What should I program for a European tour?
I was overwhelmed by the number of thoughtful responses I received from all over the world. I considered just reporting a list of statistics, but found a little tidbit in each message that I thought should be shared. Thank you all for your help.
Williamsport Civic Chorus,
My original question was:
> Dear list, I am in the early stages of planning repertoire for my
> community chorus' summer of 2004 tour of Russia, Finland, Estonia, &
> Latvia. I'm interested in your wisdom in choosing repertoire. I've
> heard some choral directors say "Europeans would much rather hear
> Americans sing American music, than sing European music." (I think
> this implies that Europeans know European music and would rather hear
> new and different American music.) Other choral directors have said
> that one should schedule lots of music from the countries being
> toured. I suppose as a show of respect for the musical heritage of
> the host country. My concern here would be that the respect shown by
> singing local music would be offset by less the perfect pronounciation
> of the local language. What "formula" do you use for planning
> repertoire - heavy on American music, a nice mix of American and music
> of the host country, or heavy on the host country's music? Let me add
> that my concerns are that we are a community chorus (non-auditioned)
> and since singers pay their own way the balance, talents, and
> abilities of the tour group all must be considered. Any help in
> resolving my repertoire planning conflict or in dealing with tour
> groups like this are welcomed.
Congratulations on your tour. I was in Russia, Estonia, Finland
and Sweden two summers ago. I would program a mix of music but it
should be heavy on the American. I would suggest programing some
good Moses Hogan spirituals, some American folk and religious music
as well and perhaps some folk or religious music from each of the countries
you are visiting. One thing you may want to keep in mind....do you know where your
concerts will be? Most concert venues we found were in churches, and not
all had pianos. If they are in churches make sure that it is ok to sing
secular music in the churches.
The Estonians and Fins have a rich singing tradition and go
in for some pretty "modern" sounds. The Russians singing tradition is of
deeply rooted in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Good luck to you.
Fine Arts Chairman
I have been a tour choir member on 6 different European concert tours with our community chorus.
We have always sung American music, British music and Latin music. We
have gone from renaissance music up through folk and contemporary; sacred
Once, however, in Hungary, we joined their choirs in singing their National
Anthem. It seems they sing that after every church service and at any chance
they get, so it was good manners to learn that one. We had a Hungarian-born
woman tape record the words for us and invited her to our rehearsal in order
to get the pronunciation correct. I suppose there is nothing worse (or embarrassing)
than to sing with ignorance.
Accompaniment has been organ or piano (find out in advance if available),
flute, recorder or guitar (easy to carry), or a cappella.
Our singers were also non auditioned, and came from the field of paying
customers. Sometimes we actually were able to form an SATB choir, other times
we were SAB or SSA, depending on who and how many.
We were always very well received and appreciated. Just as important
as the choice of repertory, your tour coordinator needs to promote your group
in advantageous settings for your group. We found smaller venues in smaller
towns were more conducive to appreciative audiences. Whereas the largest
cathedrals were cold and half filled with tourists from the states!
Hope this helps. I wish you luck on your tour. We were planning on
touring this summer, but last fall, during our registration time, the world
events scared away most of our would-be tourists. We hope to try again next
After five European tours since 1988, I prefer having a balanced
repertoire (various eras, various cultures--not just western, and fine
composers) that includes American composers, including folk songs and
spirituals, etc.). I no longer take any accompanied music unless I'm
positive that there's a very fine piano or organ. I've bad experiences
with keyboard instruments in western Europe, so for our last tour (this
past May 26-June 6 in Scotland, England, and France), I did all a
cappella--with a very wide variety of styles and textures.
Great question! At least, it's a question I thought about a lot when
we took the Lafayette College Choirs to Finland, Estonia, Hungary,
Slovakia, and Vienna this year.
I chose pieces in several (overlapping) categories:
One piece from each country where we performed
American spirituals, in a variety of moods and tempos
Other American music
Other music of the Americas
Music suitable for church services
Music suitable for school performances
Music suitable for dinner entertainment
Music suitable for using balconies and other antiphonal situations
Music suitable for processionals, where available
Music with relatively familiar Latin texts, so singers and audience
would be on equal ground as far as recognizing or understanding it
Music with nonsense syllables, so that the music would speak for
itself and no one would struggle with the language
Works sung by the Madrigal Singers, our select ensemble
Works with interchangeable soloists
Nearly everything unaccompanied
Throughout the tour, I got two impressions from this program: (1)
That turned out to be a brilliant strategy, which I'd almost stumbled
into; and (2) What was missing: Mass movements. We ended up singing
at two Masses, and we provided anthems, but it would have been lovely
to offer, say, a Kyrie or a Gloria or a Dona nobis pacem. Doing one
piece in the language of each country seemed to be just right.
