Sometimes choral pieces look much more difficult at first glance than they really are. The voicing might look daunting (SSAA, TTBB) or maybe the spread of parts across the page is intimidating. But sometimes a piece can actually be much more accessible than you initially think. This week’s post will look at two pieces for single-gender choirs that are very attainable but do not necessarily look or sound that way.
The first is “Paper Crane” for women’s chorus by J. Reese Norris. This beautifully powerful piece concerns the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl exposed to radiation in Hiroshima during World War II who spread a legend while in the hospital about wishes coming true folding paper cranes. The composer tells the story in notes on the second page of the score and offers ideas for partner projects to accompany the message of peace this song sends. After the introduction, the piece begins with a short melodic fragment that is repeated while two other voices enter with countermelodies that repeat a few times. Then, sopranos divide for new rhythmic and melodic material by themselves, with the other voices adding in a syncopated line. Much of the rest of the piece continues in this way or in homorhythmic harmonies as in the introduction. The notes are memorable and easy to teach, and it has been my experience that students respond readily to both the music and the text (“I will write peace on your wings and you will fly”). “Paper Crane” is most deserving of widespread recognition and approachable by many kinds of women’s choruses. It is published by MusicSpoke and is available here.
“She Walks in Beauty” by Connor J. Koppin is catalogued for TTBB, and there are four-part moments to be sure, but there is just as much unison. In fact, the first 25 measures are completely in unison, and there are only 12 measures of four-part singing in the entire piece, with a handful of two- and three-part measures and even some short canonic writing. The most difficult thing about this piece is actually the intervallic relationships in the melody, but the piece is entirely diatonic, so there are many teaching opportunities available within. The famous text by Lord Byron is treated in a very modern sense, making not only the music but also the poetry accessible to the singers. “She Walks in Beauty” is not incredibly rangy, with a couple of high Gs in the Tenor I and a couple of low As in the Bass II; most of it sits very comfortably for high school-age singers and beyond. This piece is published by Walton Music and is available here.
Are there pieces you initially thought were too hard for your choirs but found out otherwise? Please share in the comments. And as always, feel free to email me ideas for songs you would like to see featured in “Music Within Reach” 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.