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Canons and Rounds: Programming ideas

Thank you to all who generously took their time and expertise to answer my question about How to Program rounds and canons. Below are the messages that were sent to me. Ya'll are terrific!

Kathy O'Donnell

From Ann McKinley

I heard a round of mine performed by young adults and they started with a male alone singing the tune straight through. Seems to me the women sang alone the tune next. Then the whole group--one or two
times. I had built in a little coda at the very end to put the brake on the momentum.

I think the harmonies have some bearing on repetition. If they are unusually rich, the repetition feels good.

The advantage of starting with a solo voice, then the
women alone was to get the words across. Once everybody is in, you can't really follow the words. That's where a good chord progression makes a difference.

From Mike Wade

I usually sing a round once in unison, having instruments play could let it be twice, then have the 1st part sing a total of twice through in parts (part 2; 1 2/3, part 3; 1 1/3) Much more than that and it gets very hard on the listener. Of course if you are processing then stay in unison until at least half the group is on the main stage/ in positions.

from Jim Myer

Traditionally, a round is sung through as many times as there are parts - a 3 part round three times, etc; however, the fermata markings over the ending notes indicate a point where all parts may end simultaneously when the last part has sung through to that mark in its part. This usually results in a chord rather than having each part tail off until the final part finishes alone.


Brichtmark Music/Susan Brailove

An interesting question. Maybe it can be solved by having it sung first in unison, and then as a round/canon just as many times as the music will bear - you can test this in rehearsal so you will know it in advance.

An alternative would be to sing in unison; then start it with one on a part, adding in voices for each repeat?

We'd like to send you a set of 12 rounds by Jeffrey Bishop - "One-erum, two-erum" - (based on traditional Sussex verse) - to consider. If you'd like to have a sample copy, please let us have your postal address.


from Jena Dickey

I think you are on the right track. Rounds/canons can be pretty boring (to the audience) unless you vary each repetition. Adding instruments is a great idea. So is movement—can you use one as a processional and another as a recessional? That way there's a reason for so many repetitions. Also, the addition of movement on the risers is great, because the audience can visualize the canon as well as hear it. (Just a couple of thoughts for you.)

Also, I don't know where you are, or what kind of a children's choir you have, but if appropriate, please consider bringing them in a future June (2008 or later) to our Sing A Mile High Children's Choir Festival in Denver. We will have a better web site in about a month, but for now you can see what we've got at:

from Craig Hawkins

One possibility would be to have the children start in different locations within your performing space and have them process from there to the stage as you finish the round. You most definately would want instruments doubling the voices in this case, especially with less-experienced singers. Also, duplicate insts. onstage would be helpful as the singers approach the stage (acoustically the auditorium instruments would sound further away and if the students don't/can't watch you as they get onto risers or position they could easily get off).

Either way, you'd be required to be in the middle of your auditorium to direct and the students would have to eagle-eye watch you n order to stay together, esp. in a large space. I hope you are able to post a compilation!

from Susan Belleperche

I've used rounds as an entrance and exit piece If I find one that goes with the theme of the first and last set of songs it works out beautifully. The children walk and sing. The audience is thrilled. The youngsters have experienced rounds.


from David McCormick

How many different ways of doing them can you think of? Use all of
them, or maybe one way in one concert and another the next time.
Maybe some spatial stuff: have them walk around, or sing from
different positions on stage or even in the auditorium. One of the
most effective presentations I've ever seen was a Christmas program
where in their first concert ever 30 kids entered the church singing
the ubiquitous Jubilate Deo in unison while eventually coming down 3
aisles (was there a flute helping to keep them together?) and finally
splitting up into 3-pt canon. Have them end together or trail out
into one part. Maybe eventually involve the audience? I think they
carried electric candles into a darkened room, too. VERY effective,
and great for tuning and listening to each other.

Congratulations on emerging from your self-imposed "retirement" to do


from Susan Elliott

The rule of thumb for rounds is to sing it as many times as there are
parts singing. So, if you are singing in 2 parts, sing it two times
through; in 3 parts, sing three times through. I think that can get
monotonous. I like to give the audience a chance to hear and understand what we are doing, as well. Sometimes I present the melody in unison, then two-parts, then three or four parts.

I look at the specific piece before I decide on the performance plan.
"Sumer Is Icumen In," Praetorius' "Jubilate Deo," Byrd's "Non Nobis
Domine" all got different treatments. There are lots of right way to
present a canon. Don't be afraid to experiment with your singers. It
will make them stronger for the experience, and it will give you some
options. Consider the skills of your singers, the sophistication of your audience, and then use your musical judgment to make a decision.


from Robert A.M. Ross

I do a round with my community college choir every semester. Every round works differently:

1) some can be sung a certain number of times and everyone ends on a fermata (best if you can set it up so that your lowest section [basses, A II, whatever] arrives on a low tonic when you finish)

2) some work better having everyone repeat the final line on cue until everyone "catches up"

3) some work better having each voice drop out when the finish a certain number of repetitions leaving only a lone section to finish

4) occasionally, if the tune itself is tricky enough, I have a section learn only one line, have them sing it repeatedly and then stagger the entrances of each section, then stop when it's no longer interesting to listen to or stagger the exits of each section

Generally, a round should be sung twice through; some will sustain 3 or 4 reps depending on length.

I always have the whole choir sing the whole tune through once before proceeding with the canon.

from Paul Meers

Hey, the world is your oyster. Try different things; how soon does it get old? Make a choice yourself, then get a "cold" listener to come and listen. Does s/he want more, or a little less? The idea of adding instruments is a good one: however, you must get the kids to listen and tune with them. Do you want to take that extra task on at this point? Beware esp. of a cappella then adding the insts; sure fire recipe for pitch anxiety.


from Fergus Black

What I do with rounds (usually) is to have everyone sing the complete melody through once in unison, unaccompanied, then (having split the choir into the requisite number of parts, we perform the tune in canon. I do it as many times as I think it (or the audience) can stand (usually one and a bit , and then raise my arm at the start of the last repetition to indicate to the choir that they have one more section/phrase to sing. This will end all parts at the same time.

I avoid rounds that don't end on the tonic, because, like yourself, I can't work out how to finish them!


from Polly Murray

I do this a lot and we always sing in unison first, then two part canon, then three if possible, then end. Three is like the magic number, more than that is too much!