Instrumental Works Rewritten For Choir

SBO Staff • ChoralJuly 2009Repertoire Forum • July 28, 2009

Including works that have a distinctly humorous bent or unusual angle in the choral curriculum can have several benefits. For example, you may notice a high level of student motivation during the rehearsal process, you may discover teaching tools not present in more typical choral repertoire, and, in the case of these instrumental works rewritten to be performed by a choir, you can expose yourself and students to repertoire usually reserved for instrumentalists. When concert time rolls around, you may draw a smile from the audience, or prepare the way for an intense piece later in the program (or recover from one). And, of course, some of these works aren’t intended to be humorous, but rather simply beautiful. Spring programs, summer choir camps, madrigal feasts, cabaret concerts, and other events can benefit from including a piece designed to elicit a smile.

– Drew Collins, forum editor


William Tell Overture (Gioacchino Rossini, arr. Julie Eschliman) Alfred
This is a fun score that will keep your students motivated throughout the rehearsal process. Which is good, because there are 19 pages of music! The text is nonsense phonemes intended to imitate instruments. All four parts divide at one point or another, but it’s entirely manageable. The crossed-voices in mm. 38, 46 and similar may take a few extra rehearsal minutes, but it doesn’t pose a major difficulty. Sixteenth-note rhythms at such a fast tempo probably necessitate using tip-of-the-tongue consonants to ensure clear articulation and to avoid dragging. The optional piano part may be used in performance if needed, and actually adds some fun material at times. Also, check out Eschliman’s arrangement of Offenbach’s Can-Can (pub. Alfred).

Overture to The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart, arr. Howard Cable) Hinshaw
Here is a fun piece for treble choirs (SSA). This was written for children’s chorus, though I have conducted it at the high school and college levels. Both singers and audiences love it. There are tips for teaching the piece sequentially that are worth noting before you start the rehearsal process. Rehearsing under tempo is important, but so is getting the piece up to speed.

The Barber of Seville Overture (Gioacchino Rossini, arr. Daryl Runswick) Hal Leonard
Another Rossini overture for unaccompanied voices! In a recent issue, I reviewed “The Creole Love Call,” an arrangement that has long been a favorite of King’s Singers audiences. The piece was conceived by Duke Ellington as an instrumental number, but Paul Kuhn arranged it for unaccompanied SATTBB sextet using phonemes to approximate instrumental sounds. This is a category of music for which the King’s Singers are well known. Daryl Runswick takes the same approach for this arrangement. It is not intended to be taken too seriously, by audience nor singer, so be sure your students understand the humor in the score so they can sell it. The King’s Singers have recorded the piece both on CD and video, which can be good resources for the classroom or for your own use as you prepare to rehearse it. The piece can be done one-on-a-part, by a madrigal group, or even by a full choir.


Vocal Orchestrations, Set #1 (arr. Linda Spevacek-Avery) Heritage
Spevacek has written choral parts for three Chopin piano works. All three are included in one octavo. Do one, two or all three. The choir sings nonsense syllables. Available for Three-Part Mixed or SATB voicings. The 3PM voicing has some simple divisi for the trebles, and some optional notes for boys whose ranges are descending. Often times, when an octavo is targeted for junior high or high school singers, the piano part is written to be playable by someone that same age. In this case, however, note that the piano parts may require a more experienced pianist.

Dona Nobis Pacem (Schubert, arr. Carl Nygard) Beckenhorst Press
Carl Nygard added vocal parts to this piano work by Schubert, which the publication lists as “Impromptu Opus 90, no. 3.” This is correct, but note that Schubert’s catalog, while originally organized in opus numbers, is now typically organized in Deutsch numbers. So, if you are looking for a recording of the original piano work, you can look for “D. 899, no. 3.” Nygard’s arrangement has been around for years (it was published in 1990), but has stayed under the radar. This may be due to the fact that Beckenhorst Press primarily markets to churches, so public school educators may not have been introduced to the piece when it was first put in print. It also has a key signature with six flats; this may look daunting, but the piece is actually very straightforward. Plus, since this is not a typical key signature for choral singers, it can be a great opportunity to force them out of their comfort zone a bit! It is a beautiful piece, and of low difficulty level. It is SATB non divisi except the last measure for the basses and has few accidentals. There are some double flats, so be ready to discuss and rehearse those.

The Pink Panther (Henry Mancini, arr. Althouse) Alfred Pub.
Originally an instrumental piece, the theme from “The Pink Panther” has been re-fashioned for choir with piano accompaniment. The singers have scat syllables, and, of course, finger snaps. (For a fun audience participation opportunity, have the audience snap along.) There is a part in the middle where the choir speaks scat syllables using a stage whisper that will make your audience members smile even wider. Available for SATB, SAB, SSA, and 2-part. Instrumental parts are available.


Bless the Lord (Beethoven, arr. Hal Hopson) Hope Publishing Co.
Hopson assigned the words of Psalm 103 to the melody from the Adagio from Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, op. 13 for piano. The result is a simple, effective anthem. In general, the texture is homophonic, with lovely, slow-moving chords for the chorus. There are moments for the men alone and the women alone. Lon Beery crafted an SATB anthem called My Peace I Leave With You (pub. Beckenhorst) to the text from John 14: 27 using music from the same movement of this same sonata.

Ave Maria (Bach-Gounod)
In 1859, French composer Charles Gounod wrote a melody to be superimposed on Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major. There are several arrangements of this for choir. C. P. Scott’s (pub. Carl Fischer) features a soprano soloist and violin obbligato in addition to the choir and piano/organ parts, and has both English and Latin texts to choose from. Gerald Tolmage’s (pub. Staff Music Pub.) is for SATB and piano, and is in English only; this arrangement may be hard for a dealer to locate, and it may be out of print. Roy Ringwald’s arrangement is available through Shawnee Press. Richard Proulx’s arrangement (GIA) offers optional string parts.


Deck the Nutcracker Hall (arr. Greg Gilpin) Alfred
Greg Gilpin has assigned the words of the Welsh carol, “Deck the Hall” to Tchaikovsky’s music, “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. This is a great novelty for your holiday concert. However, be sure to concoct a clever introduction for the audience, otherwise listeners may miss the joke. The arrangement is fun and easy. I have performed it as part of a Madrigal Dinner at the collegiate level, and in regular concert with an adult community chorus. Audiences and singers in both situations responded positively. The accompaniment is written for piano, but can be easily adapted for celeste.

Nutcracker March (Tchaikovsky, arr. Funk) Alfred
Funk has scored his arrangement for SATB non divisi (though there are some optional notes for baritones) and optional snare drum. The choir sings “rum pum,” “fa la la,” and “plum.” This is a fun, funny, and easy selection for your holiday concert.


Bouree (J. S. Bach, arr. Ward Swingle) Swingle Music
There are many arrangements that fall in this category written by the founder of the Swingle Singers and his prot

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