October 1, 2010

Choral Music for the Season | October 2010


Choral Music for the Season
 

Choral anthems to beautify your choir’s Advent and Christmas repertoire

Each year I speculate why the preparation period for Advent and Christmas feels shorter and busier than the previous year. When I count the number of liturgies that take place between Christmas and Epiphany, it doesn’t even remotely compare to Holy Week. What’s more, many of the Advent and Christmas pieces can be repeated throughout the season and therefore do double duty. I think it’s just an unusually busy time of year. Additional demands fall upon everyone, especially church musicians, during these times. Perhaps your parish does an Advent Lessons and Carols service—a beautiful way to begin the Advent season. Or possibly your choir offers a choral concert of a large work, such as Handel’s Messiah or the Bach Christmas Oratorio. Such programs take countless rehearsal hours. Even if your parish is not taking on such ambitious events, the Advent and Christmas season is busy. Up-front planning is essential to avoid feeling overwhelmed at the last minute; I strive to begin rehearsing any new Advent and Christmas music in September to achieve a less frantic November and December. (May is even a better time to introduce a new piece. When it is brought out again in the fall, you will be that much further ahead in its learning.) Building a repertoire from year to year is crucial. Here are seven choral anthems for the season that can augment and beautify your choir’s Advent and Christmas repertoire.

Angela Westhoff-Johnson

Angela Westhoff-Johnson
Managing Music Editor for OCP
and music director at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland, Oregon

 
 

The Virgin Is with Child by Randall DeBruyn

What a jewel to uncover nearly thirty years after its first publication! This beautiful piece for soprano solo and SATB choir was originally written to be accompanied by two guitars. Fortunately, a keyboard transcription of the classical guitar parts is now available, making it more accessible for typical parish forces. While it’s more easily done with keyboard (harpsichord would be lovely), the peaceful interplay between the pure, boy-like soprano voice and the guitar is gorgeous. Written in the early 1980s, the music has a baroque style reminiscent of a soprano solo in one of Bach’s many cantatas. The text of the solo is from the Communion antiphon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Isaiah 7:14). Dr. Randall DeBruyn, executive editor of English-language missals and hymnals at OCP, subtly incorporated the carol ES IST EIN’ ROS’ ENTSPRUNGEN into the SATB choral parts in an elongated chorale style. The choral parts are not demanding and could be done by most SATB choirs of intermediate ability. The solo, however, calls for a skilled soprano with a pure, well-produced tone. This tranquil yet stately gem is certainly worth considering for the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year.

Difficulty Level: Medium | Voicing: No Assembly Edition, SATB

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There Is No Rose by Craig Kingsbury

Last year I spoke about a setting of this fifteenth-century carol by Bonnie Miksch (Trinitas 4619). Since this text is one that I always include each year, I wanted to make you aware of this lovely setting by Craig Kingsbury, senior music editor at OCP. Although this Marian text, which incorporates both English and Latin, has been set by some of the best-known composers, Kingsbury’s setting is not one to overlook. The women of the choir sing the beautiful introduction, the men joining in its final “Alleluia.” The layering of voices in the second phrase, starting with the basses and moving toward the sopranos, brings natural shape to the line. Each English phrase ends with a homophonic Latin phrase. The middle of the piece—“The angels sungen the shepherds to”—begins with the men while the women offer an almost angelic response. The piece ends in a waif-like manner, with a gradual, calmly moving diminuendo. Kingsbury uses his superb choral writing technique with intuitiveness. Employing the perfect amount of dissonance, through intervals of a second, and phrase shaping that nicely weds the text and music, this choral motet is one of my choir’s favorites. It’s slightly above medium difficulty, but adequate rehearsal time will allow its true beauty to shine.

Difficulty Level: Medium | Voicing: No Assembly Edition, SATB

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