How should choir music be notated to best suit how conductors need to conduct, to make it easier for singers to follow the conductor?
I see at least two issues here:
- what are the beats that the conductor conducts?
- how many beats to the bar?
As for what should be the beats, there is of course a lot of scope for variety in what is a sensible speed (in beats per minute). But there are limits. We don't mark MM=240 because we don't need conductors to wave their arms around frantically like a windmill, and slower beats are good enough to establish the tempo.
At the other extreme we don't mark MM=30 because it's hard to get a feel for the pulse; moreover, the music would presumably entail quite a lot of subdivisions of the beat, and the more subdivisions the composer calls for, the more work the singers have to do to work their rhythm out. Is it OK to call for a BPM which entails the singers dividing the beat into 4 or 6, or should I instead call for beats 2 or 3 times as fast so that the beat is only divided into 2?
How many beats to the bar? If the song falls naturally into three-time, that's easy. But how to choose between 2 and 4?
I'm thinking of choral carols (not hymns!) for church in Britain, but answers that also apply to orchestral and band music would be good, too, to help future readers.