What Are the Elements of a Speech Choir?

By Chris Magyar
Speech choirs were common in ancient Greek plays.

Speech choirs are performance groups that recite speeches in unison, often with elements of choreography and costuming to help bring the speech to life. Much like musical choirs, dynamic -- volume -- range, expression and accurate coordination of syllables are all important for a successful performance. Speech choirs date back to ancient Greece, where they were an integral part of most plays.

Members

A speech choir is typically the same size as a singing choir, having anywhere from 12 to 100 members or more. However, most schools and competitions feature choirs of 25 to 40 members. The choirs typically are divided into groups based on the members' natural speaking voices. Females with naturally high voices or young females comprise the "light" group, females with deeper voices and young males or males with high voices comprise the "medium" group and males with deep voices comprise the "dark" group.

Pieces

Selections are typically poems or poetic passages, such as from Greek dramas or Shakespeare's plays. The conductor gives some thought to the passage, breaking it into parts that, for example, only the "light" voices recite or strong passages that are voiced by all the members. Facial expressions and intonation are also carefully planned, so all the members can practice in unison. Solo parts for specific members can add dramatic effect.

Choreography

Choreography of movement is not a necessary component for a speech choir. Many successful competition choirs recite their pieces while standing in place with their hands at their sides, attention directed solely at the conductor. However, in the Greek tradition, speech choirs marched from side to side in alternating patterns called "strophe" and "antistrophe." Thus, movement is part of the rich history of speech choir, and some conductors choose to choreograph elaborate movement to accompany their pieces.

Costuming

As with any other performance art, thought should be put into how the speech choir will dress. Costumes can be as simple as matching outfits or robes, such as a vocal choir would wear, or elaborate theatrical garb. Plain uniforms allow the audience to concentrate on facial expressions and allow the choir to recite several very different pieces in one performance. However, a themed costume for a single piece can highlight its meaning or help to differentiate between voice groups.