This month, I highlight recent choral arrangements of various “American” genres. Our musical heritage is a broad one, and includes many genres. These include, but are not limited to, Bluegrass, Native American, Shaker hymns, African American spirituals, Sea Island spirituals, Gospel, Jazz, Broadway, Stephen Foster, William Billings, early psalmody, Civil War songs, and more. The broad category that I call “American Heritage” is a favorite of arrangers, publishers, and educators. Space does not allow for all of the choral arrangements released recently, but the ones included below are among the best. Exposing our students to the broad musical heritage of the United States is an important part of their cultural education.
Cluck, Old Hen (North Carolina Folk Song, arr. D. Poole) Alliance
This is a fun arrangement for SA and piano. Though in minor, it is upbeat and fun to sing: lively, rhythmic, and syncopated with a jaunty melody, and funny lyrics. Great for elementary choirs, but would work for junior high treble groups as well. Visit www.AllianceMusic.com to view a score sample.
Skip! Skip! Shoo, Fly, Shoo! (arr. M. L. Lightfoot) Heritage
Your audience will love seeing how much fun your students will have singing this piece. Lightfoot weaves together three tunes into a composite that loosely resembles both a partner song and a medley. The three songs employed are Shoo, Fly, Don’t Bother Me, Skip To My Lou, and This Train Is Bound for Glory. They are combined in unexpected ways that charm the ear. The vocal parts are at times independent, and other times homophonic (almost entirely oblique motion), making this a good selection for beginning choirs. On top of all that fun, students get to clap, stomp and shout. For SA and piano. Visit www.Lorenz.com for score and audio samples.
The Fox (arr. M. V. Marsh) Colla Voce
The publisher classifies this as SAB, but the range of the male voice part is more in line with Three-Part Mixed voicing. Accompaniment is piano only. The melody and words are both fun to sing. The melody gets traded about between parts. The text tells the story of a fox who raids a farm (it gets slightly gruesome, which your boys will likely enjoy!). The arrangement has moments of theatricality that middle schoolers will take to, including two verses in the parallel minor. If available, double the piano left hand with pizzicato upright bass for added effect.
Bright Morning Stars (Kentucky Folk Song, arr. J. Althouse) Alfred
A mesmerizing addition to any concert, and sure to be a favorite of your singers. There are several fine arrangements of this Appalachian tune available, but this is more than just the latest one: it is a truly fine choice. Simple, but not simplistic. Expressive, but not sappy. Available for SATB and SSAA; both are unaccompanied, and both are worth strong consideration. Good for any size group, including chamber choirs. Visit www.Alfred.com for score and audio samples.
Hey! Ho! Fiddle-Eye-O! (arr. E. Rentz) BriLee
Your girls will love to tell the story of a wife and husband who switch chores for a day. (of course, the wife “wins” the competition of who does more work in a day). The text is cute and humorous, and the audience won’t be able to keep from smiling. Scored for SSA and piano. The score as well as performance, accompaniment and part-predominant mp3’s available for free download at www.BriLeeMusic.com.
“Down Home” Gals (arr. E. Rentz) BriLee
This medley weaves together three American folk songs (plus another from Jamaica!), each about a different “gal.” It is scored for TTB and piano. As with all Earlene Rentz scores, this is full of rhythmic, melodic and harmonic interest. Dr. Rentz has provided one of her “Rehearsal Prep Sheets” on the inside front cover; these help the learning process go much more smoothly. View entire score and hear a beginning-to-end performance at www.BriLeeMusic.com, where you will also find accompaniment and part-predominant mp3’s for free download.
Also strongly recommended:
#149; “Montana Cowgirl (Coyote Song)” by Susan Brumfield, pub. Colla Voce.
#149; “Old Paint” arr. Lon Beery, pub. BriLee.
BROADWAY AND JAZZ
Pick Yourself Up (arr. S. Zegree) Hal Leonard
This Jerome Kern classic from the 1930’s Astaire-Rogers film “Swing Time” is a perfect fit for young singers. It is scored for 2-part chorus and piano accompaniment. Originally about having two left feet when dancing, it takes on a slightly different flavor when sung by kids. However, it may be appropriate for any age, fifth grade and higher. There is a simple scat section at one point, but it is written out and intended for the whole ensemble. In the scene from the movie, the song is heard twice: first sung by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and the next is instrumental as the duo dance. Both are available on YouTube, and could be played in class. To see a couple of pages from the score and hear a snippet, visit www.HalLeonard.com. A pain-free introduction to jazz by one of the masters, Steve Zegree.
The Way You Look Tonight (arr. M. Huff) Hal Leonard
Another Jerome Kern standard to introduce young singers to the jazz style. This one is from the same film as “Pick Yourself Up” (above), and is certainly the better known of the two. This clip is also available on YouTube, as are clips of many other performances of the song. Because Michael Bubl