Cross-Cultural Music from Many Lands

SBO Staff • ChoralNovember 2008Repertoire Forum • November 18, 2008

From time to time, this column has highlighted music from a variety of cultures. In past issues, I have focused on music of Ireland, Japan, and Latin America. Inside the United States, music from the African-American diaspora and arrangements of American hymnody have been featured. In this issue, I have decided to adopt a broader perspective, opting to highlight newer choral releases from a variety of cultures inside and outside the U. S. Let me state clearly that I am not an expert in cross-cultural music. The following scores have been chosen either because they are housed in reputable choral series, or because they serve a more introductory purpose for younger singers.

– Drew Collins, forum editor


#149; Tatkovina (Macedonian, arr. Greg Jasperse) pub. Shawnee
This is a beautiful and engaging melody, set for SATB choir (trebles divide only briefly), soloist and violin. It is in a slow 6/8 that seems to magnify the “longing” character of the text. The pronunciation of the text is actually pretty easy, especially since a singable pronunciation appears in the music under the original text.

#149; The Water is Wide (U. S., arr. Grant Cochran) pub. ECS
Grant Cochran has demonstrated through his various publications a fresh perspective on the choral medium, with a definite nod toward the traditional. In this arrangement, Cochran has combined “The Water is Wide” and “Shenandoah” (the latter sung by an octet). These two melodies have been combined as partner songs by several arrangers over the decades, but Cochran’s take is more expansive in its scoring, and more refined in terms of the use of texture and in the approach to the accompaniment.

#149; There’s a Little Wheel a-Turnin’ (U. S. Spiritual, arr. Marques L. A. Garrett) pub. GIA
This spiritual arrangement is a recent release in the highly regarded African American Church Music Series edited by Dr. James Abbington. The arrangement is fairly straightforward, but does offer some challenges for young singers. It is appropriate for any size ensemble, from quintet up to large concert choirs. The trebles occasionally split into three parts, but the tenor and bass parts do not divide, and in fact often sing in unison together. However, the tenor part requires independence and confidence of the singer(s), and does have some tricky leaps.


#149; Daniel in the Lion Den (Paul Caldwell Sean Ivory) pub. Earthsongs
This is one of Caldwell and Ivory’s most recent compositions, and is true to their style and flair. Written in the gospel idiom, it is a great concert closer for advanced choirs. After having heard Anton Armstrong premiere it with the ACDA Central Division High School Honor Choir (with Sean Ivory at the keyboard and Paul Caldwell improvising on an djembe), I decided to program it for my upcoming appearance with the Maryland All-State Choir. A recording of the premiere is available through

#149; Musieu Bainjo (Creole, arr. Louis Reichwein) pub. ECS
This is the second movement from Reichwein’s set, “Four Louisiana Creole Folk Songs”. The whole set is intriguing, but this is the standout movement for me. There are two options for the text, Creole French or English. When we think about the enslavement of Africans in the United States, we tend not to think of the slaves who were in the Louisiana region, and learned a different American language than is heard in spirituals. Well, here is a secular folk song sung by slaves in this region. It actually is not that difficult, except the occasional accidental, division of the tenor and bass parts, the medium-high level of independence required of the singers, and the momentary crossed voices in the soprano. When teaching this piece, begin by modeling the rhythm. Note the sharply contrasting dynamics on page 6.

#149; Ugongqot’hwane (South African, arr. Hendrik Hofmeyr) pub. Earthsongs
This piece is fun for several reasons, but primarily because of the rhythmic interplay between voices. The scoring is SATB non divisi and soprano soloist, without accompaniment. However, every part requires independence and fairly advanced rhythmic competence. There are few words in the whole song, but the pronunciation of the Xhosa language has its own intricacies. I recommend buying the pronunciation CD available from the publisher when you order the piece, as it could save a substantial amount of rehearsal time.

#149; Doluri (Alexi Matchavariani) pub. Earthsongs
Matchavariani is a composer from the Republic of Georgia, and this piece is published in the new series edited by Clayton Parr comprised of music from that region. Doluri is sub-titled “Drum Dance” because the singers often imitate the drum rhythm and sounds that accompanies Georgian dance. Despite this imitation of instruments, the piece itself is unaccompanied, and divides to SSAATTBB. Since the 6/8 meter alternates between compound duple and simple triple (and is at a fast tempo), the entire piece is probably best conducted 1-beat-per-measure.

#149; Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero! (Sephardic, arr. Mack Wilberg) pub. Oxford
The first thing that strikes the eye when opening this score is how much information is on the page: lots of fast-moving rhythms, articulations, repeat signs, percussion parts. But don’t be fooled: the difficulty level is much more manageable than one might think. The better the conductor knows the score, the faster your choir will learn the piece. This is true for two reasons: the melody repeats (at two tonal levels: A minor and E minor), and there is a lot of doubling of parts (sopranos and basses in octaves while the altos and tenors are in octaves, for example). Even the language is not that tricky. Ladino, a combination of Spanish and Hebrew, is pronounced pretty much as it looks on the page.


