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A piece to introduce a church choir to Classical Music

Hello!  I'm a director of a very small (10 people on a good day) church choir and I'm trying to find a piece we can use as a "goal" to work towards.  (I have to make a presentation on a measurable goal that I've set for the choir to the church board).  I'd like to do something within the Classical realm since the group is mostly used to singing just Protestant hymn arrangments.  
I'm preferrably looking for something in English, maybe Latin, with organ or piano.  I was thinking an old work of English polyphony, like Tallis or Byrd, or possibly Handel?
The choir is all pretty good readers, but we have a stronger men's section than women's.
Any and all suggestions are appreciated!  
Replies (20): Threaded | Chronological
on April 13, 2014 5:25pm
What a wonderful idea!  Here’s a few to get the ball rolling:
“Ave Verum Corpus” by Wm. Byrd
“Almighty and Everlasting God” by Orlando Gibbons
“Sing Unto God” (from “Judas Maccabaeus”) by Geo. F. Handel
“Credo” (from the “Nelson Mass”) by Franz Jos. Haydn
“If Ye Love Me” by Thomas Tallis
“Give Almes of thy Goods” by Christopher Tye
“Pueri Hebraeorum” (or at least the “Hosanna Filio” section) by Tomas Luis de Victoria
on April 14, 2014 6:32pm
Thanks for the suggestions!  I just sang the Nelson Mass not long ago so maybe I will revisit that!
on April 14, 2014 6:45pm
Just took a look at that Gibbons and I love might have found the perfect piece for them!  
on April 13, 2014 6:25pm
The first thing that comes to mind is Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus. It's easy yet beautiful. You can do it with organ or piano or strings. You could do it in the original Latin or with an English "translation" or with another English text (I've got a version that sets the Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing text to it).
Tallis' If Ye Love Me would be another good one. It's normally performed a cappella but you could double parts with organ, or even piano.
As far as Handel goes, there are some easier Messiah choruses: And the Glory of the Lord, Glory to God, Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs, and and Since By Man Came Death would all be nice.
I'm curious, does the choir sing any more recently composed anthems that aren't hymn arrangements? I'm talking like original compositions by John Ness Beck, Jane Marshall, Warren Martin, Joseph Martin, Mark Hayes, Cindy Berry, Mary McDonald, Lloyd Larson, Gilbert Martin, John Purifoy, etc.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 14, 2014 6:35pm
I have a version of Ave Verum Corpus in the files but it is an old arrangement.  I will have to do some searching and see what I can find-thank you for reminding me of that!
I will look at the Messiah choruses-only thing I'm a bit worried about is the difficulty level.  Since we have such a small group, I often have to split people on parts who aren't super comfortable singing alone.
I just began the job and so I'm still getting familiar with their files.  However, the last few directors didn't order much new rep and so everything is at least a decade old.  I'm looking to get a budget for new pieces if you have suggestions!
Thanks for all your great help!
on April 14, 2014 8:48am
I assume that you say Classical, you simply mean prior to the 20th century?  Several of these are Romantic or Baroque, hope that's okay.
I had a similarly-sized choir to yours, and successfully did these pieces:
Lift Thine Eyes (Mendelssohn, from Elijah, I think)
Ave Verum Corpus (as mentioned)
Da Pacem, Domine (3 part round)
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach)
I've also successfully done the Tallis canon with children, so that might be a good way for you to introduce your choir to polyphony.
on April 14, 2014 6:36pm
Sorry, yes, that is what I mean.  

