Choral Lit class suggestions
Sorry it's taken so long, but here is a compilation of the responses I
received to my query, which read:
"I've been asked to teach a choral lit class, for the first time, next
spring. One 3-hour weekly class. It's an elective class in a part-time
certification program in conducting that includes both choral and
I'd be grateful to those who've taught or taken such a class for any
suggestions regarding contents, repertoire and/or structure."
Many thanks to those who replied so generously and expansively.
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Teacher of Conducting, The University of Hong Kong School of Professional
and Continuing Education
* * *
When I was in grad school, we had to take several hours of lit. My teacher
broke each semester down into specific topics, for example, the music of
J.S. Bach, or the Requiem Mass through history, etc. It was a great way to
get really into some specific body of lit!
* * *
One of the most helpful thing to me was the instructor brought in area HS
and MS directors and they shared what worked for them the best and how to
pick literature for their different levels, not just age but ability. That
was over 10 years ago and I still refer to those materials. Hope this is
* * *
a) I have always preferred to go in-depth on a few representative pieces
than to gloss over dozens of pieces. What I would NOT suggest is having the
students give many presentations. I have been in several classes where the
students did most of the research and most of the teaching. As you would
imagine, some things are covered well while others are not at all.
b) I think one should begin with major works that every choral director
ought to know: Messiah, Brahms Requiem, Beethoven's masses, a Haydn mass or
two and the Creation, Britten War Requiem, Verdi Requiem, a Bach Passion
and maybe B minor mass, Mozart Requiem and C minor mass, Palestrina Pope
Then, of course, there are the pieces that are only slightly less
significant: Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms, Bach Motets and Cantatas and
Magnificat, Bruckner masses, Verdi Quattro Pezzi Sacri, Handel Coronation
anthems and other Oratorios, Berlioz Requiem, Mendelssohn
Elijah, Schutz, Montiverdi...
I could go on for pages and of course I've left out the entire French
Baroque repertoire and most of the Renaissance, but I would compile a list
like this of what I though was most significant and try to get through a
discussion of two or three of them every class. It would take careful
planning as you could easily spend three hours on the Bach St. Matthew
Passion and I expect you would want to cover more than 12 or 13
works during the semester.
I don't know how you feel about recordings, but you might have the students
listen to the pieces for the following week and have a few questions for
them to answer to aid your discussion.
With regard to order, I think if you can find some firm connections, you
shouldn't feel obligated to go chronologically. You could do a Haydn
Mass followed by Beethoven's Mass in C and then his Missa Solemnis to show
the development in the formsomething like that.
These might not be great suggestions, but I feel like I would do well in
course set up this way. If you try to cover everything starting from
Gregorian Chant and ending with Adams or Part you aren't likely to cover
anything thoroughly and the students won't know what the really
important things are. If you tell them "we're going to study the most
significant choral music ever written" and start with the 4 or 5 greatest
works of choral art, then the students will have something to latch onto.
* * *
I took choral lit with a good teacher and conductor. And I knew church and
classical concert choral lit upside down. But I didn't receive any
evaluative help in selecting choral literature for children. A lot of young
children's choral lit is pitched too low, it would have been useful to have
a strategy to teach concepts successively, AND most importantly, I was used
to adult SAB literature (as well as SATB) BUT adult SAB DOES NOT WORK in
Ranges are both too high and too low for boys. I didn't know about the
difference between SAB (adult 3 part or approx 2 women to every man) and
middle school "Three-Part Mixed." (Boys' ranges from about e below mid c to
e above). And some ideas about keeping the boys singing together whether
changed or unchanged (depending on the size of the ensemble) would have
SO the point is, since many will be teaching kids, it is important to
evaluate strategies for selecting and adapting repertoire for kids, and how
you will organize and teach your chorus to achieve them.
* * *
I teach the same class. Through my research, the ONLY(?) appropriate text
out there is Ulrich's A Survey of Choral Music, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
Inc., 1973, ISBN: 0-150584863-1.
It's a good book and used with correlating recordings, it works well.
* * *
Be sure to look at these ChoralNet resources:
choralnet.org > Education > Syllabi for Choral Courses
choralnet.org > Reference > Books > Choral Music History
* * *
Given what you describe as the focus of the class, I would cover repertoire
that would be useful in churches and schools, as this seems like the kind
of people that you will be teaching. You might consider covering some of
the "minor masterworks" such as the Shubert Mass in G, the various choral
works of Vivaldi, the smaller Haydn masses, and the like. Works that would
be accessible to amateur singers and yet worthy in terms of the quality of
text setting, musical values etc.
* * *
Try "The Choral Experience" by Ray Robinson. This should be a standard in
every choral conductor's library, no matter what age.
