Pick Six By:

Michael McGaghie

Repertoire and Resources Chair for College/University Choirs
Macalester College



Jocelyn Hagen

JH – C018

SATB (div.) a cappella
Self-published, available through Independent Music Publishers Cooperative


Scroll down to Gertrude’s final passage at line 3315

The composer takes her text from the close of Hamlet’s fourth act, where Queen Gertrude reports to Laertes that his sister Ophelia has drowned. This powerful setting begins lyrically but restrained, setting up an expansive climax at Laertes’ heart-breaking response: “Too much water hast thou, poor Ophelia, and therefore I forbid my tears.” Homophonic textures predominate in the work.

Conductors might introduce the piece with background on Shakespeare’s play itself—particularly Ophelia’s unfortunate relationship with Hamlet, her father Polonius’ death at Hamlet’s hand, and her subsequent descent into madness. Shakespeare’s language also requires extra attention to the English diction. The piece demands a careful attention to balance, particularly in low textures, which Ms. Hagen associates throughout with water.

The Whole Sea in Motion

Dale Trumbore

G. Schirmer HL 50498735

SATB (div.) and piano


This fascinating, impressionistic work sets Anne Bronte’s vivid, prose depiction of the ocean, taken from her novel Agnes Grey. The vocal texture shifts fluidly between homophonic passages and canonic writing. A wisely-composed, sometimes-aleatoric piano accompaniment establishes a watery texture, offering harmonic support and just enough pitch assistance to help the chorus through transitions.

Ms. Trumbore sets Bronte’s text essentially in speech rhythms, resulting in several meter changes, syncopations, and tuplets throughout. Conductors might begin teaching the work by focusing entirely on the rhythm and diction, either spoken or chanted on a single pitch. Once these elements are established confidently, the ensemble might then move to learning the pitch material. The piece also affords many opportunities to refine dynamic subtlety.

I Hear the Siren’s Call

Chen Yi

Presser 312-41869

SATB a cappella


Composed for Chanticleer in a Chinese musical language, this piece is appropriate for student choirs eager to explore a definitively non-Western idiom. The vocal lines use nonsense Chinese syllables—set over several unison phrases, multiple glissandos, and a few moments calling for indefinite pitches at either extreme of the range. The sopranos depict the siren, whose haunting song lures a crew of unfortunate sailors (the lower voices) into a frantic shipwreck.

Given the idiom, this work is best assembled by learning details first. Rather than read the piece straight through, conductors would be advised to introduce this piece by having the full choir sing individual voice parts. A few challenging clusters provide an excellent opportunity to reinforce solfège skills.

Performers should note that the composer’s surname is Chen (not Yi); following Chinese custom, she lists her surname first.

The Rewaking

Augusta Read Thomas

G. Schirmer ED 4489

SATB (div.) a cappella
Also available: ED 4488 (TTBB version)


The composer sets William Carlos Williams’ spare poem with a similarly spare opening. Quartal harmonies predominate before the piece settles into a lush B major sonority at its uplifting close. First written for TTBB choir, this SATB version (created by the composer herself) successfully captures the original’s effect.

An effective performance requires the generous usage of rubato; conductors would do well to decide upon these inflections early and teach them to the chorus immediately. The occasional hocket passages might be rehearsed by first having the full choir speak/chant the “assembled” text together in correct rhythm before deconstructing the individual parts. The composer’s stratified dynamic markings require careful attention.

Seven Pious Pieces

Donald Martino

Dantalian DA.DSE205

SATB and piano (ad lib.)


Known principally for his serial works, Martino beautifully sets seven of Robert Herrick’s mystical poems with an entirely tonal but extensively modulatory language. The score includes optional, non-doubling piano accompaniment in selected movements, and conductors would be well advised to use it in performance. The piano adds a great deal of interest to the musical texture, while also providing harmonic support to the chorus through some difficult transitions.

The composer’s detailed indications offer the opportunity for choruses to refine their dynamic subtlety and tempo flexibility. Conductors might point out Martino’s gentle homage to twelve-tone technique, where lovely, lyrical melodies eventually find their way through all twelve chromatic pitches. The movements can be excerpted individually—the fifth (“Eternitie”) is particularly exquisite.

Leron Leron Sinta

arr. Saunder Choi

Earthsongs S-395

SATB (div.) a cappella


Composed for the Philippine Madrigal Singers (Madz), this playful, flashy arrangement of a traditional Philippine folksong makes a great closer to a program. Lively opening and closing sections frame a contrasting slow verse, while Mr. Choi’s jazz-flavored, accessible harmonic language shines throughout.

The text is in Tagalog; conductors can reinforce IPA literacy using the IPA transcription provided in the score. The piece demands abundant, joyful energy and attention to dynamic gesture for an effective performance. Multiple recordings are available on YouTube.