What new music are you singing these days? by Andrew Shenton

September 2012
Andrew Shenton, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Weston, MA

Discovering repertoire is one of our most important challenges. This column aims to offer recent repertoire choices of church choral directors in Massachusetts. The literature is not necessarily new, but the selections represent music that is new to the choir.

St. Peter’s, Weston [http://www.stpetersweston.org/content.cfm?id=314] is an Episcopal Church of about 400 members. The adult choir consists primarily of four section leaders (SATB) with a few regular congregational choir members. It is augmented for special occasions and there is also a children’s choir that performs on a regular basis. The fine three-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ (Op. 1332, 1956) is in the chancel where the choir sings from collegiate-style stalls. There is also a Steinway concert grand.

Andrew Shenton is Artistic Director of the Boston Choral Ensemble and Director of Music at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Weston, MA. At Boston University, he holds appointments in the School of Theology, School of Music. He is an Associate Professor of Music, the James R. Houghton Scholar of Sacred Music, Director of the Master of Sacred Music program and Director of the Boston University Messiaen Project.

Peter Aston – So they gave their bodies
SATB and organ
OUP (part of the excellent collection The New Church Anthem Book, which contains 100 anthems in different styles and from different periods)
Aston’s anthem for Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Funerals and similar occasions, takes part of Pericles’ Funeral Oration so, although suitable for a Christian service, it isn’t a Christian text and would work well in many situations. The tune echoes the Last Post in places and will make a memorable contribution to services that honor service women and men. This gentle and contemplative anthem has many unison passages for the choir and is in ABA form so it is easy to learn. Aston’s style is contemporary, but in this anthem the pulsing organ part and sweeping choral lines are both dramatic and effective.

James Biery – Easter rejoicing
SATB, trumpet and organ
MorningStar (2011)
Biery’s dynamic Easter anthem is full of fanfares and a declamatory trumpet part that heralds a call to praise the risen Christ. This joyous anthem is appropriate throughout the Easter season. The chorus parts are mainly homophonic in four parts with brief passages of chromaticism. A reproducible part for the Trumpet is included in the score. This is an impactful rousing anthem that choirs and congregations will love.

Paul Halley – The rain is over and gone
SATB, piano, S solo (parts for gospel ensemble available from publisher)
Back Alley Music (1998)
From the start of the extended soprano solo, Haley’s setting of the famous text from the Song of Solomon is an exceptional piece. An a cappella start for the soloist leads into an accompanied solo verse and then a verse with the choir singing “ah.” The chorus then join in a “call and response” with the soloists and an obligatory key change leads into a rousing finale. It does need a good soloist, who can sing in gospel style, but the chorus parts are straightforward and it’s great way to bring a contemporary gospel piece into your service or concert. The text is suitable for spring, general use and especially for weddings.

Simon Lole – The Father’s Love
SA and organ
RSCM (1987)
Lole wrote this beautiful setting of John 15:9-12 while he was organist at St. Mary’s Warwick in England and it has become very popular in the UK. Suitable for children and useful as a general anthem and also for weddings, the piece is in ABA form with beautiful soprano tune that is repeated at the end with a descant. The middle section is in two parts and highly chromatic. The organ part is slightly tricky because of the key the piece is in (E major) but it is not beyond the competent organist.

Richard Shephard – A new commandment
SATB, a cappella
OUP (part of the excellent collection Ash Wednesday to Easter for Choirs)
This simple and short setting of John 13: 34-5 is a beautiful and elegant miniature with exquisite harmonies and is well written for voices (and could also be performed with organ). The text is suitable for many occasions and the piece would be good as a short offertory, introit or communion motet.

John Stainer – The Crucifixion
SATB and organ
free score on CPDL, several good interpretations on YouTube.
Most people know the anthem “God so loved the World” from Stainer’s Crucifixion, but the entire piece (essentially a passion setting) is worth considering for a Lent concert or special service. Although once out of fashion, this accessible and dramatic piece is now regaining favor because it is both tuneful and relevant, and a dose of sentimental Victoriana now and then is good for choir and congregation alike! The choral parts are relatively straightforward, and fun to sing. There are tenor and baritone solos and an organ part of moderate difficulty. Several congregational hymns are inserted so that a performance is an inclusive experience and several movements could be excerpted and used as anthems prior to a complete performance.

Judith Weir – My guardian Angel
SATB and congregation, or choir SSATBB, a cappella
Chester Music (2008)
Contemporary British composer Judith Weir has written many choral works, usually for advanced level choirs. Her setting of William Blake’s short poem celebrates the increased incidence of public appearances by angels at Christmas time. The music of the carol is based around a repeated 14-bar unison melody “Alleluia” which may be performed by the audience/congregation while the choir weaves a 4-part counterpoint around it. At the first performance the audience of around 400 people were taught their part by ear immediately beforehand, but as an aid to learning, the music may be reproduced for use by the audience. This piece may equally well be performed by choir alone in 6 parts, with some of the sopranos and basses singing the Alleluia. This is an effective piece and a great way to engage your audience or congregation in the event.


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