* * *
I am a member of a women's advocacy group (a part of IAWM) for equity in
female performers and composers.
As a choral composer, I just want to urge that you give women choral
composers a fair representation of your discussions. If you need repertoire
suggestions, you can consult IAUM with a post.
* * *
I teach two different choral lit classes: one for undergrad choral music
ed. majors headed most lkely for elementary and secondary teaching, and one
for choral conducting grad students and undergrads with a strong background
and/or work ethic.
The undergrad course is more of a choral lit and methods course, which
means we have to address things like basic rehearsal organization, setting
up a choral program, audition techniques, and some physical conducting,
though ideally most of the gestural stuff is addressed in another course.
With all of that it is challenging to get into any depth on the lit. side.
Usually, I will organize by genre and introduce a set of 5-8 "standard"
pieces that I think all choral ed students should know for each form. Then
the students will have an asssignment to bring in 2-3 more pieces each in
the same form (i.e. early motet, contemporary motet, european folksong,
non-euro folksong etc...) The pieces should be in a variety of voicings,
and levels. Each student will introduce a piece and lead the class in a
short rehearsal of it several times through the semester so that the
students have a familiarity with a decent breadth of music. The goal is
that by the end of the semester the students will come away with works
lists of high-quality standard repertoire. I ask them to photocopy the
first page of music so that they have a reminder of the piece and also the
publisher information in front of them. Then they do a short standard
annotation for each piece noting the difficulty, for whom it is
appropriate, the range, and any other pertinent information. They then put
all of this in a binder that they turn in as a final project at the end of
the semester. Realistically they don't know each of the pieces in their
binder, but at least they have a resource that they can turn to in their
hour of need (i.e. their first teaching job).
In the undergrad class we have used various texts. The one I have liked the
best so far is by Garretson. I don't remember the title off-hand but I
think it is something generic like "Choral Conducting."
In the grad class we go much more in depth and are solely focused on
literature. I alternate the class between sacred and secular lit- this past
time was sacred. We did units on the mass and requiem mass, the motet,
oratorio/cantata/passion, smaller forms (Te Deum, Magnificat etc..) and
spirituals. Each lesson was about six 75-minute class periods that included
listening to and reading about standard works for homework, discussing
their elements in class and the dreaded "drop the needle" game at the end.
The students also prepared two presentations each on a composer of their
choosing and his/her choral output. We started each class with the
presentations- they are quick 15- minute shots of info with a handout that
they can take away and keep as a reference. I did my best to schedule
appropriate composers to the unit we were working- i.e. Palestrina during
masses, Bach during cantatas/passions, etc....
In this class we used the Ulrich "Choral Music" as a starting point. It is
organized chronologically, which means if you want to teach along genre
lines (much better in my opinion) then you have to skip around quite a bit.
Still, I think it is much more valuable for the students to have a sense of
how the motet developed from beginning to now in one shot, rather than 6
different cross-sections over the semester.
* * *
A great resource, for both unaccompanied and concerted works, is Ray
Robinson's CHORAL MUSIC: AN ANTHOLOGY, pub. Norton. It makes a very good
starting point, and was the "textbook" for my general choral lit survey.
* * *
You might brouse "the Choral Tradition;" my old edition is very British,
and not so helpful for use as a text, but had some info for teaching those
* * *
There is a great need for an up-to-date textbook on the subject, and an
even greater need for a set of CDs specific to this subject. They don't
exist. I use Homer Ulrich's book, "A Survey of Choral Music" (Harcourt
Brace), which is copyrighted 1973, but have to scrounge to cover the last
quarter of the 20th century. The only other book suggested to me when I was
putting my course together was by someone whose name begins with G, with
about a 1992 copyright. I took a look at it and rejected it because it read
like someone's lecture notes from the 1960s! I also use Ray Robinson's
Norton Anthology of Choral Music because there's a ton of scores in it, but
again no CDs.
The three main approaches I struggled with were: A true survey covering as
much actual music as possible while emphasizing historical context; a
"greatest hits" approach concentrating in greater depth on certain
acknowledged masterpieces; or a choral methods approach based more on
techniques than on the literature itself. My present approach is to
emphasize the Survey while also focusing on specific repertoire, but I
think that for an introductory survey it's important to become acquainted
with a broader swath of literature.
My course is an upper level undergrad course for music majors, minors, and
other interested students who have basic music reading skills. If I were to
structure it for non-musicians, I would probably go the "greatest hits"
route, and I'd be tempted to key it to literature that I knew would be
performed in public during the semester. Since your course is for
conductors, I would have to think carefully about which approach to take.
One crucial question would be whether you will have enough singers in the
class to actually read through the music. My classes are generally too
small to make that work.