By Shekela Wanyama for Graphite Publishing
Working with middle-level choirs is a bit like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” only we’re looking for music that is not too challenging and not too simple. We used to have to wade through pages and pages of music to find something that was just right. Fortunately, this is changing. New compositions are released each year that meet the unique vocal needs of young singers without sacrificing artistic and pedagogical integrity.
For two-part treble choir, “Cantate Domino” by Jesús López Moreno is an energetic and delightful selection. The straightforward melodies and call-and-response writing would be a good fit for upper elementary treble singers.
For the treble choir eager for something more challenging, “I Wandered, Lonely as a Cloud (Daffodils),” by Linda Tutas Haugen, is written for S(S) A choir. The piece includes mixed meters, a piano part that is supportive but not always doubling, beautiful phrases for developing treble voices, and an opportunity for solo flute. The text, written by William Wordsworth, is rich with imagery, emotion, and learning opportunities that will delight English teachers as well as choir directors.
If you’re looking ahead to next year’s holiday season, consider “Xicochi,” a lullaby for Christmas. Written in the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl, this piece for SA, SSA, or SATB choirs will be particularly effective with the addition of a guitar or other string instrument, as well as piano. “Hush, little beloved child,” the text says, “Behold, there are angels here to rock you to sleep.”
Mexican composer Jesús Echevarría delights with “Muchas Gracias,” a cheerful song reminding us to offer “Many thanks” and to say “you’re welcome.” Written in Spanish and inspired by mariachi music, this song can be used in concert or as a greeting or transition song. Three clear melodies are sung first in unison, then combined into a three-part texture. Piano and clarinet accompaniment are included, but the piece can also be performed with just piano.
“Stardust” by B.E. Boykin is a wonderful piece for developing treble choir that features a compelling piano part. The text, written by Brittny Ray Crowell, is a prayer for those who have been lost too soon to violence, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Clear harmonies and vocal writing suited to middle-level treble voices (and easily adapted for emerging tenor bass voices), along with a refrain evoking the Gullah folklore of the Flying Africans, make this an ideal piece for middle-level choirs seeking music of our time.
Jocelyn Hagen’s “I Started Out Singing” was originally written for SSA choir, but exists in an SAB arrangement as well. This piece is particularly suitable for the middle-level choir with strong treble and emerging tenor/bass voices. The text celebrates singing and features a sparkling piano part that “sings” independently of and just as much as the choir. Naomi Shihab Nye’s text is full of vibrant and youthful images that will appeal to singers’ imaginations.
Conductor, educator, and composer Tracy Wong understands young voices, and this is evident in her energetic, fast-paced new piece, “Jam! (Jom-Ayuh-Mari!)” Like many of Wong’s other compositions, this piece includes body percussion. Unison melodic lines gradually build to independent and busier textures. Choirs will enjoy this fun challenge as much as audiences will enjoy watching and hearing it!
“Afka Hooyo (Mother Tongue)” is the second of Timothy C. Takach’s compositions in Somali, a language widely spoken in Minnesota. The score includes phonetic pronunciation guides written beneath the text. With engaging rhythm and harmonies, this piece is suitable for younger SATB ensembles comfortable singing unaccompanied. The text, written by revered Somali poet Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame (Hadrawi), celebrates the ability of language—a Mother Tongue— to unite people and preserve culture.
For the beginning (and not-so-beginning) SATB choir, Melanie DeMore’s “Blessed Be!” is a joyful and peaceful tune. It can be easily adapted for other voicings and would be a great audience sing-along. DeMore’s music always “grooves,” and happy is the choir that learns to find and feel it! This unaccompanied piece includes simple body percussion, and the four melodic phrases are easily taught by rote or as a sight-singing exercise. This heartwarming piece, along with those mentioned above, will stay with your singers for years to come.
Shekela Wanyama is a DMA student in conducting at the University of Minnesota. She is a music educator at heart, having taught middle and high school choir for over a decade. Passionate about bringing people together through engaging and powerful singing experiences, Wanyama has worked with church, collegiate, and children’s honor choirs. She currently serves as Associate Conductor for VocalPoint, sings projects with Border CrosSing and the Minnesota Chorale, and is repertoire and resources chair for World Musics and Cultures for ACDA Minnesota.
EASIER MIDDLE SCHOOL FAVORITES
“Lovely Appear” — David von Kampen — SA, piano
“A Red, Red (Noun)” — Timothy C. Takach — TB, piano
“Bersatu Senada (Together with One Voice)” — Tracy Wong — SATB, piano
“America, the Beautiful” — arr. J. David Moore — Unison, piano
“Blessing” — Joan Szymko — flexible voicing, piano
“Coventry Carol” — arr. Michael Weber — SAB, piano
“La barco de oro” — Abundio Martínez, — arr. Ahmed Anzaldúa SATB, piano
“Adonai, Adonai” — Carol Barnett — flexible voicing
“Bahihii Waaliidkay Dhaqay” — Timothy C. Takach — SA, piano, drum, body percussion