Like many of you, I often try to build concerts around some kind of theme or unifying element. For conductors of the “average” choir, however, if can often be difficult to find enough high-quality yet attainable music that fits the theme to fill a program. I try very hard to choose themes or concepts that are broad enough to encompass many different kinds of pieces and texts. One concert I did a while back revolved around the notion of “light”, and so this week I will share three very different and accessible pieces that speak to this theme.
The first, a terrific prelude, is the canon “Lumen” by Abbie Betinis. “Lumen” may be performed by any number of voices, provided there are enough for the three sections of the canon as well as the underlying ostinato chant. The Latin text Betinis sets here translates to “Receive the light and pass it on. I give that you may give.” There are, of course, many visual ideas that stem from this that work well in a concert setting (Betinis provides some herself). This piece generally fits most singers’ ranges, and each line provides a chance to shape a phrase differently. Its solemn and mystical qualities pique the curiosity of the audience for what is to come. “Lumen” is available on Betinis’ website, found here.
“O Light, Awaken” by Mark Patterson is an excellent follow-up song to “Lumen”, with its bold, accented fanfare opening. Set for SATB and piano, the rhythm of the text features many eighth notes, which allows for teaching singers about syllabic stress and phrase structure (you know, the old music teacher joke that “not all notes are created equal”). There are a few modulations that fit very nicely and logically with the accompaniment and quite a bit of repeated material at the end of the piece, which lets the director focus on the more challenging parts. “O Light, Awaken” is published by Boosey & Hawkes and is available here.
The last piece I will share is “O Lux Beatissima” by Howard Helvey. This lovely SATB a cappella motet features some mixed meter and quite a bit of dissonance between parts, even though the piece is completely diatonic. It also gives singers the chance to explore a softer range of dynamics, as the piece does not move beyond a mezzo piano crescendo. There are many opportunities for the director to bring out sensitive and musical expression. Though they begin somewhat differently, the first and third sections are very similar, with new material in the middle. “O Lux Beatissima” is a terrific piece to move beyond note-singing into focusing on intonation, interpretation, and ensemble building. It is published by Hinshaw and available here.
Do you have a concert theme that worked well for you and you wish to share some of the accessible pieces that you programmed for it? Please consider sharing in the comments, and, as always , feel free to e-mail me ideas for pieces you would like to see featured here 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.