Unearthing Choral Gems

four videos attached ~

We don’t always have to have the newest, latest piece of music to introduce to our choirs. Sometimes, the restriction of a budget can send you to the pieces that have collected dust in your choral library or are in the public domain. Sometimes, you just remember what has always been beautiful and will always remain so.

There is poignant poetry scored for choir in madrigals and folk songs from around the globe. These are not necessarily easy pieces and the text is profoundly meaningful and often times words we unfortunately no longer use in our everyday conversations. These pieces are ideal for not only increasing vocabulary and one’s ability to articulate more precisely our thoughts, but for teaching scales, unpredictable rhythms, asymmetry, and patterns.

Our Purcell ensemble for novice singers ages eight through twelve has just performed John DOWLAND’S Come Again, Sweet Love. The text is beautifully depicted with the pattern of rising intervals of a fourth beginning on the dominant note and climbing to the octave. Written in the key of F Major it is easily singable for almost any choir since it is only the octave range. After the interval of a fourth ascent, the C is sustained not for four counts but for five and one-half counts which helps choristers the pulse of the downbeat without accentuating it.

The piece itself does not begin on the tonic, rather on the third. This is another great teaching tool. It can also be an etude used to practice tuning intervals of the fourth as well as understanding use of a sustained pentascale that is also used for phrasing and text imagery. Mature singers and novice singers love how the voice sounds when singing this piece and the chance to expressively sing of an unrequited love. Children and adults alike will love be dramatic with it for love comes in many different forms.

Diagnosing the difficult areas first is the best prevention tool to mixing a healing balm later!

If you plan to use it, teach the section that includes the interval of a fourth with the sustained C for mor than five counts first. It can be used as a tonal memory exercise on a neutral vowel before even looking at the music. The tied C sustained across the bar should be introduced through count singing only with a kinetic gesture on the downbeat preceding the descending pentascale. Singers can never sing this one phrase if the count singing does not happen every rehearsal. When the count singing is removed, adding the crescendo while using the full sweep of the arm and hand to gesture will help in finding where the emphasis of the down beat happens as the text continues. Likewise, the sixteenth notes at the end of the phrase will need an appropriate gesture to end the musical thought gracefully.

Purcell Choir singing Come Again, Sweet Love:  https://youtu.be/jJeL-BHXc-4

Another great piece for your choir’s repertoire is SCARLATTI’S O cessate di piagarmi.

Purcell Choir singing: https://youtu.be/gCsTI-oK-wU

Aside from the obvious help singing Italian vowels brings to any singer, the placement of the grace note in the same phrase but on different syllables and beats in bars nine and eleven. Again, writing this rhythm on the board with the counts under the notes is the initial way to teach this. Treat the grace note as if it divides its successive eighth note into equal parts. Teach bar eleven first! Clap the rhythm as you speak the counts. Then, move that rhythm to the feet as you speak the counts. Follow that with a neutral but percussive syllable “ta-ta-ta” applied to the rhythm. After bar eleven has been successfully achieved, teach bar eight in the same manner.

The six-eight time does not have to be explained in six equal parts, but through the use of body swaying to and fro or front to back much like the movement found in skipping. Since the rhythm and phrasing is repetitive in the A section, applying the text will come quickly.

The only other difficult place in the piece is bars fifteen and seventeen. Again, the rhythm is different, but the text and melody the same. This differentiation can be easily remedied through the use of a true ritardando et poco crescendo and kinetic gesture in bar fifteen. Also, please have the accompanist use ritardando assai with a slight lift before bar sixteen as the A section is re-introduced.

Diagnosing the difficult areas first is the best prevention tool to mixing a healing balm later!

Other lovely pieces found on imslp.org to try with two part treble chorus and piano accompaniment: Henry PURCELL:

My Dearest, My Fairest                                                                                                                     
Sound the Trumpet
Shepherd, Shepherd Leave Decoying                                                                                        Let Us Wander

Lynn Swanson

Executive Artistic Director Milwaukee Children's Choir

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Lynn Swanson

Executive Artistic Director Milwaukee Children's Choir