By John C. Hughes
Choral musicians enjoy a wealth of literature spanning more than five centuries. With the tremendous amount of compositions from which to choose, programming a concert can easily become overwhelming. I’ve found choosing pieces based on the anniversary of world events or composers’ birth and death dates not only helps me narrow my search, but is also an incredibly useful tool to help students contextualize music within history. Consider programming these or other works by Britten, Dello Joio, Dowland, Hindemith, Poulenc, and Verdi. Because 2013 also marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg, I’ve included several pieces to commemorate the Civil War.
Benjamin Britten (Boosey & Hawkes)
2013 marks the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth. While he may be best known to choral musicians for his “War Requiem” and “Five Flower Songs,” Britten also wrote wonderful music for younger voices. His setting of this Suffolk nursery rhyme is whimsical with an imaginative piano part. Students will enjoy this piece’s lightheartedness and silly text.
This is a wonderful introduction to the music of John Dowland. Celebrate the 450th anniversary of his birth by programming this interesting madrigal. Students will enjoy the beautiful homophony and be challenged by the brief “echo” passages. This adaptation is also available in a three-part mixed voicing.
“Tell My Father”
Frank Wildhorn (Hal Leonard)
Two important events of the Civil War will be remembered in 2013: the Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg. Remember them at a concert by performing “Tell My Father,” from The Civil War: An American Musical, which received a Tony nomination for “Best Original Score” in 1999. The text is written from the perspective of a fallen soldier, making this piece very powerful. It not only offers an opportunity to feature a soloist, but also calls for an optional violin part, which, if feasible, would certainly add to the character of the piece. Audiences will be very moved by a performance of this wonderful work.
2013 will mark the 450th anniversary of John Dowland’s birth. Liebergen’s arrangement of this madrigal not only introduces male singers to the madrigal style, but also has a piano part to reinforce the harmonies. “Say Love” is an excellent teaching piece, and singers will enjoy the simple melody and rhythmic vitality.
Arr. John Purifoy (Hal Leonard)
“Oh, Freedom!” not only incorporates three important Civil War melodies (“Oh Freedom,” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic”), but also draws words from the Emancipation Proclamation, making it a perfect piece to commemorate the 150th anniversary of that important document. With a Gospel-inspired piano part, not only would this piece serve as a wonderful concert closer, but it also would help inform your students of a key part of American history. It is also available in SATB and SSA voicings.
Z. Randall Stroope (Heritage)
Legacy is a brand new piece by Z. Randall Stroope, written especially to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Its dissonant and dark moments balance nicely with grand, lush harmonies. The piano part adds a sense of boldness and power. This piece would certainly create an emotional climax at any concert. It is also available in a TTB voicing.
In 2013, it will have been 200 years since the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s birth. Taken from his opera Nabucco (1842) and based on the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon, “Coro di Schiavi Ebrei” (“Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”) offers a chance for choirs to sing a very famous opera chorus, as well as to sing in Italian, though the foreign language element is not necessary. This piece has been a standard in choral literature for a long time, and for good reason!
“Come to Me, My Love”
Norman Dello Joio (Hal Leonard)
Norman Dello Joio is among the great American composers of the twentieth century, and 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. Dello Joio expertly captures the mystical and dark qualities of Christina Rossetti’s poem, “Echo.” With a dramatic piano part, lengthly a cappella sections, and frequent chromatic movement, this piece requires significant time and skill; however, its powerful climax, followed by a haunting repose, will have a lasting impact on performers and audiences alike.
Paul Hindemith died in 1963, making 2013 the 50th anniversary of his death. A renowned composer and teacher, Hindemith is known for writing challenging yet rewarding pieces. Each of the six chansons is quite short and is strictly four parts; however, the independent lines and obscure harmonies require advanced training. The poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, in French, creates lovely, picturesque vignettes. It may not be necessary to do all six pieces; perhaps choose a few to create a shortened set.
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Poulenc’s death. Poulenc is, at times, remembered for loud, brash music. However, his “Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël” are works of sublimity, depth, and complexity. They require well-developed skills in tuning, ensemble, and range. While difficult, once learned, the beauty of these pieces is intoxicating. Instead of doing the entire set, choose one or two. My favorites are O Magnum Mysterium and Videntes Stellam.
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 pursuing the D.M.A. in Choral Conducting and Pedagogy at The University of Iowa, as well as serving as a music director at a church in Iowa City. Please contact him directly at his website: www.johnchughes.com.