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SSA or SSAA: Water music

This is the compilation of SSAA music dealing with "water as a metaphor
for life". It's a bit lengthy as some of these responses included
background info and explanations. Some offered lit suggestions as well
as places to look for more music. (I deleted any repeats and also those
postings that did not deal with water texts.)

Many thanks to all who responded- I'm not done with my program yet- but
have lots of options now!

Cherilyn Worthen
Brigham Young University
Women's Chorus
Provo, UT

While I haven't checked the catalogue myself for the water topic I can
Handlo Music Ltd has SSAA music.

This is a new resource you mayn't have heard of out of England. They send
music over the internet and you make as many copies as you need. I can
for the quality of pieces in the catalogue- I engraved many of them for

Daniel Gawthrop, "Sea visions" SSAA a cappella. A nice
text by Madeleine L'Engle on Neptune as a sea bishop blessing all the
creatures of sea and land.

Mary Howe, "Spring pastoral" SSA and piano ("Lisa, go dip your long white
hands in the cool waters of that spring")

Both pieces are demanding enough to absorb the best you can give,
neither is technically too formidable. In other words, this music is
emotionally for grownups, not children.
To address the "water as a metaphor" idea, we published a wonderful piece
by Greg Gilpin last year called "Women 'Cross The River." It was
on an album by Linda Ronstadt.
Try "Sing All Ye Joyfully" SSAA by Kirke Mechem, text from "The Hobbit"
J.R.R. Tolkien. It has a reference to a river, not really a metaphor for
life, but it is a beautiful and thought-provoking work. G. Schirmer,
Please visit: for
repertoire lists and additional resources.

A "must" for your program is Gustav Holst's "Choral Hymns from the Rig
Veda," Opus 26, #3: "Hymn to the Waters". (Galaxy Music
#1.5091). It is a set of four pieces SSAA and harp, the second of which
titled "Hymn to the Waters." Exotic and accessible.
**this piece got several mentions**

There is the "Raindrop Prelude" by Chopin, from the vocal orchestra music
"Songs of Survival", popularized in the movie "Paradise Road". Published
by Harmonia.

The SA arrangement Lauridsen made of his "Dirait-on" from "Les Chansons
Roses" deals with the Narcissus theme. Simple but your singers will
it. (Peer Southern)

Debussy's "Salut Printemps" will be sung by this year's ACDA National
Women's Honor Choir. It deals with rebirth. Choudens (Presser)

Many of Hildegard's chants deal with your topics. Hildegard

Lili Boulenger's "Sirènes" - Treble Clef Music Press.
Also Debussy's.
I have one for an advanced group, assuming your 2nd altos are real altos
and not mezzos--the part lies low, like an F. Melius Christiansen 2nd
"The Young Galileo"--text by Ray Bradbury.

I am a composer with a treble choir work called "The Flower-Kissers."
It is scored for piano or orchestra and treble voices with the texture
varying from 1 to 4 parts. It is tonal but quite challenging, and the
concerns various species of extinct and endangered butterfly. The piece
was commissioned by the Long Island Philharmonic and is being performed
and recorded by the Grand Rapids Sym. next year. Please contact my
publisher Todd Vunderink at
if you you like to see a perusal copy of the score, and remember to ask
for the treble choir/piano version.
One of the ignored pieces - a real chestnut, but very intense - is Deems
Taylor's (remember him in Fantasia?) arrangement of "Waters Ripple and

It is not done too often because it did not fit well in the neo baroque
fad of the 60s - 80s, but now many younger conductors are "discovering"

Alliance Music (Houston, TX) has recently taken my setting of the Irish
folk song 'Open the Door Softly' which would fit into your 'mould'
It is set for SSAA and piano and though it was commissioned as part of a
set for a Missouri District Music Festival, it works perfectly well on

I am a composer and have a piece available that deals with "water". It
"Mayim, Mayim" (literally "Water, Water")and is published by earthsongs.
It is
a Hebrew text- Isaiah 12:13- "You will draw water with joy from the wells
redemption." It is for 2-pt. treble voices, 2 descanting instruments
or violin) and piano. I have about fifty pieces for treble voices
(2 and 3 pt.) and I would be happy to send you a list of my pieces if you
like. Best wishes, Valerie Shields


Try Miniwanka (Moments of Water) by R. Murray Schafer. It is over 25
old now but when it was written, it was considered quite avant garde. It
is a really worthwhile piece.

