regardless of the particular genre, the chorus should be the glorious, powerful and reassuring conclusion to the issues raised in the verses. The writer hopes to have the singer and audience reach the same conclusion, hopefully through sound rationale.

    • No question that’s what a chorus should do, when there is one. Have you ever written a song without a chorus?

      • Yes. And I’ve written songs that are only choruses. Not every song fits traditional structures.

      • Interesting!

  10. The great thing about art is that rules are made to be broken. I’m much more interested in whether or not a song makes a lasting impression than whether or not it fits a certain form.

    As with most commercial art, though, music tends to bow to certain trends. The bridge, the chorus, etc. are neither good nor bad. What’s bad is when you go through a stack of CDs or a stack of new choral music, and every song fits tidily into three or four categories that are more or less boring.

  11. Years ago when I was but a youngster I was talking with the pianist / music director (or maybe he was just pianist then) and we got into some music theory. He made a comment about parallel fifths being a “no no” in writing. I told him about my first song I wrote as a teen having them in the chorus. He said that was fine, music theory was just that “theory.” In retrospect I would probably change the C chord before the move to the D chord to an a minor now.