There is a lot of great music out there for women’s choirs, but sometimes you have to dig hard to find pieces that are perfectly suited to the musical needs and to the voices of your individual choir. My high school women’s choir is a decent size, but because of school scheduling, I can only see them for half a period each day and divided up over two periods. Sometimes we do not get to put the entire choir together until the night of the concert! Therefore I have collected many pieces that work well with such a situation, and so I will share three of them here in the hope that some readers may find they suit their needs as well.
The first is Craig Hella Johnson’s “Will There Really Be a Morning?”, for two-part treble choir and published by Alliance Music Publications. I have used this piece for the beginning of the school year in order to teach such fundamental concepts as breath control, phrase shaping, vowel formation, and solfege, as the song is entirely diatonic. The tessitura of the piece is occasionally a little high, but my singers (nearly all of whom participate in Women’s Chorus as only a casual commitment) have had no problem making this piece work. Rather, they have resonated with Emily Dickinson’s poem, appreciated the beautiful duet between choir and piano, and found the prescribed expressive elements to be memorable music-making. The piece can be found here, though note that the recording posted is raised a whole-step.
The next piece, “Vere Languores Nostros”, is for SSA and by Baroque composer Antonio Lotti. My women’s chorus is currently working on this piece for their May concert. Given their schedule and make-up, I often feel uneasy trying anything a cappella with them until at least halfway through the year. This piece offers them the chance to shape long notes and phrases, work on tuning (often down to the alto part), practice half-steps, whole-steps, and altered tones within the minor modality, and feel an underlying pulse amid a mostly homorhythmic texture. The range of each part fits nicely into my singers’ voices, and there is much repeated text, which makes for effective vowel practice. Since I have two small groups that comprise my women’s chorus, I divide each period into two parts. For this particular piece, I have one class singing Soprano I and Soprano II and the other class singing Soprano II and Alto, doubling the easily buried middle voice. This edition is by Thomas Juneau and is published by Hal Leonard.
The last piece I want to share in this post is “Lineage” by Andrea Ramsey. This terrific song is based on a poem by Margaret Walker depicting the toils and strength of our women ancestors. A cappella SSA with percussion, many parts of this song are in unison, especially the repeated phrase “My grandmothers were strong”. The tessitura is fairly low and provides an opportunity for directors to work with singers on healthfully using the lower notes of their voices. I added some maturity into the lower notes by using this piece for an inter-generational women’s choir for our fall concert. I invited mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, teachers, and community members to sing this piece alongside my own students, and they learned it in three one-hour rehearsals. It fit perfectly with the text of the song, and the singers all loved it. Published by Boosey & Hawkes, the piece, along with a preview score and recording, can be found here.
What accessible pieces have worked well for your women’s chorus? Feel free to share in the comments. And, as always, if you have ideas for pieces you would like to see included in a post, send me an e-mail at .
Brandon Moss is a choir director, teacher, and composer/arranger living and working in Central Ohio. He teaches at Central Crossing High School, directs the Chalice Choir at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, and serves in leadership roles with the Ohio Choral Directors Association and the Ohio Music Education Association. He is currently working on the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting at The Ohio State University.