Two years ago my choirs did a concert called "On the Wave" which was all
water-themed music. The women's music was chosen from the following
(asterisks are the pieces they sang; it was the first concert of the
year, during week six of fall semester, so there wasn't as much
repertoire as they normally would do at a concert):

Composer Title Voicing Octavo
arr. Robert Fleming A Great Big Sea SA G. V. Thompson VG-228
*arr. Diane Loomer Away From the Roll of the Sea SSAA w/piano Intrada
(Cypress Publishing)
arr. Kirby Shaw Down by the Riverside SSA Hal Leonard
Edvard Grieg On the Water SSA Lawson-Gould (Alfred)
Annie MacLeod Over the Sea to Skye SSA Shawnee B-514
Ann Boyd Rain on Castle Island SSA Shawnee (Novello)
*arr. Leavitt River in Judea SSA
*arr. George Brandon Sad Song of the Sea SSA Intrada (Thomas House)
*arr Thomson Skye Boat Song SSA Santa Barbara Music Publishing SBMP 74
*Vincent d'Indy Sur la mer SSAA, S solo Boston Music Co.
*Joseph Clokey The Breakers of Barranquila SSA Summy Birchard (from
archive service) [a terrific tango!]
Nancy Telfer The Petty Harbour Bait Skiff SSA Neil A. Kjos
Elgar/Fraser, Donald The Snow SSA Hinshaw MNC 1177
Luigi Zaninelli The Water is Wide SSA Shawnee B-222
Mendelssohn Wasserfahrt SSA
Harri Wessman Water under snow is weary SSA Walton

Skye Boat Song was the easiest, Breakers and Sur la mer the hardest, but
nothing beyond medium difficulty (unless you count French, but since
French music and culture are my specialty, my students quickly learn to
be competent in singing French and eventually it's a point of pride with
them that they do it well when everyone else is moaning and groaning
about it!).

I have a piece which would work well for you ,I think. It is the first
piece in a Set called THREE JAPANESE LYRICS, published by Boosey and
Hawkes. " A Pleasant Landscape" is the title, and is by the well-known
Japanese poet Michio Mado and translated into English by no less than the
Empress Michiko of Japan. The text:

"Water lies horizontally.
The tree stands perpendicularly.
The mountain sits up very horizontally, very perpendicularly.
This peaceful stability is home to us,
to us creatures of all sorts."

The music is rather "impressionistic" and makes use of overlaying
patterns. Needs good musicians. For SSAA and Piano.

Two pieces by Allister MacGillvray come to mind, "Away from the Roll of
Sea" and "Song of the Mira." These are both available through INTRADA.
Also, "In Remembrance" by Eleanor Daly is on a beautiful Anonymous poem
Are you familiar with the Songs of Survival? These are textless settings
of instrumental music such as Londonderry Air, set by memory by a
concentration camp inmate in Indonesia during the second World War. A
movie recently touched on this part of the story. An amazing tale. There
are other pieces such as "I never Saw a Butterfly" using words written
a concetration camp wall.
You might already know this piece -- english title is "Water under snow
weary" -- the original language is Norwegian, I think, and I can't recall
composer. A planitive piece with a soprano solo, flute, and piano,
I've seen it arranged for a couple of strings in the mix as well. Maybe

Water Under Snow Is Weary *this piece got several mentions...*
by Harri Wessmann
arr. Errki Pohkjola
Tapiola Choral Series

There is also Schubert's SSAA/Piano setting of the 23rd Psalm: "...He
me beside the still waters."
Schaffner Music has several works for SSAA chorus by Allen Bonde. One in
particular may be of interest to you. It is called "Detached Sayings",
is based on the texts of Mary Lyon's "Selections from Miss Lyon's
Instructions". Mary Lyon was the founder of Mount Holyoke College in
Massachusetts, and the work was written for the chorus there. It is in
short movements. It is of moderate difficulty, with divisions.

This may not be much help but as I read your query, the text of a piece I
with my group instantly came to mind. The problems? It's three-part
F3-D4; II: Bb3-D5; I: C4-F5).
It may be too easy for a university group but it's worth a look just to
the text.
"I Am the River" by Amy Feldman Bernon, published by Heritage.
One piece that I've sung that comes to mind is Ned Rorem's "Come, pure
hearts", published by Boosey & Hawkes, octavo no. 6214. It's for unison
treble voices; it has a sacred text (mentions Jesus, as well as water,
life, fountains); it's a lovely flowing melody.
David Amram: By The Rivers of Babylon (SSAA unacc. w/solo)
publ. C.F. Peters, #P06983

Aaron Copland: At The River (SSA w/piano)
publ. Boosey & Hawkes #OCTB5512
Also one on life "A Child Said" by James
McCray, text by Walt Whitman NMP-130 (National Music Publishers); "Home
of My
Heart" by Catherine Bennett #423-08120 Jensen Publications; "Over the Sea
Skye", Scottish folk song.

Do you have Samuel Barber's "To be sung on the water"?

Also, depending on how authentic you need to be... when I first started
working with women's voices as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya (where we
didn't have much of a music library, that is), we sang "Oh come, everyone
that thirsteth," actually an SATB quartet, from near the end of
Mendelssohn's _Elijah_. We just transposed the tenor and bass parts up
octave, and it was lovely.

'm doing Copland's "Shall we gather at the river" arranged by Irving Fine
I think (?) and I've planned "Wood River" for the end of the year arr. by
Zwodzdesky the later being SSAA w/ solo and the first being SSA. Best of
luck w/ the hunt.