The other thing I did was get our guides to teach me to pronounce an
introductory sentence or two in the language of each country, and I
used that when I narrated the concert. That got applause -- in the
countries with easy languages to pronounce because I was doing well,
and in the countries with more difficult languages because they
appreciated the effort.
FYI, here is our program. I hope you'll post a compilation of
responses, including the names of who says what! I grouped the music
into categories after choosing it (and sort of flinched when I
discovered the only category for our Alma Mater was "20th- and
HISTORICAL AND SACRED WORKS
Nowell: out of your sleep Anonymous English c. 1450
Verbum caro factum est Hans Leo Hassler
Veni sancte spiritus Jacob Handl (Gallus)
Say, Love John Dowland
Motherless Child Arranged by Adolphus Hailstork
Wade in the Watah Arranged by Ysaye M. Barnwell
Ride the Chariot Arranged by William Henry Smith
INTERNATIONAL FOLK SONGS
Túrót ëszik a cigány Zoltán Kodály 1882-1967
Dúlamán Irish, arranged by David Mooney
20TH- & 21ST-CENTURY COMPOSITIONS
Between Us and the Stars **PREMIERE** Maxim Vladimiroff, b. 1968
Composed 2002 for the Lafayette College Concert Choir
Jaanilaul Veljo Tormis
Salseo Oscar Galián
Chindia Alexandru Pascanu
Sydämeni laulu Jean Sibelius
Alma Mater Walter Stier, arranged by N. Gilbert
How Do I Love Thee? Nathan Christensen
Sung by the women of the Concert Choir.
When I'm Sixty-Four John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Barbershop-style arrangement by Tom Gentry
Sung by the men of the Concert Choir.
I hope this helps!
Director of Choral Activities, Lafayette College
Being a European, I'd say heavy on American music
(Europeans always want to hear some African-American music
and even show-tunes) and some local. BUT don't insult the
Russians, Finns, Estonians, and Latvians by pronouncing
their language "like Americans," if you know what I mean.
I might even suggest that you try to find local songs that
have as little text as possible (my main point here is -
pick songs you're reasonably confident you can do
properly). One absolutely gorgeous Latvian song that you
might want to consider is "Guli Guli" (Sleep, Sleep), a
beautiful little lullaby. Another song that's actually
technically Finnish (but sung in Swedish, since it's from
the Finnish-ruled Åland Isles) is "Vem kan segla förutan
vind?". You might have heard it performed by groups such as
The Real Group.
By the way - Estonian and Finnish (quite similar languages)
are really difficult to pronounce. Latvian and Russian
(well, some Russian) - not so much.
Good luck with everything,
Bragi Thor Valsson
Grad. Student - Florida State University
I have directed two tours with my church choir (non-auditioned), and
have served as organist on two other tours. Choose music that is
American for the European audiences, but also select music of the native
countries to fulfill the needs of your own people. Singing Handel in an
English cathedral is something not to be missed. Also select music that
your group knows backward and forward. Quite often logistics and
rehearsal time pose potential performance problems. Best wishes!
Nardin Park UMC
Farmington Hills, MI
My personal opinion is that first of all, audiences, regardless of the
country, want to hear good music performed well. For example, when
the Sacramento Master Singers participated in the America Cantat II in
Venezuela, the Latin American choirs were appreciative of our performances
of Cuban, Venezualan, Argintine, and Mexican pieces as well as the
North American works (U.S. and Canada) and European selections.
You should do a mix of American stuff and music of the host countries.
If language is a problem, select pieces written in English or Latin or
some other familiar language.
e.g. for Finland, Rautabvaara's "Suite de Lorca" in Spanish.
For Estonia, Sisask's "Benedictio" in Latin or Pärt's "Which Was the
Son of..." in English. (Even though Finnish and Estonian are not
all that difficult to pronounce.) Russian and Latvia are more
difficult languages, but there is plenty of stuff in Latin by
the likes of Rachmaninoff and Karlsons.
Most of all, if the audience is convinced that you are enjoying
performing the music for them, irrespective of its origins, they
will show their appreciation enthusiactically.
So, have a good time!
