top of page

Rehearsal Spotlight: The All-Holy

Note: this is the first in a new series of posts focusing on a single choral-liturgical element, with notes about potential pitfalls and rehearsal techniques to avoid them,

The All-Holy is an antiphonal liturgical element presents four challenges for parish choirs:

  1. The priest begins, so the director needs to quietly give pitches based on what the priest does.

  2. It's fast.

  3. It's got names in it.

  4. It's only sung a few times each year (Christmas, Theophany and the first four days of Great Lent come to mind).

There is, however, one important thing in the choir's favor here: it's usually chanted straight (each voice part has a single note in the tonic chord, and only deviates from it on the penultimate syllable of each verse). Thank goodness for that. Even so, we've all heard this sung...suboptimally: the priest chants a verse beautifully and clearly, and then the choir is replaced by the stampede that killed Mufasa.

I find the following tactics very helpful when preparing this piece:

  • It's essential that the priest and choir have exactly the same text. One cannot simply assume this. Before we sing any Grand Compline service, I touch base with the priest for this very reason. There's always the chance that he wants to insert a new local saint. Also, even if there are only minor differences between the priest's and choir's books, it could distract the faithful who are expecting an exact repetition. Furthermore, such differences invite choral chaos, with some singers parroting the priest and others sticking firmly to the printed text,

  • The choir needs guidance on pronouncing unusual names of saints or places. For example, some people say "CHRYsostom", while others say "ChrySOstom". These are command decisions the director needs to make and clearly communicate to the singers.

  • This piece benefits from both group rehearsal and private home practice, with particular regard to the text. Singers who have difficulty getting the words out are often having this problem because they're moving their jaw a great deal. It's much easier to sing rapid-fire texts when the jaw hangs limply while the lips and tongue do most of the work. There should always be vertical space between the upper and lower teeth. Most singers initially struggle with maintaining a loose jaw; the more they move it during speech, the more they're going to move it during singing, They may not even be able to detect when they're doing it. I recommend a helpful exercise to these singers: move your jaw around to loosen it up, and then sing or speak a line of text with your fingers gently touching your jaw. That makes it easier to detect the movement. It's important to note that singers shouldn't try to physically hold their jaw in place with their hands; this is just a technique to help them be aware of what their jaw is up to.

  • Light, medium-soft singing facilitates a quick tempo and relaxed jaw. Loud, heavy singing does the opposite.

  • Perhaps the most effective tactic for rehearsing the All-Holy is for singers to practice the text at home. Send it to the choir in a group email, or post it on Slack (if you use it, which you should, because it's fantastic for stuff like this.) Ask them to go through it, out loud, at least once a day. They could do it after their morning or evening prayers, perhaps. They don't have to sing it, either, since it's the words that are the real issue here. Just saying the text is fine,

One final recommendation: although the choir customarily sings at the tempo of the priest's chanting, they don't have to. If your priest is a bit of a speed demon (ha!), it's fine for the choir to adopt a slightly more moderate pace (which, hopefully, the priest will pick up when he chants the next verse), It's much more important that the text is clear, crisp and cohesive,

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page