Multicultural Music

SBO Staff • ChoralOctober 2014Repertoire Forum • October 24, 2014

Share This:

By John C. Hughes

I strongly advocate that students be familiar with the standard choral repertory – from Palestrina to Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Barber, and so many other “big name” composers. However, I also realize and appreciate the importance of using choral music as a means to reflect the diversity of our world, widen students’ perspectives, and instill cultural understanding. There is much to gain by singing in different languages, exploring new rhythms, and viewing music through a cultural lens.
Performing multicultural music not only improves musicianship, but also encourages students to become more globally aware. Consider programming these or other works, and don’t forget to talk about how each song relates to its culture.



“Ani Ma’amin”
arr. Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory
Although “Ani Ma’amin” has been part of the Jewish tradition for centuries, it became better known outside the Jewish community after the Holocaust. Witnesses report that Jewish people sang this song as they were marched to their deaths in the gas chambers. For this reason, the tune is frequently sung today in remembrance of the myriad of children killed by the Nazis. Pairing a violin, piano, and unison voices, Caldwell and Ivory’s arrangement is evocative and contemplative. The arrangers retained the Hebrew text; for help with pronunciation, consult Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, Volume 4: Hebrew Texts (ed. Ethan Nash and Joshua Jacobson, earthsongs, 2009).

Score and audio previews are available:



“Hot Tea, Mint and Olives”
Kareem Roustom
Ione Press (ECS Publishing)
The Boston Children’s Chorus commissioned Syrian-American composer Kareem Roustom to compose this work in 2007. “Hot Tea, Mint and Olives” is a three-movement secular composition for SSA chorus and piano that reinforces peace, friendship, and mutual understanding. Because of Roustom’s use of extended techniques (such as nonsense syllables, glissandi, and clapping and stomping) and incorporation of the Arabic language, this work is best suited for advanced ensembles. However, the piece’s difficulty should not deter conductors. The meaningful texts and stunning music are worth the effort required to successfully perform this piece.

Score and audio previews are available:



arr. Stephen Hatfield
Boosey & Hawkes
Stephen Hatfield is always coming up with singularly creative arrangements. Like his other works, “Dubula” is not only fun and energetic, but also well crafted and educationally sound. A party song from Africa, this piece’s text references the joy of human unity. With infectious rhythms and rich harmonies, singers and audiences will love this piece. Because of the piece’s flexibility, conductors can enjoy exploring different interpretations. Originally written for a mixed choir, “Dubula” is available in an SATB setting.



“Da Hai Ah, Gu Siang”
Wang Li Ping, 
arr. Jonathan Palant
A lush ballad, “Da Hai Ah, Gu Siang” is a famous Chinese melody. Essentially a folk song, the text refers to themes of home and the sea – themes that are frequently paired with men’s voices. Although there is some four-part divisi, this composition is not exceedingly difficult. The piano part adds grandeur with its arpeggiated chords, and Palant has included an easy-to-use transliteration of the Chinese language. I highly recommend this work to add some variety to any concert and to showcase a strong men’s section or choir.

Score and audio previews are available:


“Pengyou, Ting!”
Traditional Chinese Melody,
arr. Carolyn Jennings

A short piece, Carolyn Jennings’s arrangement of this Chinese folk melody fits well into any program. Incorporating finger cymbals and Chinese text, this arrangement sounds quite authentic. The harmonies are straightforward, and there is significant unison writing between voice parts, making this piece fairly easy to learn. The text is from the sacred Christian tradition. “Pengyou, Ting!” is also available in an SATB setting.

Score and audio previews are available:


Steve Dropkin, arr. Scott Lavender
Taken from the Jewish evening liturgy, “Hashkiveinu” is a quiet prayer for protection during the coming night. Steve Dropkin, an active contributor to today’s sacred Jewish music, wrote this beautiful piece, which was arranged by Scott Lavender. Accompanied by piano, the SAB choir primarily serves as accompanist to a soloist. With a significant amount of repeated material, choirs can focus on musicality and interpretation rather than notes and rhythms. The score includes a pronunciation guide, but I recommend also consulting Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, Volume 4: Hebrew Texts (ed. Ethan Nash and Joshua Jacobson, earthsongs, 2009) for an IPA transliteration and more information on the text.



“E Oru O” (A Yoruba Greeting)
Nigerian Folk Song,
ad. Rosephanye Powell

Hal Leonard
Based on a traditional Nigerian folk song, “E Oru O” is a processional anticipating the arrival of an important tribal leader. That said, this piece is a great way to begin a concert, especially if your singers are able to process onto the stage. Complemented by a flexible percussion battery, Powell’s adaptation can be molded to fit almost any choir and performance situation. The piece also lends itself to movement on the risers – particularly the claps notated in the score. This energetic song is full of rhythm, joy, and fun.

An audio preview is available:



“Blue Bird”
arr. Jungsung Lee
Santa Barbara
The New Choir from San José, California commissioned Jungsun Lee to compose a work for their performance at the Western Division ACDA Convention in 2006. Lee chose to arrange this traditional Korean folk song, which references the defeat of the Korean peasant uprising of 1894–95. Given this piece’s revolutionary subtext, “Blue Bird” might pair nicely with other songs of protest (such as an African-American spiritual or an Estonian piece). The piece is fairly straightforward; however, the prevalence of perfect fourths (both melodically and harmonically) will require ensembles to focus on intonation. “Blue Bird” is also available in an SSA setting.

Score and audio previews are available:



Indian Raga, arr. Ethan Sperry
I’ve loved this piece for several years and am finally programming it this year. “Desh” is an arrangement of an Indian raga. Following the Indian custom, the piece begins with a slow section called an allap. A lullaby, a beautiful melody centered on the word “Mola” (“sleep”) is sung repeatedly during the opening section, while other voice parts are derived from pitched and unpitched drums. Eventually, the piece takes off at a very fast tempo, and Sperry integrates some speaking sections and overtone singing. While there are a lot of notes in “Desh” and the 7/8 meter can be challenging, the piece is repetitive and contains significant unison writing, making it accessible to more ensembles than it might first appear to be. “Desh” is also available in a TTBB setting.

Score and audio previews are available:

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!