What new music are you singing these days? by Tom Berryman

November 2011
Tom Berryman, Massachusetts Music in Worship R&S Chair

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

We’ll start off with my own recent programming choices for the Parish Choir at First Parish in Framingham, a Unitarian Universalist congregation of about four hundred members. The Parish Choir of twenty-five mixed adult voices includes four professional section leaders, rehearses three evenings each month and sings most Sundays during the September to early June season. The Choir typically sings from the center of the rear gallery, but also sings in the front of the church when piano accompaniment is required. The worship tradition is non-liturgical and embraces a wide variety of styles and points of view.

Words from Two Women-Jane Marshall
SATB, a cappella
ECS Publishing
Jane Marshall offers two short settings of texts by Mother Teresa and the medieval poet, Mechtild of Magdeburg in an edgy but tonal harmonic language. The texts express the universal concerns of healing and service. My choir is willing to be adventurous and these pieces offered us some tuning challenges.

One Thing More-Jane Marshall
SATB, a cappella
ECS Publishing
The George Herbert text, “Thou that hast giv’n so much to me, give one thing more, a grateful heart,” honors a stewardship or thanksgiving theme. Jane Marshall’s setting is in a simple, tonal style that requires secure, independent four part singing.

Kol Nidre- Samuel Adler
SATB, soloist with solo cello and organ
Transcontinental Music Publishers
Samuel Adler’s beautiful setting of this traditional Yom Kippur text requires a fine cellist and strong soprano or tenor soloist. The choir functions in a responding role to the soloist. The writing includes unison, imitative and hymnlike textures. This is a very effective and satisfying piece to learn, perform and hear.

Gate, Gate- Brian Tate
SATB with percussion and piano
The Sanskrit and English text expresses the heart of Buddhist teaching. Brian Tate’s setting is rhythmic and engaging, with some dividing parts and active piano playing. This piece is best sung by memory and should include some movement for best effect.

Treasures in Heaven- Joseph Clokey
SATB, with organ
Alfred Music Publishers
Treasures in Heaven has been around for awhile, but I’ve just recently discovered it. Clokey’s setting of the text, “Lay not up for yourself treasures on earth…” honors the text in an Anglican chant style. I use this piece to work on expression, phrasing and word accent.

Sweet Radiant Mystery- Catherine Dalton
Four part equal voices, with handbells or piano
Hickory Street Publishing
The choir sings a unison chant and then divides into four equal canonic parts. The bells play a repeating chord progression that combines with overlapping vocal parts to create a misterioso feeling.

The Road Home- Stephen Paulus
SATB a cappella with soprano solo
Paulus Publications
Paulus sets this original text by Michael Dennis Browne to the Southern Harmony tune “Prospect.” The soprano countermelody for the third verse creates a particularly beautiful effect. The option of a unison choir performance with keyboard accompaniment is offered.

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