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Ad Hoc Choir Rep

I am an undergrad student getting ready to apply for master's programs. My number one master's program requires rehearsal footage of me conducting a choir that I already conduct or have put together for the audition. I do not already have a choir so I will be putting one together. The people I have available to me are good but not amazing (community college choir level). What is some good rep that would show well while being easy enough for a beginning conductor but challenging enough to get me admitted?
 
Ensemble type will be 16-20 singers SATB but not opposed to SSAATTBB pieces if they aren't too difficult for the singers. 
Interested in Motet, Madrigals, Contemporary (Whitacre/Lauridsen type), Spirituals etc. Anything that would be a well rounded program.
Mostly english but perhaps some non-english as long as my choir can handle it.
Accompaniment is preferred. Not extremely difficult please. Accompanist is also an undergrad student.
 
Thanks in advance for your help.
on June 18, 2014 9:20am
What a great question!  Is there such a thing as music that is both easy but challenging (at least for an educated mind)?  But wait! isn’t that kind of an oxymoron?  Isn’t it the nature of music to be thoughtful; to invite everyone to think about the music?  Isn’t that why we all love doing it?  Can you imagine a choir that ISN’T inspired to tackle a great work once it found out what makes it truly great? 
 
At first, you might think that Orff slips into the “easy and impressive” category but every time I’ve rehearsed “Carmina Burana” the group is quickly seduced into thinking that all those C major chords are child’s play.  That is, until they realize that simple lines expose basic issues:  Blended dynamics, perfect tuning, precise enunciation, and total concentration.  The same thing is true with Pärt or Harrison; fail to give it your all and the music will expose all your flaws!
 
Consider any Mozart you DON’T already know:  His beauty is that he inspires you to take on all his wildly imaginative ideas.  He is NOT easy to sight-read but, once you learn his music, you can’t think of it going any other way.  You become part of his sure technique, his wonderful dramatic sense, his masterful grasp of design.  You want to do it because it’s thoughtful, not because it’s easy.  As John Benham used to say, the root word in “music” is the Greek word “muse” which means “to think;” it is the opposite of “amuse” which means “not to think!”
 
I think the trick here is not to select music that is particularly easy but to select music that you are personally passionate about!  Your friends will become passionate as a result!  It will be very noticeable as it drives all your other rehearsal technique.  Passion is a hallmark of a great choirmaster and I think your judges will notice!
 
Hope that helps.
Michael A. Gray
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 19, 2014 7:03am
I would add another thing to think about.  For those who regularly evaluate these sorts of rehearsal footage, what pieces have you seen WAY too many times?  Your video will stand out if you aren't doing the same piece that everyone else is doing, Gavin.  
 
Good luck!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 19, 2014 7:07am
Gavin,
How much rehearsal time will you have with them ... prior to the observed one?  I think that makes a significant difference.  Dr. Norman Raybon has said that with the simpler music, you have opportunity to teach higher musicianship.
Does "good, but not amazing" refer more to vocal ability, or sight-singing, or artistic understanding...or all of the above?   You can, if you've time, foster a little growth in all those areas.  When the judges watch/listen, you can refer back to that growth; "Remember how we learned to give extra support on the leading tone?  This is one of those places!"  "Sing this passage with the [passion/tenderness/strength/] that you feel inside...we want more than just dots-on--paper sound, right?"  Some educators call this "Building for transfer".  (I was confused, at first, by this terminology, but it refers to making sure that yesterday's learning is solid, so that they are prepared for today's, tomorrow, etc.  It is something that most of us generally do  - almost without thinking/planning it.  But I lost points in a few of my observations, because I did not verbally refer to what I was doing, and the obserers expected that I would.   It helps them to see your work in a linear-time format, not just at "this moment".
I have applauded Michael Gray's response!  Since he took care of the minds and artistic-soul aspect, I'll fill in with the practical.
I recommend that you try to procure 25 singers.  "Murphy's Law" says that 1 - 5 singers wil have:
1. Car trouble
2. A family emergency
3. Sickness - theirs or a child's
4. Be hired by someone, and opt for that.
5. "Forget" to come/have calendar-date confusion
Do you really want one or two people per part if it is SSAATTBB? [figuring the possible pitfalls above.] Especially if there are long/high phrases for soprano or tenor....that is exposing high possibility of breath-challenge, flattness, tremolo, or simply fading out early.  If you/other voice teachers have trained them to sing as well as soloists - and still blend - this might not be a significant issue.  If pieces with that type of challenge are under consideration, you might bring individual singers in a few days/week early and hear them on these passages.  Some might struggle; others might be fine.
See what you think of Dede Duson's "What is a Heart?" - Lovely, mildly challenging, not overdone these days.  Beautiful alto line on 2nd page - they will appreciate this rare opportunity.  Have them breathe deeply, open throat gently, and place the air toward their head for a warm, not-edgy tone.  I have some copies.  Also "My God is a Rock" - Shaw-Parker.  Shows your variety in the drama (need a decent baritone), but not too hard for them if they can do simple counterpoint that lies well within the tonic chord.  Both lie in D/Eb key range - quite singable for a pick-up group.
You are asking good questions for good planning; it will likely go very well!
Best Wishes for the event and your result !
Lucy
on June 19, 2014 9:26am
Gavin,
If you were giving the same kind of advice to a singer, what would you tell her?  Most likely, to sing something that she is most comfortable with and that makes her sound the best, right?  The same holds true here.
 
Unless the requirements of the program give particular rep suggests, I would say that they're not looking for any specific difficulty level in the music you choose (assuming you'll choose something that is appropriate for the college level).  Rather, they are looking at you -- your apparent musical preparation, your gesture and your rehearsal technique.  So, if I were in your shoes (and I was once!) I would choose something straight forward that will show these aspects of your conducting well.  If in doubt, I would fault on the easier side, and I would try to go with something more "standard".
 
Best wishes to you in this important time!
DME
on June 19, 2014 7:38pm
Ave Verum Corpu - Mozart
Erev Shel Shoshanim - arr. Klebanow
Since By Man Came Death - Handel (from Messiah)
Any Movement of the Vivaldi Gloria
Home on the Range - arr. Mark Hayes
If Ye Love Me - Tallis (A Cappella)
Hear My Prayer - Hogan (A Cappella)
True Light - Hampton
For the Beauty of the Earth - Rutter
The Ground - Gjelio
Keep Your Lamps - arr. Thomas (A Cappella)
Sing Me to Heaven - Gawthrop (A Cappella)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 22, 2014 8:53am
I have to say that in my experience, passion is not enough if the piece is too challenging. I think the trick is to find a level of difficulty that pushes the singers' limits but not so much that they are overly frustrated. This is a principle that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses in his classic book Flow.
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