ChorTeach is ACDA’s quarterly online publication, designed for those who work with singers of all levels but specifically K-12 and community choirs. A full annotated ChorTeach index is available online at acda.org/publications/chorteach. Over 160 articles are organized into seventeen categories. For more information, email or visit acda.org/chorteach. Following is an excerpt from an article in the Fall 2022 issue titled “Composing for Middle and High School Choirs: A Conversation with Laura Farnell and Reginal Wright” by Mark Rohwer.
Describe the path that led you to composing music for middle school and high school choirs.
Farnell: I was fortunate to have a musically rich childhood, supportive parents, as well as caring and talented musicians and educators in my life, which laid the foundation for me to have opportunities in music. The path that led me specifically to composition likely began with my participation in the “improvisation” category of piano guild in elementary school. While at Baylor University completing my music education degree, I took a choral composition class with Dr. Robert Young. His perspective, as well as collaboration with other class members, were formative for me. During my third year of teaching, I transitioned from teaching elementary music to junior high choir, at which point I found myself spending quite a lot of time adapting pieces to make them work for my seventh- and eight-grade tenor bass choir. At one point, I thought, “It would be so much easier to write my own pieces,” so I gave it a try! When my students seemed to enjoy my arrangement of “Deck the Halls” and were successful performing it, I thought, “Maybe other directors and choirs would be able to enjoy this piece,” which prompted me to submit it for publication. After it was accepted, I was encouraged to write and arrange more pieces for my students.
Wright: I started composing music for school choirs due to a need for music for my high school tenor/bass choir. We had a strong, but mighty, twelve-voice men’s choir. The required music for the state festival list was well above the accessibility level for this band of humans. The more accessible music for the group was below their level. I composed a middle-of-the-road piece that contained some cool stylings along with a difficulty that was within their grasp.
Other questions from the article:
-As a singer or choral conductor yourself, what helped prepare or give perspective to your composing?
-Do you have anything specific in mind related to middle school or high school choirs when you are composing a piece?
-What are the challenges you find yourself facing as a composer?
-What would you say to a conductor who wants to alter ranges, reduce parts, etc., in a piece that you’ve composed?
Read the full article in the Fall 2022 issue at acda.org/chorteach.