Alternate Title: Selecting Holiday Choral Repertoire That Doesn’t Make Your Choir Sound Like Carolers (Unless That’s What You Want)
Many choral music educators experience panic when thinking of planning repertoire for holiday concerts. Some of us may even have had a few sleepless nights. However, with the ease of the technological world at our fingertips, selecting music has never been easier.
Obviously, knowing what sort of musical selections your school situation allows and expects is paramount. And equally important, what concepts, skills, and standards will be taught via your holiday literature? Once those questions are answered, planning your concert will have a guiding North Star.
Theme concerts are popular and choosing one can become a catalyst. Possible non-sacred themes could be snow, bells, winter, stars, peace, or holiday celebrations from around the world. With a theme in mind, let your search for ideas and literature begin.
A good starting place is to reach out to music colleagues who may have literature suggestions or octavos to trade for this upcoming season. Ask them for ideas of pieces that they have used that might fit into your theme. Connecting to your fellow educators on state ACDA, MEA or “I’m a choir director” groups via Facebook or Twitter may elicit a plethora of suggestions.
Choral ensemble music just debuted in beta form in SmartMusic this summer. It features assessable parts, full choral ensemble performance MP3’s, and assignments crafted by choral music educators. The list of titles will continue to grow; but several possible pieces for a holiday concert are available today.
Another site to spark new literature ideas is through a title search of YouTube with your theme and a key text word. Watching videos of other choirs performing is often a great way to get the musical creativity juices flowing. Plus, it’s also nice to have found a performance to emulate, or even share with your choir.
Music retailers have become tremendously accommodating for directors in the search for new literature. Go to your favorite and do a search for the desired voicing and theme. Clicking to listen to a recording or watching a video may help make choosing new pieces more clear cut and can even be fun! Examples include jwpepper.com, alfred.com, halleonard.com, sheetmusicplus.com, and lorenz.com.
Additionally, many composers have their own websites featuring recordings, videos, and sample scores. Search composers whose works have been accessible for your choirs to find literature that may be appropriate for a holiday concert. A few to start with might include olagjeilo.com, johnrutter.com, graphitepublishing.com and zrstroope.com/music.php.
Artist/Composer-owned websites like musicspoke can be searched easily by title, composer, or voicing. This new and exciting online marketplace allows users to hear and see entire pieces when considering them for such a proposed program.
Music educators on a tight budget can always check out www.cpdl.org. Type in your theme and a vast array of public domain pieces are at your choosing. A surprising number of holiday pieces are secular, or can become secular with a few deft text substitutions and changes. Consider dusting off those old theory chops and arrange some of these standard public domain selections explicitly for your singers. You may be surprised at how wonderfully they work and your students may be inspired by your extra effort to tailor pieces for them. (And, hey, your administrators would likely be impressed too!)
If You’re Looking For Caroling Options
For those educators who NEED typical caroling selections, most of the aforementioned sites will have offerings in a myriad of voicings and arrangements. Another site to consider checking out is: christmascarolmusic.org. This site features choral holiday pieces both sacred and secular in parts, and also single melodies with chords. It also has holiday music with guitar, and for transposing instruments. All of these selections are in PDF format and just a click away.
Many singers enjoy performing a piece that all choirs sing jointly at the end of a holiday concert. A time tested selection at my school that has worked well is “Carol of the Bells” SATB, Mikhail Leontovich/arr. Wilhousky – Carl Fischer LLC. Audiences loved it as well. The older students who had sung it previously loved the repetition, and new singers in the program benefitted from singing with the advanced students. Plus, some of them were excited to learn a choral piece heard in the iconic classic holiday movie, “Home Alone.”
One other idea for holiday concert programming is to tap singers who are also instrumentalists to assist in the accompaniment of your pieces. Students who play piano can be encouraged to start accompanying, joining another pianist for four hand accompaniments, or by playing a solo while choirs enter and exit the stage. A young percussionist, woodwind or brass player may be the icing on the proverbial holiday fruitcake, making a performance even more memorable.
Hopefully, some of these suggestions may spark ideas to be programmed for the upcoming holiday season. Happy hunting, and “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!”
Laura Vaughan has over 30 years of teaching experience. She received a B. S. in Music from Missouri State University and an M. M. in Voice Performance and Pedagogy from Webster University, with additional studies at the University of Exeter, England.
Her choirs were selected to perform at several Missouri Music Educator Association conventions. Laura is active as a choral adjudicator, maintains a private voice studio in St. Louis, and has been a SmartMusic clinician since 2004. She has performed as a soprano soloist in the US, England and Italy.