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23 June 2017

Music Within Reach: Great Pieces for Your Smaller Men's Choir

by Brandon Moss (ChoralNet)

Many of us with smaller or limited men’s choruses are often searching for music in no more than two or three parts.  The challenge here is that sometimes such music sounds too simple or is not “meaty” enough for our singers.  This week’s post will glance at three pieces for men’s chorus that are musically satisfying, highly accessible, and work well for choirs with smaller forces.

The first is “Cangia, cangia tue voglie”, written as a solo aria by early Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Fasolo and arranged here for three-part men’s chorus by Tom Shelton.  With ranges perfect for middle and high school choirs, this piece is mostly in two-part and only divides into three for just a few measures.  Sung in Italian, the text is repetitive enough to not detract from opportunities for teaching vowel shaping and consistent diction.  The second half of the song features written-out ornamentation, which provides students the chance to practice vocal agility and breath support necessary for sustaining longer phrases.  “Cangia, cangia tue voglie” is published by Hinshaw Music.

“Sweet Rivers” by Reginald Unterseher is an arrangement of an early shape-note hymn originally found in William Moore’s Columbian Harmony.  Set mostly in 3/2 meter, Unterseher begins with a unison first verse, prolonging the last word of each phrase with a more complex piano accompaniment (you will need a good one for this piece!).  He stretches out the second verse, now in two and occasionally three parts, giving the choir a chance to open up a rich, full sound before ending in a soft unison.  Though the ranges are very modest (the basses only go down to a B), this piece would work well for almost any men’s chorus, middle school through adult.  It is published by Oxford and may be found here.

The newest of the pieces is “If There Is” by Dominick DiOrio.  Here the composer sets text adapted from a Scottish blessing that connects “courage in the heart” to “peace in the world” by way of “the soul”, “the home”, and “the nation”.  Featuring a percussive piano part, “If There Is” provides conductors the opportunity to work on rhythm (there is a lot of syncopation!), clean cut-offs, phrase shaping, and intervals (especially whole- and half-steps as the tonality shifts often).  As in “Sweet Rivers”, this piece begins in unison and then breaks into two and three parts.  The piece explores a wide range of dynamics and articulations and will be well-liked by your singers.  “If There Is” is a part of the Jonathan Palant Choral Series tied to Palant’s excellent book on men’s choirs, Brothers, Sing On!.  It is published by Mark Foster Music and is available here.

Do you have a men’s chorus of limited forces?  What pieces have worked well for your singers?  Feel free to share in the comments!  And, as always, if you have ideas for pieces you would like to see included in a post, send me an e-mail at brandonlmoss@gmail.com.

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.