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If an English literature teacher assigns the writings of Hunter S. Thompson or Ernest Hemmingway, is she advocating drug or alcohol use?  Are choral directors who program a work with a sacred text proselytizing? Is the science teacher explaining human biology being lewd or provocative?
The answer to all three questions is a resounding, “Of course not!”
Yet year after year those of us in the choral music field come under withering fire for programming historically valuable and educationally viable music that just happens to have sacred text.
In the document Music with Sacred Text: Vital to Choral Music and the Choral Art, your association has stated. “It is important to recognize the fact that almost all of the significant choral music composed before the 17th century was associated with a sacred text. Since choral music with a sacred text comprises such a substantial portion of the artistic repertoire representative of the choral medium and the history of music, it should have an important place in music education.”
As you ponder this, enjoy a selection from a recent performance at an ACDA divisional conference.  While the text of this work is sacred, the educational intent of its study and performance was not.
After watching Curley stuff this Thanksgiving turkey, perhaps you’ll just have a sandwich instead.  Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
1.  “SingUnto God.”  Paul Fetler. Augsburg Fortress 11-1244
Released in 1959, this powerful and rhythmic work is great for the advanced church choir or college choir, especially with the frantic buildup to the ending.
2.  “Lebenslust.”  Franz Schubert.  CPDL
A perfect piece to teach Romantic style. It’s accessible to nearly all levels of singers and the score can bedownloaded for free or purchased from various publishing companies.
3.  “In the Beginning.”  Daniel Pinkham.  Ione Press EC.2902
An exciting piece published in 1970 with an electronic tape of pre-recorded sounds. This easy piece is a classic with High School and College choirs.
4.  “Ezekiel Saw de Wheel” William Dawson.  Kjos Music Co./Tuskegee Publications T110
One of the United States’ most gifted spiritual composers of the 20th Century, Dawson gives us a choral work teaching us about history as well as challenging us as singers.
5.  “Choral Dances from Gloriana.”  Benjamin Britten.  Boosey & Hawkes 17411
Taken from Act 2 of the opera Gloriana, these six seemingly easy brief works range from the light and energetic to soft and subdued. Excellent for the choir who likes a challenge.
(“Five from the Folder” provides brief, text-length reviews of vocal works currently in the folders of choral directors throughout the United States.  To share five from your folder, contact Scott Dorsey at
(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “J.S. Bach and the Concerto: Ritornello as a Guide to Rehearsal” by Chester L. Alwes)
       When a student conductor starts to rehearse a choral/ orchestral work of J.S. Bach by announcing "we'll skip the introduction and begin at measure . . . (where the chorus comes in)," I wince. Although this decision is pragmatic (the accompanist rarely needs to practice his/her part), eliminating the introduction is a false economy. By so doing, we overlook that element of the composition that is most critical to our understanding of the piece and, ultimately, to the choir's ability to perform the work intelligently-the ritornello. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the enormous help that a clear understanding of this "introduction" affords choir and conductor.
       Literally, the ritornello introduces not just the choral entrance, but the substance of the composition. As Christoph Wolff puts it:
The ritornello ... establishes order by setting up a fixed organizational scheme with the proper sequence of musical ideas . . . their systematic connection, their correlation, and finally, their logical succession.
       The ritornello is to Baroque concerted music what the exposition is to the later sonata form: the orderly presentation of the ideas that comprise the basis of the composition.
       Bach first encountered this principle of composition in the music of Antonio Vivaldi, to which he was introduced by his cousin Johann Gottfried Walther during his tenure at the Weimar Court (1708-17). Bach and Walther frequently engaged in a friendly competition, involving the transcription of concertos by Vivaldi and others for keyboard. Through this process, Bach learned Vivaldi's unique concepts of musical structure; he even admits that Vivaldi's works "taught him how to think musically.”
Concerto composition provided an ideal vehicle for exploring and developing ways of "musical thinking," ... The concerto as a musical genre or form was a secondary consideration, and the same was true of counterpoint, thematic invention and other technical aspects of composition, including even word-tone relationships in vocal works.
READ the entire article.
My 15-year old nephew likes deviled eggs.  He likes deviled eggs A LOT.  Like most teenage boys, the kid is ravenous, and when there are deviled eggs in the house, he eats them like his life depends on it.  The only thing is, he will only eat them when his mother (my sister) makes them.  When I (or anyone else for that matter) make deviled eggs he won’t touch them because I have the utter temerity to use a different type of salt.
A lot of people are like that about food.  They recoil at any variations made to a beloved recipe. Other folks, however, are eager to taste a familiar dish with a little different twist.
The same thing applies to music.  Plenty of folks only want to hear specific melodies arranged in one way, and only one way.  As an example, someone who grew up listing to the classic Nat King Cole performance of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” may blanch at the equally attractive rendition by current-day crooner Michael Buble.
