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Christmas in July

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Happy Holidays!Here are a few holiday favorites (and some you may not know). Believe it or not, it is already time to plan your next holiday concert. Here are some ideas for chorals for worship and/or school use. Happy Holidays!
– Drew Collins, forum editor

SATB
Great when sung by any sized group. It is an American hymn found in early shapenote hymnals. The tune name is Prospect, and more commonly sets the hymn text, “The Lone Wild Bird.” Stephen Paulus used the tune to set an original text by living Minnesota poet/librettist Michael Dennis Browne for chorus (“The Road Home”). Check out the recordings of Johnson’s arrangement by the National Lutheran Choir and St. Olaf Choir. If you haven’t yet done this piece, this is the year! Sacred. Unaccompanied. English.

Berkey’s setting of this Australian favorite is haunting. Scored for SATB with harp or piano, it is not very difficult, but will really add something special to your holiday program. Solo soprano is featured at length. I highly recommend it. Sacred. Accompanied. English.

This setting of a Susan Palo Cherwien text for SATB with piano is heartfelt, expressive, and lovely. Helgen is best known for writing for the church choir, but this piece will work in many contexts. Definitely worth a look! Sacred. Accompanied. English.

There are many available arrangements of this popular tune, including some reviewed in past issues of this column. Covey-Crump has a fresh and well-crafted take on the melody, harmonizing it in a unique way, and using texture and tonality to shape a mini-drama around the text. Sacred. Unaccompanied. English.

Here is a challenge for the capable concert choir. Changing and complex meters help Stopford give new life to these traditional words. The difficulty level is high, but if your ensemble can handle it, it will bring a breath of fresh air to your next holiday concert. Sacred. Unaccompanied. English.

Michele Weir is one of the premiere names in vocal jazz arranging, largely due to an impeccable track record for quality in that genre. Whenever I see her name on a chart, I buy it for my files. This particular publication features three secular carols for unaccompanied quartet or chorus: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and Jingle Bell Rock. Do one per year, or all three this year. Each arrangement is accessible, well written, and fun. Secular. Unaccompanied. English.

2-PART AND UNISON
Alf Houkom is a wonderful composer for the choral medium. In this case, he has applied his talent and skill to a unison choral texture, something too few contemporary composers are willing to do. This arrangement is perfect for processionals for adult male, female, and mixed choirs, and is also appropriate for younger singers. Scored for unison chorus, flute/recorder, and organ. Despite the meter, the author suggests that it be conducted alla breve. Sacred. Accompanied. English.

This simple arrangement partners an original melody with the popular French carol, making it accessible for singers new to harmony. The piano part is easy to play, and can be easily adapted for Orff instruments. The arrangement also features optional finger cymbals and a hand drum part that could be played by singers (or a couple of band students you are hoping to recruit#133;). Illustrate the text in a unique way by doubling each vocal line with flute or recorder. Secular. Accompanied. English.

A thoroughly lovely melody that never fails to capture the ear and heart of every listener. The scoring in Ross’ setting is extremely flexible: 2-part chorus (treble, men, or mixed), piano or harp, and optional flute. Sacred. Accompanied. English.

SSA
Porterfield’s melodic approach is in stark contrast to the now-standard setting of this text by John Tavener. But this version makes William Blake’s classic text available to younger singers and treble choruses in a practical, lyrical setting that allows the voice to sing freely. The flexible scoring is for 2-part Treble (optional SSA), with a piano part that could easily be adapted for harp. Sacred. Accompanied. English.

If you and your singers are up for a mild challenge, look no further than Paul Carey’s arrangement of “I Saw Three Ships” in 5/8. Every now and then, Carey changes to 6/8 or 7/8 for a bar or two, then goes right back to 5/8. Then, in the fourth verse, he slips into 6/8, exploring the outer reaches of that meter. The piano part manages to be a ‘sacred sea shanty’, if there is such a thing, and there is an opportunity for an SA duet (in parallel fourths!). There is an orchestration for rent from the publisher. Sacred. Accompanied. English.

“Alleluia!,” a little Christmas cantata for youth voices published back in 1978, has several charming moments. One of them is the third movement, “Balulalow.” Unfortunately, this movement is not currently available separately, although this author has suggested as much to the publisher. It is a challenging selection for the capable SSA choir, being in 5/8 meter, Phrygian mode, and middle English. The harp part is idiomatic to that instrument, and so adapting it for piano may not be the best option, though technically it is possible to do so. Despite all of these challenges, it is a high quality work with interest for the singer and listener, and has gone unnoticed by most. Sacred. Accompanied. Middle English.

TB
Earlene Rentz is a class act when it comes to writing for young voices. Her spirit and personality come through in every dynamic and articulation. Your boys will enjoy singing this number, and sound good doing it. The voicing is TB. Secular. Accompanied. English.

Here is a little known melody from Austria for TBB and piano. English and German texts are both provided. Sacred. Accompanied. English/German.

Forum editor Drew Collins is a choral musician and educator living in Ohio. He currently conducts choirs and teaches Music Education courses at Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio). He is in demand as a clinician, festival conductor, and consultant. He has several compositions and articles in print. Contact him directly at Drew@DrewCollins.com

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