Conference Morsel: Selecting Choral Literature
Date: April 11, 2014
(An excerpt from the interest session “The Quest for Quality Choral Literature,” presented by Christopher Kiver during the 2014 ACDA Eastern Division Conference)
What was the first piece of music you encountered that made you want to pursue music? For me, it was as a fourteen year-old violist playing Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. I probably only played 30% of the notes accurately, and knew little about music, but I knew immediately this was something special - haunting melodies, driving rhythms, beautiful orchestral colors, incredible dynamic contrasts, each rehearsal further piquing my interest and excitement as more and more of the score was revealed.
So much music is available to us through live performance, reading sessions, publisher mailings, and the internet. Repertoire lists abound in choral newsletters, journals, and state adjudication lists, though rarely with objective evaluation of a composition’s quality. The following prompts are intended as a starting point for thinking more objectively when selecting repertoire.
Is the text rich in meaning, nuance and color? Are the melodies interesting or memorable (not necessarily on first hearing)? Does each section of the choir have melodically interesting lines? Does the composer include enough harmonic variety to surprise the ear? Is there rhythmic variety? Is the accompaniment compelling? Does the piece stand up to detailed analysis? Will the composition engage singers intellectually, musically and emotionally? If performing this work, what other great music are the singers missing out on?
Quality repertoire exists in all genres and historical periods. If the only first-hand experience of music for our singers is through participation in choirs, don’t all singers deserve to sing the very best music?