Choir (Gr.χόρος). The Greeks applied the term chorus to a circular dance performed during sacrifices by a company of singers around the altar of a deity. Later it was applied to this body of singing dancers. Actors afterwards were introduced, who related some myth or legend of the deity between the songs of the chorus, thus laying the foundation of the Greek drama. In the perfected drama, the chorus (composed of fifty persons in the tragedy and of twenty-four in the comedy) occupied a position intermediate between the actors and the audience, giving in a recitative manner, rather than in a song, counsel, warning, encouragement, or consolation to the actors.
Similar bodies of singers attended the religious observances of nearly all nations of antiquity. In the Jewish worship they were specially prominent after the time of David, being composed at times of 4000 singers and 288 leaders.
1. In the development of the ritual in the Christian churches, the body of singers received the same name of chorus. The French modification of the word, chaeur, passed into the Norman and early English as quire or choir. The original term chorus is now applied to a body of singers carrying all the parts of music, in distinction from solo, duet, or quartet singers; also to the portion of music sung by this chorus. The two most noted choirs of the present day are that of the Vatican, in which the soprano and alto are sung by eunuchs, and the choir of the Cathedral of Berlin, in which the soprano and alto are sung by boys.
In the English Church, strictly, the term denotes a body of men set apart for the performance of all the services of the Church in the most solemn form. Properly speaking, the whole corporate body of a cathedral, including capitular and lay members, forms the choir, and in this extended sense ancient writers frequently use the word. But, in its more restricted sense, we are to understand that body of men and boys who form a part of the foundation of these places, and whose special duty it is to perform the service to music. The choir properly consists of clergymen, laymen, and chorister boys, and should have at least six men and six boys, these being essential to the due performance of the chants, services, and anthems. Every choir is divided into two parts, stationed on each side of the chancel, in order to sing alternately the verses of the psalms and hymns, one side answering the other.
2. The term choir is also applied in Roman churches to that portion of the church edifice allotted to the singers, nearly analogous to the chancel (q.v.) of Protestant churches. The choir is usually in the apsis (q.v.), behind the high altar, at the east (in the earlier churches in the west) end of the church. It is generally elevated one step above the level of the rest of the edifice. It has at least one row of seats or stalls. When there is more than one row, each row is a step; above that before. it. In this ritual sense of place for the singers, the choir is sometimes, especially in cruciform churches, under the tower or in front of the high altar. Large cathedrals also often have several choirs or chapels for singing mass. In Greek and Armenian churches the stalls for the singers are usually in the nave of the church, to the right and left of the front of the altar. In nunneries the choir is a part of the church, separated from the rest by a screen, where the nuns chant the service.
3. In Protestant churches generally, the word designates the body of singers, composed both of males and females, who conduct the congregational singing, with or without the aid of an organ. The name is also given to the place in the church occupied by the singers. See Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 8, ch. 6, § 7; Bergier, Dict. de Theologie, 1:461.