#149; My Heart’s In the Highlands (Lon Beery) pub. Alfred
If I see a work by Lon Beery for young singers, I snatch up a copy for my files. He has a great feel for what young singers can do, while maintaining high standards of quality. This ballad has Scottish words, and is composed with traditional Scottish melodic principles in mind. It is available in 3-part mixed (with optional baritone) a voicing pioneered and championed by Dr. Beery and is also available for (T)TB.

#149; Shalom Chaverim (Israeli, arr. Catherine Delanoy) pub. Shawnee
This may be the most recognizable Israeli melody, and is certainly one that our singers would benefit from knowing. Delanoy’s approach is certainly a western one, treating the melody almost like a ballad. But it is effective, and appropriate for the age group intended. One feather in the cap of this piece is that the voicing, though it does not read this way on the cover, is actually 3-part mixed (with optional baritone), which tends to provide the most options for choirs with changing voices. Additionally, Delanoy actually lists Part III as optional, pointing out that the arrangement may alternately be performed as a 2-part piece. Take note as you teach the piece that the top two voices do cross at times, which can confuse young singers’ ears.


#149; Mo Li Hua (Chinese, arr. Jill Gallina) Shawnee
This arrangement is simple, sensitive and lovely. Young singers will take to it immediately. The text has a pronunciation guide for the singers right in the music, which will save rehearsal time. The first half of the arrangement is in a Chinese dialect, while the last half is in English. It is scored for 2-part treble voices with piano and flute. The flute part is easy enough to be played by a student.

#149; Hamisha Asar (Israeli, arr. Nick Page) Boosey Hawkes
This was published several years ago, but is worth looking at again. It is a great way to start the year with a particularly capable choir, or to end the year with a choir who has made great progress over the course of the year. It was written for a children’s choir, but I am working on it now with my collegiate women’s chorale in preparation for a convention appearance. It is in a fast 7/8, which should be conducted in a modified 3 pattern. It is for SSA, but note that the melody is always in the bottom staff. Though only scored for piano accompaniment, feel free to add tambourine and/or finger cymbals to dress up the texture. It may also be appropriate to incorporate folk dance into your performance in some way. A recording of the song-writer (Flory Jagoda) singing it is available through iTunes, but Nick Page’s arrangement seems to take a zestier path in terms of tempo. It was originally for SSA, but is also available for SATB.

#149; Villancico (Spanish, arr. Bruce Trinkley) pub. Alfred
This piece has a fun Spanish flavor that young singers will enjoy. The treble version works very well, but an SATB, version is also available. The difficulty level of each version is low. If you have a church choir, the SATB version would be very effective. This piece is geared toward the holiday season. Both Spanish and English words are included. Traditional percussion and guitar can be added for extra flavor, but are certainly not necessary.

#149; Sun Don’t Set In the Mornin’ (U. S., arr. Jay Althouse) pub. Alfred
Here is a great selection for your girls chorus, and may be most appropriate for grades 8-10. The mixed version would work for the same age group if you have a young mixed chorus. This melody has not been set very much for choir, and Althouse’s take is fairly straightforward, yet doesn’t water down the swells of expression that occur throughout. To this end, pay special attention to dynamic contrast, and be prepared to teach good vocal technique on the leap that occurs near the beginning of the melody.


#149; Fillimiooriay (Ireland, arr. Lon Beery) pub. Alfred
Again, Lon Beery’s expertise with the changing male voice is evident in this raucous and fun arrangement. Scored for TTB and piano, it will be a great fit for any all-male choral ensemble (even trios!) with changed and changing voices.

#149; Marry a Woman Uglier Than You (Trinidad, arr. Claren D. Wilson) pub. Shawnee
This is a fun (and funny!) work for men’s voices that will have your singers smiling and your audience laughing. The piece is in a Calypso style. The arrangement was written for a collegiate choir, but the difficulty level (it’s easy) and vocal ranges make it appropriate for younger singers as well. The tempo is marked at 132, but a slightly slower groove could also work well, giving it a more relaxed “island feel”. The piece is scored for 3-part male voices and piano, and has optional percussion parts that are playable by choir members. A bass guitar could double the left hand of the piano if desired, and chord symbols are provided for guitar, steel drum or even marimba improvisation.

#149; Zikr (Indian, arr. Ethan Sperry) pub. Earthsongs
Indian film composer A. R. Rahman wrote this chant for use in a documentary. Ethan Sperry arranged a version for choir, percussion and guitar that draws the audience in and engages the singers. There is a lot of text, but the pronunciation is actually more straightforward than it first appears; there is an easy-to-follow guide on the back page. Note the marking “twice as fast” on page 11; you will want to make eye contact with the percussionist at that moment. Sperry’s arrangement is available in TTBB or SATB, and both work very well. A recording of Sperry’s TTBB performance is available from the publisher.

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