Is the Tallis canon you're referring to "Da Pacem, Domine"?  That sounds like it would be a good fit!  
on April 16, 2014 6:57am
The Tallis canon is a different piece altogether - there are several different texts that have been set to it.  The one I've used is in "150 Rounds for Singing and Teaching" (
Da Pacem, Domine, is also in that book, and the setting I've used is by Melchior Franck - you can find it on CPDL.  My middle school choir performed it last year, and it was a great piece for working on vowel shape and phrasing.
on April 14, 2014 10:23am
If you want to keep it simple and lively, how about "Sing a Song of Merry Christmas", set to Mozart, arr. Walter Ehret. It's a round which makes it even easier to sing.
on April 14, 2014 11:15am
In that situation, I would invest in a set of "The New Oxford Easy Anthem Book." It is an outstanding collection.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 14, 2014 6:38pm
I'm just getting familiar with sacred music so I've never herad of this-this looks awesome!  Thank you!  I will definitely look into it!
on April 14, 2014 11:17am
Hello, Kelsey:
I, too, started a church choir of about the same size and make-up.  We had some early favorites:
(Most of these are very common; you may hear them by putting the title, the composer, and Youtube in your search engine).
Ave Maria (Vavilov, att. Caccini)
Hallelujah, Amen from Judas Maccabeus by Handel
Ave verum corpus (Mozart)
Cantate Domino (Pitoni)
Chester (Billings)
Cantique de Jean Racine (Faure)
Veni, Jesu (Cherubini)
O Maria, diana stella (15th c. frottola anon.)
Elijah Rock - (Hairston)
For the beauty of the Earth - Rutter
Give me Jesus (Fleming)
Gloria (Vivaldi)1st mvt.
Hush! Someboy's callin' my name (Dennard)
Jesu, joy of man's desiring (Bach)
Let my prayer come up into thy presence (Purcell)
My Lord, what a mournin'  (Dawson)
Noel We Sing (Dacquin/ DeCormier)
Psallite (Praetorius)
Sanctus (Deutsche Messe) (Schubert)
Shalom rav (Steinberg)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 14, 2014 6:41pm
I had forgotten about the Cantique de Jean Racine, thank you!  I will take a look into these!  Not sure of the denomination/cultural makeup of your choir, but did you have difficulty teaching them Latin pronunciations?  
Thanks again!
on April 15, 2014 4:30am
Hi Kelsey,

Some other very worthy pieces, along with many already mentioned are Edward Elgar's setting of "Ave Verum Corpus" and Mendelssohn's "Verleih uns frieden".

God bless,
Michael Sandvik

Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 16, 2014 4:43am
I know you have and will receive suggestions from others re: the Mozart AVE VERUM CORPUS (Jesu, Word of God Incarnate).  Let me add my voice to theirs. A few others might include:  JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING by JS Bach; A VIRGIN UNSPOTTED by Wm Billings; ABENDLIED (EVENSONG) by FJ Haydn; DAVID'S LAMENTATION by Wm Billings.  Good luck in your search.
on April 19, 2014 7:31am
Hi Kelsey
If you are interested in learning aid to help with the transition, I have excellent part-predominant teaching tracks, featuring professional singers, to the choruses of Handel's Messiah, Bach' Magnificat (probably too difficult) and Vivaldi's Gloria on my web site. CDs of all the choruses can be found at this link:, or you can search the catalogue by individual song title.
Best wishes! With all the excellent suggestions made by others, your choir is in for a treat!
Jim Taylor
on April 20, 2014 4:25am
I just did "Cast Thy Burden Upon the Lord" from Mendelssohn's Elijah with a small choir and they learned it in one rehearsal.  Another one from Elijah, "He That Shall Endure to the End" is beautiful and accessible also for introduction to classical music.
on April 20, 2014 8:04am
May I suggest looking at the suggested repertoire list for middle school/Junior high for any state that has one?  You will find them on Pepper's website.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 20, 2014 12:25pm
For a Christmas-Advent Cantata, I'd suggest Bach's "For Us a Child is Born" .  Most of the melodies are simple - the accompaniment carries most of the "coloratura" (fancy stuff) and the immediately-apparent rhythmic liveliness, but the melodies are well-led by the accented beats.
I remember doing it successfully in high school, with a very small group - not too many music-readers -  and piano/organ accompaniment.    (Thank you, Director Frances Fowler Slade - brave, but wise choice for your first or second year!)
When I searched it, this Choralnet discussion also came up:  (which might prove helpful)
Best Wishes!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 21, 2014 8:50am
Dear Helsey:
  Latin and Catholicism became a product of my Portuguese heritage.  Later in life, I became a Unitarian Universalist, so I have a perspective of several religions.  It never occurred to me that languages could become a problem, so I taught that way, and sure enough, even if some people were hauled into this strange new world of sounds, they eventually became adept at learning various pronunciations (even in English "There is no "r" in mercy, and the vowels are non-nasalized in Wisconsin), albeit with constant, gentle reminders.  The UU choir has sung in French, Spanish (two dialects), Hebrew (2 dialects), Arabic, Italian.  Some of the choir members remained for over 30 years, so I guess no permantent damage was done!!
So please, teach the pronunciations to rookies (Want to hear a travesty?  Sing O bone Jesu in English!)
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