I often find myself thinking that there is an overabundance of choral music out there for December, Christmas, and winter. This may be true, but experience has taught me that finding the perfect pieces that fit all of our needs—performance-based, educational, accessibility—is no easy task. If you find yourself in this boat, this post is for you! Here are three ideas for your choirs as you wrap up (or start!) programming for your last concerts of 2017.
The first is a classic canon that you can teach most all of your singers—“Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen” by late Renaissance composer Melchior Vulpius. This simple melody is easily teachable, diatonic, spans just over an octave, and sounds like a sophisticated polyphonic motet when sung in canon. The original text is in German, but you could easily adapt it to the common English text, “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming”. This song would be a great opener, perhaps as a processional by one of your choirs or even all of your singers. It is available in several editions, both published and in the Public Domain.
The next piece is for three-part mixed voices—“In Winter” by Victor C. Johnson. If you teach middle school or have a beginning high school choir with limited male singers, you must know Johnson’s work, as he writes extremely well for these kinds of choirs. This piece features a beautiful melody, interesting rhythms, mixed meter, and a quote of the carol, “Still, Still, Still”. “In Winter” is written in both major and minor modalities and is a great song to use with teaching and singing in solfege (there is even a key change). The ranges are extremely modest, especially for the baritones, who sing a span of a minor sixth. Finally, this piece fits a variety of performance needs; it is not expressly religious but quotes the melody of a well-known Christmas carol. Published by Heritage, “In Winter” is available here.
“Dormi, Dormi, Bel Bambin” is this week’s last piece, written for SSA with piano accompaniment and flute. This arrangement of the Italian carol by Valerie Showers Crescenz opens with a unison melody that could also work as a solo and then splits into three chordal parts. The alto part sometimes sits low, so the piece is probably best suited for high school singers and beyond, but the other parts’ ranges are modest. The most interesting part of “Dormi, Dormi” is that the melody alternates with a quick “fa la la” section in 6|8. Like the other songs, this piece is not just an audience pleaser but also presents a number of teaching opportunities. It is published by Hinshaw and available here.
What holiday pieces work well for your choirs? 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.