Distinctive Repertoire for Treble Voices

SBO Staff • April/May 2014ChoralRepertoire Forum • May 15, 2014

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John C Hughes

Treble voices are extremely versatile. The following pieces encourage singers to encompass a broad range of emotions and tone colors, including lyricism, purity, whimsy, and defiance. Depending on the ensemble, these works could be performed by boys’, girls’, youth, or women’s choirs. As always, I’ve sought to select works with meaningful texts from a variety of historical periods. Hopefully, conductors will be inspired to connect this repertoire to greater cultural contexts. Enjoy these wonderful compositions!


“Al-yadil yadil yadi”
Palestinian Folk Song,
arr. John Higgins
Hal Leonard

John Higgins has arranged this Palestinian folk song for treble voices. The uplifting text extolls human equality. Discussing the Palestinian cultural context will further singers’ understanding of the piece and expand their global outlook. Piano and handclaps accompany the work, but Higgins has included additional parts for percussion instruments, such as the darbukka, riqq, and tar, which add a dimension of authenticity to a performance. A ShowTrax accompaniment CD is available for purchase. Higgins’ arrangement is also available in a three-part mixed setting. Score and audio previews are available online



“Al Shlosha D’Varim”
Allan E. Naplan
Boosey & Hawkes

A skilled composer, Allan E. Naplan selected this text from Judaism’s “Pirkei Avot” (Mishnah): “The world is sustained by three things, by truth, by justice, and by peace.” When I conducted this piece, I programmed it with other peace-themed selections, which created a poignant theme. A partner song, the two melodies in “Al Shlosha D’Varim” are easily learned. The stirring melodies and lush piano accompaniment inspire ensembles to be expressive. One or more soloists can be featured at the beginning of the work. “Al Shlosha D’Varim” is available in an SATB setting as well.


“When I Close My Eyes”
Jim Papoulis
Boosey & Hawkes

I have conducted this piece several times and have returned to it for several reasons: singers love the pop/folk style; young choirs especially identify with the text; and, several aspects of musicianship (including harmony, articulation, and form) can be taught by performing it. “When I Close My Eyes” is easily learned but affords conductors significant freedom. Because notes and rhythms can be solidified quickly, more time can be devoted to unifying nuances in tempo, dynamics, and text stress. Singers will beg to sing this piece every rehearsal.

“Rattlesnake Skipping Song”
Derek Holman
Boosey & Hawkes

Taken from his collection Creatures Great and Small, Derek Holman’s “Rattlesnake Skipping Song” (available as an individual octavo) is a rhythmic selection that adds variety to any program. Despite its silly text, the piece is not necessarily easy. The melody contains some unexpected intervals and chromaticism. As the piece builds, the melody is treated imitatively, so each section needs to be able to sing independently. The piano part reinforces the singers’ harmonies, but does not offer much assistance to their voice parts.


“My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land”
Edward Elgar

Many conductors are familiar with “My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land” as a composition for SATB ensembles; however, few are aware that Elgar himself made this SSA arrangement. The melancholy melody is expertly preserved in this version of the work. The piano supports the singers, making the piece accessible to emerging choirs. The homophonic texture requires sensitive phrasing and unified text declamation.


“Tantum Ergo,” op. 65, no. 2
Garbriel Fauré
Broude Brothers

Requiring SSA choir, SSA soli, and organ/piano accompaniment, Fauré’s “Tantum Ergo” can introduce singers to French Romanticism in an accessible manner. The work is equally divided between the choir and solo trio, which reduces the amount of material for the choir to learn. The piece’s primary challenge lies in uniformly shaping the three homophonic voice parts. The pitches are not necessarily difficult, but Fauré employs many accidentals to create his lush harmonic language. Fortunately, this piece is made somewhat easier by its Latin (rather than French) text. I also recommend Fauré’s “Le Ruisseau,” op. 22 for women’s choir and piano.


“Song of Perfect Propriety”
Carol Barnett

Carol Barnett is among the most intriguing living American choral composers. She is perhaps best known for her “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.” “Song of Perfect Propriety” is a feisty and vivacious setting of a poem by Dorothy Parker. There is something strikingly powerful about Barnett’s swashbuckling musical language – perhaps because this piece was part of a multi-year commissioning project unofficially called “No Whining, No Flowers,” in which several women composers were commissioned to set texts by women on topics other than those in the project’s title. Empower your singers by programming this rollicking, devil-may-care composition. Score and audio previews are available online.


Four Russian Peasant Songs (1917)
Igore Stravinsky

One of the first surviving works by Stravinsky, these four short pieces are relatively unknown in the choral repertory. Stravinsky completed the set in 1917, but, in 1954, he revised and expanded it. This new edition (edited by Amelia Nagoski and available through GIA) adheres to Stravinsky’s first publication. The edition is extremely helpful and includes insightful notes, pronunciation guides, IPA transliterations, and English translations. Recordings of pronunciation are also available online: goo.gl/LDUQz7. This edition also contains solfège, which helps conductors connect ear training to repertoire; however, it further crowds the page.

“Three Flower Songs”
Amy Beach

Acknowledged as the first American female composer to gain wide recognition, Amy Beach (1867–1944) was truly a pioneer. Well known for her art songs, her Three Flower Songs for unaccompanied treble choir are of equal quality. Short vignettes in the style of the Romantic part song, Beach’s settings of Margaret Deland’s “The Clover,” “The Yellow Daisy,” and “The Bluebell” are whimsical and exceedingly pleasant. Perform them as a set or excerpt one or two. Share the history of Amy Beach’s life with your choir and help keep the memory of this groundbreaking composer alive.

John C. Hughes is a versatile choral musician and pedagogue, drawing from experience as a K-12 teacher, collegiate conductor, and church musician. In the fall, he will begin his duties as Director of Choral Activities at Ripon College. Please feel free to contact him directly via his website: www.johnchughes.com.

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