Week 8: Friday, May 11, 2018
“Shenandoah,” arr. Howard Helvey
Traditional American folk song
SSAA divisi, a cappella
If you are looking for close harmonies, flowing phrases, and a wide range of dynamics, this arrangement of the traditional folk song “Shenandoah,” will not disappoint. My “small-but-mighty” auditioned ensemble (12-14 singers) performed this selection last fall, and fell in love with it. That group really enjoys the challenge of tight vertical harmonies and one- or two-people per part, so this arrangement has become a favorite of theirs. Stacked/vertical harmonies abound in this arrangement, giving the ensemble a chance at 4-, 6-, and 8-part divisi, without numerous independent melodic lines to manage.
The first verse (“O Shenandoah…”) begins in E Major, unison, and then expands into two-, then four-part vertical harmony. All the pitches in this verse are diatonic, so solfege is a great tool to use here. All rhythms are half, quarter, or eighth notes. This verse could be sight-read by an advanced-reading-level ensemble, or be perfect for “at-level” transfer of music literacy skills for an intermediate-reading-level group.
The second verse (“I long to see…”) moves to C Major, still primarily diatonic with one added fi. The S2s have a lovely moment on the melody, with counter melody/harmony from the S1/A1/A2s. The first divisi beyond four-parts happens on “we’re bound away” – where additional vertical harmony notes are added for a 6-part chord. Outside of melody vs. harmony, there is still minimal independence of lines.
For the third verse (“Tis sev’n long years…”), the melody moves around from part to part, phrase by phrase. This is an excellent teaching opportunity for helping singers recognize when they do and don’t have the melody, what role they play in the harmony at a given point, and how that all affects the balance of voices in an ensemble. Harmony expands on this verse beyond strictly diatonic to include more altered pitches, which makes solfege trickier, but the tight dissonances are well worth the work. The “we’re bound away” on this verse layers and builds to a beautiful, rich, 8-part fermata. Especially if you are in a resonant performance space, that phrase can give you chills.
After another lovely motivic series of ebb-and-flow building to 8-part vertical harmony, the song closes softly and calmly with a clean, clear, C major chord. All in all, a beautiful-yet-accessible setting of the familiar tune, with a style that really brings out the best in your treble voices.
|Source:||Traditional American folk song|
|Arranger:||arr. Howard Helvey (http://howardhelvey.com)|
|Date of Arrangement:||2015|
|Subject(s):||Folk song, Americana|
|Listed Voicing:||SSAA divisi|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA div to 8 vertical harmony|
|Tempo:||~56, 60, 63. Expressively.|
|Publisher:||Heritage Music Press 15/3239-H3|
|Further descriptions and details, including notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing:|
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.