Composer — Ruth Watson Henderson Voicing + performing forces — SATB a cappella Call Number — 4205 Level — Difficult
The Missa Brevis by Toronto composer Ruth Watson Henderson surely belongs to an exalted list of the most influential choral music for unaccompanied choir in the Canadian choral repertoire. Written in 1976 for the Festival Singers of Canada, under the direction of founder Elmer Iseler, one of Canada's initial professional choirs, for whom Henderson was the accompanist, this setting of the 'shortened' mass text (no Credo) presents a truly varied and at times stunning sound palette which, although sometimes demanding in terms of singers' ability to absorb dissonance in the collective sound, is very carefully crafted so that no vocal part encounters extremes in range. It runs to about 12 minutes in duration. Most impressive in my view is Henderson's sensitive response to the intent in the text of each section, from the quiet expressiveness in the Kyrie and Benedictus movements to the truly jubilant exclamations one finds in sections of the Gloria as well as in the Hosanna section of the Sanctus movement. One of the most 'goose-bump' moments in this beautiful setting occurs at the end of the quietly intense Agnus Dei section at the end of the Mass, where Henderson transitions from some dissonant writing to an ethereal setting of the Dona nobis pacem in the (amazing!) key of C# major! Much of the work is scored for SATB, with the Gloria movement requiring SSATBB divisi, and the Hosanna needing divided Tenor parts. As mentioned above, one needs to consider this work as one of the "top 10" a cappella choral works in Canadian choral music, very doable for a good university or youth choir as well as adult chamber choir.
Composer — Bob Chilcott Voicing + performing forces — 2 Part + piano Call Number — 5071 Level — Easy/Medium
The older group of the GPRC Oriana Girls’ Choir sang this piece last year. It is so beautiful; consisting of two contrasting melodies and an additional descant in the final verse. The melodies were very accessible to the choir and easy to learn. The choir sings through both melodies in unison and then sings them contrapuntally, creating this rich harmonic structure. The students also connected to the words which enabled them to sing with lots of emotion and expression. I will definitely use this selection again in the future.
Composer — Ivor Martin Voicing + performing forces —Treble Unison Call Number — 4069 Level — Easy
The Vagabond by Ivor Martin is a beautiful unison composition perfect for a young children's choir. It's lyrical, beautifully written melodic lines (and equally beautiful piano accompaniment) tell the story of a vagabond who wanders from place to place with no place to call home. This does not make him unhappy however, as this is the life he loves to lead. It is the people that he crosses paths with and are touched by his spirit that are sad when he must depart, a-wandering forever more... This is a perfect song for any developing children's choir: secular in nature, with a most beautiful melody and text, written perfectly to sit in children's head voices.
Laudibus in Sanctis is a kaleidoscopic setting of Psalm 150 by the Latvian composer Uģis Prauliņš. As the resident composer of Edmonton’s professional choir Pro Coro Canada, it’s no surprise that Prauliņš likes to push the choral medium to a new level! Laudibus in Sanctis is almost symphonic in its choral writing, with independent voices intricately weaving together to create a complex texture. The music is eclectic, showing influences not only of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony, but also modern rock music. The final Hallelujah section is powerful and emotional, building in intensity for nearly two minutes towards an ecstatic final cadence. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because you may have already heard this piece! It was masterfully performed at Edmonton’s Winspear Centre by the National Youth Choir of Canada, with conductor Michael Zaugg, as part of Podium 2016.
Composer -- R. Murray Schafer Voicing + performing forces — SATB Call Number — 4207 Level — Medium
Epitaph for Moonlight by R. Murray Shafer is an excellent choice for so many different reasons. Are you looking for something Canadian? Want to explore more unusual elements of compositional style and/or notation while still allowing your group to retain some sort of toehold in the familiar? Want to have a teaching score (in this case, intervals as well as independence of voices) We programmed this piece in our first concert of the year on the theme of “Light”, but it could just as easily have been part of concert #2: “Dark”. While written for a youth choir, it was ideally challenging for an auditioned community group of a wide range of experience and abilities.
Composer — John Rutter Voicing + performing forces — Treble unison and 2 part Call Number — 4887 Level — Easy
Magical Kingdom is a charming, high quality contemporary piece about the lands where dreams come true. Children will embrace the theme of imagination, wonder, and make believe. Opportunities for learning and exploring storytelling, creative expression, diction, dynamics, and style are abundant. Although it is listed as two part, the majority is unison and the harmony is fairly simple. Highly Recommended for upper elementary and junior high treble choirs!
Composer — Traditional Tamil Song Arranger — Arranged by Stephen Hatfield Voicing + performing forces — Treble or Mixed Voices Call Number — 4134 Level — Easy/Medium
The Stephen Hatfield setting of Ödi Ödi - a Tamil folksong - is a breath of fresh air, and also arranged by a Canadian! Using contrasting groupings in 7/8 time to juxtapose upper and lower voices, the composer has the lower group singing almost entirely in 2+2+3, while the higher voices are 3+2+2. The pronunciation guide is clear for both those familiar with IPA and those needing some explanation. Our choir is mixed voices, but the setting is equally suited to treble ensemble. The text is a saying or proverb that lends itself well to themes such as possibility, light, insight or growth: “Untold millions of people run and run, constantly seeking, grow desperate and die looking for the light that is within them.”
Composer — Traditional Shaker Tune Arranger — Arranged and Adapted with additional lyrics by Rollo Dilworth Voicing + performing forces — SATB (with minimal divisi), accompanied Call Number — 4896 Level — Easy/Medium
Rollo Dilworth's The Gift to be Free is a great piece to start the year with a mixed choir. The melody is familiar to most and provides an opportunity to teach phrasing and restraint. In his arrangement, Dilworth has added gospel-style harmonies the gives choristers the opportunity to learn about stylistic colour. While the piece is rhythmically simple, there are great teaching opportunities related to precision and moments of silence. My choir has a lot of beginner singers in it and this piece has been incredibly unifying. This is a great piece for teaching choristers how to listen and feel in harmony and time simply.
This is a lovely setting of a folk song, including 4-part canon in one section; set In Hebrew and English; very lyrical piano writing and a wonderful (optional) flute part. We (Excentrica and Excentrica Women's Workshop Chorus) used it for Christmas and it could fit many situations. Easy for an accomplished chorus; a reasonable challenge and very satisfying in effect for singers with less experience; text and music overall very moving. [e – e’] range, aeolian mode (natural minor).
Composer — Daniel E. Gawthrop Voicing + performing forces — SATB/a cappella Call Number — 4151 Level — Easy/Medium
“Sing Me to Heaven” is one of my all-time favourite mixed choir selections. Not really for beginning choir, it is definitely accessible by more mature, experienced high school choral groups. The text speaks to the power of music and the composer reflects on how we seek solace in music during the various chapters of our lives (“If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby…. if you would win my heart, sing me a love song…. if you would mourn me, sing me a requiem…”). The melodies are accompanied by delicious harmonies and there are many opportunities to work on phrasing and rubato. High school conductors are encouraged to seek out this piece, dig deep, and enjoy!