By John C. Hughes
The rich combination of men’s voices is a unique sound in all of music. Performing these rewarding pieces will further spark a lifelong love of singing within your tenors and basses. Singing men’s music also helps develop singers’ aural skills as they experience hearing the melody and harmonies in different locations than in a typical SATB piece. You don’t have to have a dedicated men’s choir to perform these works; simply divide your mixed choir and do a men’s piece and a women’s piece. In the next issue of Choral Director, I’ll recommend some of my favorite women’s pieces. As always, feel free to get in touch and share your favorite pieces with me.
This original Christmas tune by Vijah Singh, who also wrote the text, is a wonderful addition to any seasonal concert. The piece, which includes optional snare and tenor drums, allows the singers to perform with vigor. A full, sonorous tone should be maintained throughout the piece’s various dynamic levels. The two-part harmonies are a good introduction for beginning ensembles. Next December, consider programming this upbeat, fun piece.
Donald Moore’s arrangement of “The Chariot Spiritual” is full of energy and fun. Combining an upbeat tempo and catchy melody, both singers and audiences will enjoy this piece. The piano accompaniment adds gospel style without detracting from the voices. A brief call-and-response section can feature one or more soloists. Make sure to pay attention to the dynamic shifts, which can add a lot of excitement to your performance. Various levels of ensembles, from beginning to advanced, will succeed with this arrangement.
Many choral musicians are familiar with Finzi’s “My Spirit Sang All Day,” but little of Finzi’s music is widely known beyond this one piece. This is unfortunate because he was a gifted composer. “Thou Didst Delight My Eyes” is for three-part, unaccompanied men’s choir. A successful performance of the work requires significant intonation skills, extended ranges, and an attuned sense of ensemble. Many of the piece’s rhythms are derived from speech and are further complicated by a pervasive sense of rubato. That said, the lyrical melodies and beautiful poetry by Robert Bridges are expressive and moving.
Johannes Brahms, adapted by Z. Randall Stroope
Originally a solo art song, choral pedagogue Z. Randall Stroope adapted Brahms’ serene “Mainacht” for TTBB chorus. The melody and piano parts are preserved; additional choral parts are simply added. Brahms’ lush harmonic language and Christoph Hölty’s poignant text make this a very moving piece. Although this art song will always be standard repertoire, Stroope’s choral adaptation is wonderful because it allows more students to perform “Mainacht.” This piece is also available for SSAA ensembles. Significant information about Brahms and Hölty, as well as a score preview are online
“O Captain! My Captain!”
Part of John Leavitt’s choral cycle “American Song,” which features American poets, “O Captain! My Captain!” is an exhilarating setting of Whitman’s famous poem. An extended metaphor, the text refers to Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War. The boisterous piano part, fast tempo, and quick text recitation contrast with slower, contemplative sections. Feature a talented baritone on the expressive solo in the middle of the piece. Leavitt’s setting is also available for SATB ensembles.
In this piece, Diane Loomer beautifully arranges the Canadian folk singer Allister MacGillivray’s heartfelt song for men’s voices. The triple meter and lilting rhythms conjure scenes of a sleepy fishing village. (Men’s voices and texts about the sea seem to naturally complement each other.) Although there is some four-part writing, much of the work is unison or two-part. An arpeggiated piano part accompanies the singers. Choristers will really enjoy rehearsing this piece because of its tuneful melody and pictorial text. Loomer’s arrangement is also available for SSAA ensembles. Score and audio previews are available online.
Another nautically themed piece, this famous arrangement by Shaw and Parker has long been part of the choral repertory and for good reason. As one expects from Shaw and Parker, this arrangement balances inventiveness with familiarity. More and more, young men (and audiences) are unfamiliar with these kinds of folk songs. There are some challenging sections in this piece, but it’s worth programming. Introduce the next generation to the fun of singing sea chanteys. A score preview is online.
Z. Randall Stroope
It is hard to imagine a tune fitting Frederick Edward Weatherly’s beloved poem, “Danny Boy,” better than “Londonderry Air.” However, Z. Randall Stroope has successfully set the poem with an original tune. His new setting captures the text’s sincere and expressive elements. Stroope’s dramatic piano part, mournful oboe accompaniment, and lush harmonic writing are certainly impactful. Although this piece presents some technical challenges, such as very high tenor parts, the sectionalized form allows the conductor to be very expressive and draw out the music. A score preview is online.
Daniel Monek and the Marietta College Choir originally commissioned Chatman to compose an SATB setting of this piece. The composer later arranged it for TTBB and SSAA ensembles. Chatman captures Sara Teasdale’s deeply emotional poetry through stirring melodies and rich harmonies. The ranges, long phrases, and significant divisi make this work only accessible to advanced ensembles. Conductors will enjoy exploiting subtle tempo and dynamic variations, but this too requires an expert ensemble.
Stanley M. Hoffman dedicated this choral arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise to the renowned Cantus Vocal Ensemble. The lower choral parts accompany a soloist, who sings Rachmaninoff’s haunting melody. The accompaniment parts are sung on a neutral syllable and should work together as one instrument. A high tenor or a soprano could sing the solo line. If you have a local voice teacher, it might be nice to feature him/her because the solo requires significant skill and artistry. Not for beginning ensembles, the choral parts divide into seven parts at one point. Hoffman’s arrangement is also available for SATB ensembles.
John C. Hughes is a versatile choral musician and pedagogue, drawing from experience as a K-12 teacher, collegiate conductor, and church musician. Presently, Hughes is a candidate for the D.M.A. in Choral Conducting and Pedagogy at The University of Iowa and serves as music director at a local church. Please contact him directly via his website: