May 28, 2019

3 Songs to prepare your choir for the new liturgical year

3 Songs to prepare your choir for the new liturgical year

With 23 songs of varying difficulty, voicing and style, you'll discover breathtaking pieces from some of the most beloved liturgical composers. Below are just a few examples of the music found in the 2019 Spring Choral Packet, along with detailed tips on how to fully utilize each piece. Learn how you can subscribe to the Choral Review Service today!

Christmas Lullaby
Text by M.D. Ridge / Music by Steven Ottományi

Difficulty level: Medium
Voicing: SATB, Descant
Instrumentation: Keyboard, Solo Instrument in C

From the very beginning of this piece, the listener is drawn to the intimate yet stark introduction of harp (or piano) and oboe. M.D. Ridge’s skill as a lyricist is on full display in this carol. Over the course of five verses, Ridge paints an ever-broadening picture, from the intimacy of Mary’s embrace of the infant Jesus, to the issues of the wider world that Jesus would grapple with in his public ministry, and in the final verse, the death Jesus would suffer on Calvary’s hill. I seek to find texts such as this; M.D. Ridge (1938-2017) is a master at writing texts that are thought-provoking and full of great depth. This octavo has a unison hymn version in addition to the more florid concertato presentation. The melody of this piece is quite attractive, being mostly stepwise with a few triadic arpeggiations: the eighteen measures divide into phrases of 4+4+4+6 measures and are melodically structured in an AABA’ format. The second phrase begins as a sequence of the first, but ends in a half cadence, setting up the drive to the contrasting third phrase, which contains the melodic high point. The refrain-like fourth phrase returns to the pitch level of the first, completing a compelling melodic arc. Ottományi dovetails the interludes and verses together creating a seamless texture throughout the work. The texture is always evolving in the concertato setting, from unison presentations of the melody in the treble or bass voices, to a four-part a cappella section in the fourth verse. Free and floaty is the optimal choral sound. The choral writing is not particularly challenging for SATB choirs; creating the appropriate sound that weds with the text is always the essential goal. Including Christmas Lullaby as a choral anthem at Midnight Mass and later in the Christmas Season as a hymn for choir and assembly allows for great flexibility when resources may reduce.

Puer Natus in Bethlehem 
Arranged by Robert Farrell

Difficulty level: Medium/Difficult
Voicing: SATB
Instrumentation: Organ 

The PUER NATUS chant is a staple for any choir during the season of Christmas! This imaginative arrangement of the chant melody includes the full text in both Latin and English, though I encourage the use of the Latin. Skilled composer and arranger Robert Farrell begins the first verse with women intoning the chant melody and men adding the harmonic color. His use of the organ provides the transition from one a cappella verse to the next. Verse two begins with men and transitions similarly. Each of the four verses is given a neo-medieval character, turning to quasi-Impressionistic harmonies at the refrains and interludes. Verse four is given a fuller texture with all voices beginning together, along with organ accompaniment. Farrell’s arrangement ends in a grand, robust manner, contrasting the intimate nature of its beginning. This setting for SATB voices and organ is moderately difficult for skilled choirs and well-worth the rehearsal time.

O God of Light, the Dawning Day
Text by James Quinn, SJ / Music by Luke D. Rosen;

Difficulty level: Easy/Medium
Voicing: Two-Part
Instrumentation: Piano, Guitar, Solo Instrument

Less can be more. I am always on the search for beautiful, well-crafted, simple choral pieces. "O God of Light, the Dawning Day" fits that criteria! And, as a plus, skilled cantors will shine using this as a solo or when leading the congregation. This moving two-part song, accompanied by keyboard, guitar, and a solo instrument, features a beautiful melody, a simple setting, and a striking harmonic twist at the cadence of the third verse. Quinn’s text is a reflection on Christian life that draws on Scripture for images of light and the morning dawn, ultimately closing with a gloss on the doxology for the fourth verse. Useful throughout the entire liturgical year, this lovely hymn will be a great addition to the parish and choral repertoire.

Explore more music from this season's edition


You Are Holy [Octavo]

Timothy Smith, Joseph LePage

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Choral Review Service

These songs can be found in the 2019 Spring Packet from the Choral Review Service. Offering music for traditional and contemporary choirs, children’s voices and intercultural ensembles, the Choral Review Service is the best way to find something new for your choir and community.

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Angela Westhoff-Johnson

In addition to her role as Director of Product Development at OCP, Angela Westhoff-Johnson has served as the Director of Music at St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland for more than 21 years. There she conducts the cathedral choir, cathedral contemporary ensemble and the cathedral children’s choir, all of which provide music for weekly Sunday Eucharist, as well as archdiocesan liturgies. She is also an active performer, conductor and workshop presenter.

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