As conductors, we are thrust into that no-man’s land whenever we dare to program a new setting of a well-known (and often much-loved) melody.  While some in the audience may appreciate a fresh approach to a familiar tune, others do not appreciate such liberties being taken.  As many of us have learned, the latter group are not shy about sharing their (frequently negative) opinions about the arrangement.
Ponder that as you listen to this setting of “Amazing Grace” performed during a recent ACDA divisional conference.  How would an audience in your locale react to this setting?  What pedagogical elements would be present for you students in this version?
Now go home and make deviled eggs the way your mother taught you.
MY GO-TO WARM UP, by Arlene Sparks (Dreyfoos School of the Arts Singers)
I have been using this warm-up for 30+ years as a way for my students to learn to develop an even range from top to bottom.  It has become even more relevant today as our culture is presented with a variety of singing/talent programs on our television networks with questionable techniques.
Beginning on an F#5, all of my students (women AND MEN) sing descending arpeggios (D',S,M,D) down the scale by half step on the syllables "Boh-Boh-Boh-Bee".  Arriving near the F#3 (lowest pitch of the arpeggio), the women drop out and the men continue down the scale, dropping out as the exercise leaves their range until the Basses finish on their lowest note.
(My Go-To Warm-Up” features a favorite warm-up used by those choirs who have been selected to perform during the 2015 ACDA National Conference.)
Close your eyes and listen to Jimmy Fallon's impressions of various comedians.  Some of them are terrifyingly accurate.
1.  “Annabel Lee.” Patti Drennan. Hal Leonard 08703365.
Beautiful, haunting setting of Edgar Allan Poe; simple TBB with divisi.
2.  “Kyrie Eleison” – Dan Davison – Hal Leonard 08501555.
Energetic TB piece; it feels like it was written by Mozart.  Good for teaching tone production to young men.
3.  “Gatatumba.” arr. Judith Herrington. Pavane P1489.
Three-part voices of any combination with percussion. Folk song from Andalucia that can be used for the holidays.
4.  “The Roast Beef of Old England.” arr. Carl Strommen. Boosey & Hawkes M-051-46415-9.
Fun and energetic piece with Billy Joel-like accompaniment the guys really enjoy.
5.  “Exultate Justi in Domino.” Brant Adams. Santa Barbara SBMP 173.
Very rhythmic TTBB with multi meter.
(“Five from the Folder” provides brief, text-length reviews of vocal works currently in the folders of choral directors throughout the United States.  To share five from your folder, contact Scott Dorsey at
(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “Guidelines from the MPA Music Publishers' Association of the United States” [pg.41])
When can I photocopy? This question is asked every day by music educators nationwide. Most music educators want to respect the rights of copyright owners, but are sometimes confused as to when it is permissible to legally reproduce a copyright work. The following situations are based on the copyright law of 1976, and list what you can do without having secured prior permission:
1. Emergency copying to replace purchased copies which for any reason are not available for an
imminent performance provided it is replaced with a purchased copy.
2. For academic purposes other than performance, multiple copies of excerpts of works may be made, provided that the excerpts do not comprise a part of -the whole which would constitute a performable unit such as a section, movement, or aria but in no case more than 10 % of the whole work. The number of copies shall not exceed one copy per pupil.
3. Printed copies which have been purchased may be edited or simplified provided that the fundamental character of the work is not distorted or the lyrics, if any, altered or lyrics added if none exist.
4. A single copy of recordings of performance by students may be made for evaluation or rehearsal purposes and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher.
5. A single copy of a sound recording of copyrighted music may be made from sound recordings owned by an educational institution or an individual teacher for the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations, and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher. (This pertains only to the copyright of the music itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound recording.)
READ the entire article.
Throughout music history, our art in its various forms has been used to incite patriotic or nationalistic fervor.  Composers have often been called upon to write works with a specific nation in mind.  The most obvious use of music in this way is the composition of stirring national anthems (or works that perhaps should be a national anthem), though there are larger works that courageously extoll national pride in the face of oppression, such as Sibelius’s Finlandia.
There are those who object to patriotic music, claiming it glorifies violence.  Commenting upon that in his Choral Journal article, “Homegrown: Programming Ideas and Study Resources for Ethnic and Cultural Music Traditions of the United States. Part 3: Historical, National, and Patriotic Music,” Lawrence Burnett writes,
Many of the early national and patriotic songs are not often sung today, except those with religious lyrics that are found in hymnals. That is regrettable because this body of music offers musical and historical insight and perspective on the social relevance of the borrowed and .composed tunes, the circumstances that inspired the texts, and how the weddings of texts and music of the times resulted in widespread popularity of ideals. The research, study, and performance of this repertoire provide an excellent interdisciplinary appreciation of values in United States history.
It is might be lost on many (most?) folks, but today is Veteran’s Day here in the U.S., certainly, a good opportunity to perform music with a patriotic flavor.  With that in mind, here is a performance of service anthem from a recent ACDA Divisional Conference.