Pick Six By:
Marie Palmquist Scholtz
Repertoire & Resources Chair for Children’s Music
Meadowbrook Elementary, Plymouth Congregational Church
The Sun is Mine
Rhythmic Trident RTCA-033
2-part (optional 3-part), piano
Also available as SAB
This year I again feature Canadian composer Laura Hawley of the Canadian publishing company, Rhythmic Trident. I like her simple and smart way of writing for kids as well as the texts she selects. When I pick music, I have to pass on it (and I find myself passing a LOT) if the text is immature or repetitive- we have all seen the kind. Kids feel connection or aversion to text right away, and we must choose only the best for them. “The Sun is Mine” (2016) poetry is by two living Canadians, Robert Hogg and Robert Priest, and speaks both to the enjoyment of nature and our responsibility for it. Hawley’s lilting opening theme is contrasted by a more sustained second theme, allowing for different vocal experiences and conductor strategies. Hawley’s writing in the upper tessitura is lovely, always approaching higher notes after grounding and preparation. The cacophonous final section is where the parts split most obviously from unison. Not quite canon, not quite echo, this will be a happily accepted challenge by your ensemble. I recommend browsing a bit on Rhythmic Trident- it’s a refreshing publishing company with bright arrangers and composers.
The Animals’ Peace Carol
Stone Circle Music
Unison, piano or harp
No one writes a melody like Steve Heitzeg. He uses clear sequencing to create his vocal lines, approaches high tessitura in appropriate ways, and writes unique and beautiful gestures that all singers (and you) will enjoy having in their heads. The Animals’ Peace Carol is no exception. Once I heard it, I programmed it immediately for the next Christmas with my church choir. It is the story of the sheep and donkeys as humble magi, drawn to the manger on the night of Christ’s birth. The final verse offers the universal message of peace- “Peace says yes to me, yes to you, yes to many and yes to few.” The accompaniment is for either piano or harp (common in Heitzeg’s writing) and takes on a gentle character. Heitzeg uses sophisticated but accessible rhythms that will keep your singers, especially older ones, engaged in the learning process. His score is chock full of expressive markings and specific tempo changes. What will your singers think of the composer’s choice to close on a half cadence? This sweet piece has an even sweeter dedication- “to Calypso, Isosceles, Dude, and Jim.” I want to meet the (cat?) named after a triangle!
Unison, piano, with options for soprano recorder, finger cymbals, and violin (and more!)
This piece has become my go-to for very young children’s choirs and for voice-building in those ensembles. Marketed as sacred, I maintain that it works well outside the church as well. Its beauty lies in its unapologetic simplicity. Burkhardt and lyricist Lois Brokering encourage taking a wide berth– (Change the text! Change the voicing! Add an instrument! Add a soloist!)– and give many suggestions of how to do so. The solfege used is careful and deliberate, with most figures as three ascending pitches or three descending. A director can easily transition from solfege and rhythm exercises right into this piece. For my children’s choir at Christmas, the verses were “Little snow/Little tree/Little star/Little child/Little Lord.” For Earth Day in the public schools to celebrate Earth Day, the text became “Little rock/Little tree/Little rain/Little flower.” Students played wind chimes for the rain, triangles for the star, rhythm sticks for the tree, and on and on. Not only in performance, this piece has also kept me creative during rehearsal. I combined an introduction of a verse with a Kodaly game, which helped the students with repetition and easy production.
I am becoming…
Music for Voices LK001-01/LK001-02
Unison or 2-part, piano
I first came across this piece at the Shakopee Women’s Prison, where I was in a side-by-side rehearsal for Voices of Hope conducted by Amanda Weber. Kachelmeier’s text “I am not the person I used to be…I am not the person I want to be” resonated with us all, and will resonate with your singers too. Kachelmeier writes a very clever approach to parallel thirds that I think would be successful with young singers, specifically. The tessitura is wide and the melody is engaging, allowing young singers the opportunity to explore their range and enjoy singing in it. Some of the dissonance that appears within the 2-part edition may be better for a children’s choir with more experience; the unison version still has the effect, but it’s the accompaniment that helps creates the dissonance. Held notes and arrival points within phrases are on open vowels like [o] or [a]. The only downside of this piece is that you have to play in E major during the final key change! If you don’t know about Weber’s project, visit the link below to hear a TedX Talk given by Amanda in Minneapolis.
The Corn Song
Also available within Holst’s larger collection of part-songs and canons, Songs of Land, Sea, and Air, Hal Leonard 14030877
The structure of this piece is very appropriate for young voices. After the first verse in unison and the second verse with a counter-melody, Holst has Voice I and Voice II switch parts for verse three. This equal-voice philosophy is simple, but actually so hard to find in the world of multipart music for children. The song is a home-run in that way. Ideally, all singers have a go at both parts, and do not get pigeonholed as a soprano or alto. The Dorian mode provides opportunities to practice both ‘major-’ and ‘minor-’ feeling gestures. Piano accompaniment supports those moments and results in a rich piece of music that is neither major or minor, fast or slow. Because Holst asks for the melody in Voice II to predominate, it would be possible to consider Voice I as a solo, a descant for a small group, or an opportunity to collaborate with another ensemble. You might consider the piece for a beginning mixed choir, as well. The Corn Song is part of a larger collection of more part-songs and canons for equal voices (but is also available individually). I recommend spending the ten bucks to add the wonderful collection to yours.
Voice in My Throat
Pearl and the Beard
Pearl and the Beard Collection available through Abatab – Indie tabs (abatab.com)
2-part with optional third part, guitar
Accompaniment requires some creativity and a player comfortable with tabs
Warning – this piece may result in excited 6th grade singers and a delightful ‘flow’ during rehearsal. The song is by Brooklyn-based trio Pearl and the Beard (no longer together as a band) and provides a great opportunity for young singers to experience early part-singing. My students really connected with the unique structure of two separate and winding melodies (and lyrics). Each part has its own text that speaks of a desire for personal connection. The melodies, however, complement each other and create harmony even if the lyrics don’t acknowledge it. This structure fostered interesting discussion about isolation and communication. Text like “All these years I’ve traveled down a lonely pathway” and “I walk down the road and I’m alone again” is followed by “I will sing a song as I go.” Part 2 was really nice for my 6th grade boys whose ranges were shrinking/dropping/becoming shy. During the chorus, however, Part 2 jumps above Part 1, offering a nice moment for those voices to suddenly realize a) how much they like this song and b) how willing they are to burst out in supported singing. Email me for a more complete instrumental cover I made with string bass, auxiliary percussion, and glockenspiel.