By John C. Hughes
Finding literature to start or end concerts can be daunting, especially given the important roles those pieces play. For the first piece, I always try to choose a composition with which the choir feels comfortable, gives the ensemble a sense of the acoustic, and sets the tone for the entire concert. For the final piece, I look for music that cleanses the audience’s palate and sends them home with uplifted spirits. I’ve intentionally avoided including spirituals. While they make wonderful finales, there are many other repertoire options for these slots on the program. However, for anyone considering spirituals for these roles, please review the previous installment of this column.
“O frondens virga”
Hildegard of Bingen, ed. William T. Flynn
Treble Clef Music Press
Introduce any ensemble to chant with “O frondens virga,” one of the 45 surviving antiphons composed by Hildegard of Bingen. This wonderful edition by William T. Flynn also includes the Magnificat, part of the Vespers office, which Hildegard would have intended to be sung. Flynn’s edition is very accessible with modern clefs and includes significant information about history, performance practice, translation, and pronunciation. A version of the antiphon with an added organal voice is also included in the edition. Singing chant will expand choir members’ understanding of music history, reinforce phrasing and syntax, and teach listening and ensemble. Consider using this piece as a quiet, serene opening to a concert.
“All His Mercies Shall Endure”
George Frederick Handel,arr. Walter Ehret
GIA Publications, Inc.
Taken from Handel’s Occasional Oratorio, “All His Mercies Shall Endure” has long been a favorite in the choral repertoire. Ehret has made a wonderful arrangement for two voices rather than the original four. The voices, both with ranges suitable for many singers, are equal. The piano accompaniment is very straightforward. Enjoy introducing your students to the effervesce of Handel’s “All His Mercies Shall Endure,” which functions nicely as a finale. A score preview is available at the link below.
Jeanne and Robert Gilmore,arr. Susan Brumfield
“Ton Thé” is a whimsical French tongue-twister; the text is nonsensical and very repetitive. Written for two pianists, the accompaniment sets the silly mood. The accompaniment is also available for xylophone and percussion (sold separately). If desired, the SA and SATB arrangements can be combined for a joint performance by children’s choir and mature voices. The French is not to be feared, as it is very short. I’ve used this piece to end a concert, and both the choir and audience loved it! A score preview and audio recording are available at the link above.
Arr. Marshall Bartholomew
Arrangements of sea chanteys have long served as finales for men’s choirs. Although more recent arrangements exist, Marshall Bartholomew’s arrangements should not be overlooked. Also available for TTBB choirs, these chanteys are easily to learn and allow the singers to sing (and even act!) jauntily, which they are sure to enjoy. The three pieces – “Eight Bells,” “Away to Rio,” and “Old Man Noah” – can be performed as a set, or excerpt one as a stand-alone piece.
Songs for Men’s Chorus
Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn
Mendelssohn wrote many of these partsongs to be sung by guests at parties after large concerts. His SATB partsongs are more well known (especially “Die Nachtigall”); however, his TTBB partsongs are less widely explored. This collection contains 17 pieces, each two to three pages long. Individual pieces are easily excerpted and very accessible. Although not often performed, these pieces are valuable for men’s choirs and should be in more choral libraries.
László Halmos, arr. Barbara Harlow
Many choral musicians know Halmos’s “Jubilate Deo,” which is scored for SATB (Santa Barbara). At the request of Bethel University’s Nancy Parker, Barbara Harlow arranged Halmos’s work for treble voices. As Harlow notes, the antiphonal writing can be enhanced by physically separating the parts. The stressed syllables of the text are set in bold, which will help singers perform more artistically. The piece is unaccompanied and has some four-part divisi; however, its melodiousness makes it fun to learn. With a joyful text, this would make a great piece with which to begin a concert. A score preview and audio recording are available at the link below.
“Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden”
Georg Philipp Telemann
Because the lowest voice part is doubled in the accompaniment, this piece can be performed either by an SAB choir or an SA choir. The text is fairly straightforward, but the vocal lines are contrapuntally-conceived and have several melismas, which may require some extra rehearsal. However, the piece is accessible for developing voices. The festive nature of this piece and short duration (two minutes) make it a wonderful way to start a concert. The accompaniment is very flexible; use piano or organ and cello.
“O sing joyfully”
Adrian Batten, ed. Maurice Bevan
Certainly not a new piece, “O sing joyfully” by Adrian Batten (1591–1637) is still worthy of performance today. Its uplifting and buoyant qualities make it a great opener for any concert. It is a wonderful introduction to the polyphonic style, especially given its English text and mostly syllabic text setting. For unaccompanied choir, this piece will develop independent singing, sense of line, and sensitivity to text.
Arr. Eric A. Johnson
Eric A. Johnson has taken a melody from a 14th-century manuscript and arranged it for the modern choral ensemble. The rhythmic drive and dancelike qualities of the piece permeate the entire work, making it a great way to begin or end a concert. Using call and response, canon, augmentation, and inversion, Johnson manipulates the melody in innovative and unique ways that produce an infectious energy. There are some tricky rhythms, especially at the fast tempo; however, these contribute the piece’s exuberance. A score preview and audio recording are available at the link below.
The modern Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miškinis has created a wonderfully joyful piece in “Cantate Domino.” This version is for SAATBB, but Miškinis also produced SSSAAA and TTTBBB voicings of the piece. The work is fairly straightforward with a tranquil middle section bookended by a rhythmic beginning and ending. There is some divisi throughout; however, the voice ranges are comfortable and accessible to many ensembles. It works very well as the first piece of a concert. A score preview is available at the link below.
“Bíonn Siúlach Scéalach”
“Travelers have tales to tell. Cheers! Good health to you!” This setting of a Gaelic text is a wonderful way to raise an audience to its feet at the end of a concert. The drumlike rhythms on percussive syllables, repetitive melodies, and sudden dynamic changes evoke the energy of a large party. The addition of foot stomps and hand claps make Bíonn Siúlach Scéalach far from ordinary. Just published in 2012 by the emerging composer Matthew Erpelding, Bíonn Siúlach Scéalach will no doubt be on many festival and All-State lists soon. An audio recording is available at the link below.
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 music director at The Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City. Please contact him directly at his website: www.johnchughes.com.