5-part Canon Unaccompanied
With an inspiring text by Victor Hugo, this canon was composed for middle and high school girls:
Be like the bird that pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight,
Feels them give way beneath her,
And sings, and sing, and sings
Knowing she hath wings.
The haunting quality of this B-flat minor canon captured the hearts of even my 4th and 5th graders! Phrases are long and demand a commitment to great breath management, but this is a skill we want to nurture with our older elementary singers. In order to keep the tone light but supported, the singers were encouraged to lift and gracefully move their arms through each phrase. In a way, this also sparked their imaginations toward what it might feel like to soar “like the bird.” To provide additional support to our young singers, I had our pianist play a descending 8 th -note pattern beginning on high B-flat that repeated throughout. Check out the Cincinnati Girl Choir’s performance (Eva Floyd, conductor) with wind instruments doubling the voices.
arr. Andrea Ramsey
SA Unaccompanied (with improvised percussion)
This Nigerian Christian song was made popular by the well-known African American women’s singing ensemble, Sweet Honey in the Rock. Sung in the Yoruba language, the translation is, “The works of God cannot be undone.” My middle school ensemble offered the song at the conclusion of our Rite of Confirmation last fall and it was a perfect blessing for the new confirmands and their families. The tempo is listed as “Lively, but not rushed” but we discovered that a slow, rocking rendition was equally as powerful as the more upbeat version we eventually used in worship. I introduced the song first without music, teaching it orally as would be the custom in Nigeria, which encouraged the singers to move their bodies early on in the learning process. Different types of African percussion instruments are suggested, but the rhythms are left up to the performing ensemble’s discretion, and are intended to be improvised. The rhythms and range are very accessible, even with the changing voices of boys, as we have in our group this year.
Unison/Optional 2-Part, Piano
New works by composers can become accessible to many choral organizations through consortium funding. “Velvet Shoes” was commissioned and jointly funded by 34 school and community youth choirs from all over the United States. Many veteran conductors might know about the 1938 Randall Thompson setting of this well-known text by Elinor Wylie (1885-1928) but Dan was interested in taking a fresh approach for a new generation of young singers. The result is a lovely and interesting work that will showcase your young singers with sophistication and integrity on your next winter concert. Even sung with unison voices, this piece has the quality of a stunning American art song, with a sophisticated piano part, meter shifts and key changes that add great interest to the setting. The singers can’t help but be drawn to this text about walking upon a magical carpet of snow. And though there is the optional second part in places, the melody stands on its own. After all, beautiful harmony can only be possible when singers are practiced in the skill of folding their voice into a single vocal line.
3-part treble, Piano
Commissioned by Conductor Patti Arntz and the Robbinsdale All-District Elementary Choir, Jocelyn Hagen has created an imaginative work that successfully meets the increasingly discriminating musical tastes of accomplished youth choir organizations. It is an exuberant composition which will require an accomplished and sensitive pianist, but it can also be performed with strings as well. Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye furnishes a unique text that portrays our lives as having “started out singing and smiling.” Playful and soaring melodic lines abound, giving singers opportunity for making wonderful musical contrasts, with powerful unisons and phrases tossed back and forth between sections. The biggest challenge for my young singers was the grand ending, with long-held notes in three-part harmony. The effect was stunning once they reached a level of confidence, and it was definitely worth the effort (according to them as well as to me!).
For more information on the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, visit poemhunter.com.
I’m not sure how I missed this 2006 release by Paul Carey, but I DO know that I am delighted to have discovered this treble voice setting of e.e. cummings’ oft-set poem about a Christmas tree. From the very first allegro entrance on the words, “little tree, little silent Christmas tree,” my singers were hooked by the rhythm in their vocal part, but also in the piano. The melody begins in the Alto section, but then occurs in canon with the Sopranos. It quickly becomes something like a tongue-twister challenge until it slows like a merry-go- round and leads to a dramatic and expressive assertion by the Sopranos at half the speed of the opening. These unexpected tempo and meter shifts made for rehearsal challenges over many weeks, but the singers were committed because of the way Paul Carey tells the story with such a variety of musical invention. If you have the time to commit to this piece, you and your singers – not to mention your audience – will be greatly rewarded!
G.F. Handel, Arr. Henry Leck
As I was putting together a set of “tree” songs last year for my very young choir of singers to perform at the ACDA-MN Fall Convention I knew that I really wanted to include this beautiful aria from Handel’s opera Serse, from 1738. But, how exactly would I be able to assist my choir of mostly 4th -graders in singing these high, sustained phrases? I decided that even though this arrangement by Henry Leck is intended to be sung in two parts, I would only teach the melody. Then I had all the singers learn the melody by singing it staccato (over several weeks’ time) and paying attention to the underlying rhythm by clapping, tapping, and snapping the beats until they made their next staccato entrance. Once we began to sustain the notes of the melody, we kept our rhythm motions going until they had all this wonderful forward motion built into their
singing from the rhythmic foundation we laid early on. The other unforeseen benefit was that by pinpointing those pitches by first singing staccato, the pitch did not sag. At the end of the year, this song was one of the singers’ favorites.
Watch and listen to a recording of Henry Leck conducting the arrangement with strings: