Chamber Music for everyone

Mike Lawson • ArchivesChoral • March 9, 2012

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By Peter J. Haberman

An instrumental music curriculum should help create comprehensive musicians. This large task cannot be accomplished through orchestra or band rehearsals alone. In fact, the schools that have high quality large ensembles usually include a chamber music component as a core requirement for most of their musicians.

Musical independence and accountability is much more easily learned away from the large ensemble setting. By performing one-on-a-part chamber music, students are creating and being responsible for individual musical choices such as tone quality, intonation, style, phrasing, balance, and technical issues at a much higher level, taking them farther along their musical journey.

The list below includes a few repertoire selections at the high school level for the most standard chamber groupings of instruments. This can serve as a starting point for creating or expanding a chamber music library, or can point out a direction to find other music for these ensembles that you find appropriate for your students.

Woodwind Quintet

“Ensemble Repertoire for Woodwind Quintet”

arr. Himie Voxman and Richard Hervig

Rubank Inc.

Grade: 3 and up

Here is the place to start with a high school woodwind quintet. Much of the original repertoire for the woodwind quintet is quite difficult, but these 12 arrangements are accessible pieces from great composers like Bach, Haydn, Mozart, CPE Bach, and more. The music is of a high quality, and there will be something at the right level and enjoyable to play by any group. These arrangements are a great introduction to the woodwind quintet medium as the orchestration demands are very typical. If you do not have a bassoon, there is even a bass clarinet book as a substitute.


Brass Quintet

“Canadian Brass Series”

Various Composers/arrangers

Various Publishers

Grade: 1 and up

The “Canadian Brass” sheet music series is very large and spans all difficulty levels. There are over 100 individual pieces and collections for brass quintet that are playable by any level ensemble. From seasonal and lighter selections to sacred and contest pieces, you will find what you want in this series. It is always difficult to find accessible music for younger musicians, but recently they have expanded the series to include quintets for students that have only been playing for two or three years. And the most difficult works are the original pieces that you hear on the “Canadian Brass” recordings, many of which require piccolo trumpet. Most of the music is published by G. Schirmer or Hal Leonard, but there are works from other publishers, as well. The best place to go to find it all is


String Quartet

“Wedding Album” Volume 1-4

Lynn Latham

Latham Music LTD

Grade: 4

The string quartet medium has no shortage of great music to choose from, but it is often a challenge to find playable works that are fun for the students. Often teachers look to accessible Mozart string quartets as a place to start. Another idea is to select music from the full string library and have it played with only one performer on a part, a great way to get the basses involved in chamber music as well. There are publishers, however, that are creating music for the younger quartet that take standard musical works and make them accessible to more novice musicians in a chamber setting; one of those is Latham Music. These wedding albums may seem cliché to some, but they turn difficult music that everyone has heard by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and more into playable works that students enjoy performing.


Clarinet Quartet/Choir

“Pieces from The Threepenny Opera”

Kurt Weill

arr. James Rae

Universal Edition

Grade: 4

This arrangement for clarinet quartet, 3 clarinets and a bass, contains all the dance rhythms, quirky harmonies, and lyrical melodies of the original chamber suite including the most famous tune, Mack the Knife. The piece has seven movements and is over ten minutes long, although movements could easily be omitted and the order changed. This gives the work a lot of flexibility in performance depending on strengths of your clarinets, available rehearsal time, and audience. The clarinet 1 part carries most of melodic material, though everyone does play melody at some time, and also demands a good upper range. The rhythmic drive of the music is carried mostly by the internal parts, so players with strong counting skills will find the piece fun and easy to put together.


“Pizzicato Polka”

Johann Strauss, Jr. & Josef Strauss

arr. Jacques Lancelot

Theodore Front Musical Literature, Inc.

Grade: 4

As with the woodwind quintet repertoire, the clarinet quartet music is often beyond many high school students. A great solution is to expand the group into a clarinet choir. There is still the possibility of one on a part playing, but students have the comfort of more people performing and there is an expanded color and range possibility. The Strauss is one such piece that could be played by a quartet or choir. Originally for string orchestra, this arrangement for 3 clarinets and a bass can has all the dynamic contrast and tempo changes you would expect from a Strauss polka. The tempo of this work can be adjusted to make it manageable for a younger group or to challenge your best students. The short work, just over two minutes, is fun to play and is very audience friendly, while providing an approachable technical challenge for the high school clarinetists.


Sax Quartet

“Sailor’s Hornpipe”

Henry Cowell

Peer Music Classical

Grade 4

This delightful and original work for saxophone quartet (two altos, tenor, and bari) is lyrical and sounds like an American folk tune, Stephen Foster meets Percy Grainger. The single movement piece is under four minutes and has very similar musical expectation for each part; each player shares the melody and scalar technical demands. The work is repetitive, yet polyphonic, which will allow for teaching great consistency in pulse, sound, style, and dynamics.


“Quartette (Allegro de Concert)”

Caryl Florio

Edition Peters

Grade: 4

This fabulous saxophone quartet (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) is in two movements and is under seven minutes. The first movement is slow and chorale-like, a perfect chance to get your group to move together, breath together, and make very consistent sounds. The second movement is faster, largely scalar, and has some wonderful dynamically contrasting sections. The movement can be played with slightly different tempos to make the technical demand approachable. There is so much musicality involved in this work, a professional quartet would enjoy working on the piece, and yet the demands technically make the work accessible by a good high school ensemble.


Trombone Quartet/Choir

“Achieved is the Glorious Work, from the Creation”

Franz Josef Haydn

arr. Miller

Ensemble Publications

Grade: 3

This happy work from Haydn is as joyful to play as the title suggests. It is a standard work for trombone quartet, which only lasts around two minutes, but can also expanded through doubling and works well as a trombone choir selection. The piece is homophonic and polyphonic so each part gets a chance to shine, yet counting is not too difficult. The work is also not too high in range and all parts are in bass clef, though you can get arrangements with the top part in tenor clef if you choose.


Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble

“El Capitan”

John Philip Sousa

arr. R. Winston Morris

Editions Bim

Grade: 4

The tuba/euphonium students in your school need a chance to shine. These small ensemble pieces are a great way to increase expectation and have fun making music in the process. There is a wealth of literature out there, but not enough groups. If numbers of players is an issue, you can always add a trombone or two as the teaching and learning opportunities for the low brass are worth the compromise, but please only if necessary. This Sousa march is a good, standard work that’s easily familiar to high school student ears. There is a lot of good material for teaching style and articulation, and some attainable technical challenge for players on each part, though the top euphonium part definitely has more melodic and range demand than others.


Percussion Ensemble

Overture for Percussion Toys

Grant Cambridge

Honey Rock Publishing

Grade: 3

This piece will keep 10 percussionists working on all the auxiliary percussion instruments. The work provides the time to really teach the technique of these instruments and make great sounds a priority on what are often forgotten about parts. The instruments create a groove-like piece with changing layers of sound. At less than five minutes, this could even be added to a concert without much percussion demand as a break from tradition.


“Chick Corea Children’s Songs Set 1”

Chick Corea

arr. David Steinquest

Rowloff Percussion

Grade: 3

Here is a chance to bring a percussion quartet together on the bells, xylophone, marimba, and vibes. The xylophone has the most demanding part with the bells providing melodic accent, while the marimba and vibes create the harmonic and rhythmic structure. The work is in three short movements (songs no. 9, 2, and 14) and each could be performed separately, as well. Each miniature has simple technical demands, chances for a lot of independent musical choices, and fun melodic and harmonic twists you would expect from Chick Corea. Due to the unique sounds created, this one can take a bit longer to put together than the technique displays.


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