John M. Crowell Learn from the Past
Sacramento Master Singers Live for Today
Music Librarian Look to Tomorrow
First of all, I applaud your efforts to bring your community choir on
tour to known choral centers in the Baltic region! In fact many towns
in that regions are known as singing towns because of their extreme love
of choral music. This choral movement is truly community initiated.
What better thing to do than to bring one's own community choir to visit
and learn from these cities!
But I digress...In my own experience of 13 international tours in Europe
(I used to bring my Philippine choir -- winner of many choral
competitions in Europe -- on tour), it is indeed true that more
European audiences prefer to hear music that is outside of their sphere
of familiarity. For a visiting American choir, therefore, it would be a
good consideration to include musics that are both from the classical
American choral traditional as well as the literature from the native
peoples of the American continent. Spirituals are always well-received,
from any choir, but especially if they are sung with great spirit and
virtuosity. Music from the Broadway musicals tend to be far less
appreciated. World music, music that is representative of the ethnic
peoples of the world, are always a big hit especially if they are sung
out of the ordinary (overtone singing, use of different vocables and
inflections, native instruments, and contextualized movement). More
Europeans, as you know, are known for their distaste of American music
that is associated with world superiority.
As an encore, a song native to your performing locale is nearly always
accepted as a gesture of appreciation of the hosts' hospitality. When
this song is sung impeccably well, there is always a guaranteed ovation.
I hope this helps. Best wishes to you and your choir! Much success!
Having returned from a Baltic tour within the last month, I would concur
with the planning of American repertoire for concerts.
Since most of the Baltics are mostly Russian, you could find a Russian
folksong or accessible Church Slavonic piece, any of which can be found
through musica russica. The folks there appreciate a gesture that
attempts to link with them in some simple way. Your singers may like
the challenge and would appreciate it when they perfom it there, knowing
that they contributed more to the culture and langauge besides "thank
you," how much does that cost" or "where is the bathroom?"
Being a Tunkahnnock, PA native, I am more than happy to help out with any
other questions about touring there, repertoire, ideas for travel
agencies with good connections there, etc.
All the best,
Charles P. Brown
Director of Choral Activities
Without a doubt, program American Music. Spirituals, Broadway and Folk
songs. They love it because we do it correctly.
When I have erroneously programmed Austrian or German fold songs I was
informed that many in the audience were snickering because of the honest yet
imperfect attempt at style and pronunciation
If you do decide to sing one or more songs in Estonian--easy language to
pronounce--ask Boosey & Hawkes to send you a copy of my "Brief Guide to
Estonian Pronunciation--for Conductors and Singers." It should be sent
free. They are distibutors in N. America for Fazer-Warner/Chappell, now
>From my experience in hearing touring groups in Europe I would vote for a
repertoire mostly American, with a song or two in the language of each of
the 4 countries you're visiting. Incidentally, Finnish is not much more
difficult than Estonian.
MImi S. Daitz msdaitz(a)rcn.com Riverdale Choral Society
I haven't dont that kind of tour, but I do have an opinion.
Why would you want to go hear a touring choir from Hungary, or the
Netherlands, if not to hear them sing the music from their own
country and thus hear it as it should be presented? It seems to me
that the courtesy involved would be to emphasize American music by
So, I would certainly never schedule "lots of music from the
countries being toured." But the question of giving a nod out of
respect is quite a different one. Perhaps an Austrian folk song
rather than a Mozart Mass movement, but in an arrangement of very
high artistic standards (which does not necessarily mean complex),
and very well performed.
My college show group was once asked to sing for a delegation of
visiting Japanese businessmen. At the time, our repertoire included
Sandi Patti's "Love in Any Language," and we were signing it in
American Sign Language (ASL). Thanks to a professor on campus, we
got and learned to sing the chorus in a Japanese translation. It was
something different and unexpected, and the audience really did take
it as an act of respect on our part. Of course to this day I don't
know how my singers managed to sing in Japanese while signing in
English, but they did it!
Every year we are organizing for a couple of US-performing groups the
german speaking part for them.
>From our experience we can say that our audiance indeed loves American
singing american music, allthough we are of course touched if the groups
perform some pieces from our composers too. For the concert advertising
it helps a lot to put on the posters - american composers, spirituals,
Hope this helped. With kindest regards
Jan Bechtold - music director
choir & orchestra concert tours
I am from this side of the world, closer to European, and I am so
convienced for you that you should bring mostly your American Music!
Peopel in Europe know much better their Brahms or Britten and to sing it
sometimes with American accent....well it is pathetic..
Also - we do not know enough of your American good composers,
contemporary composers, and this is what you should bring to those
Ofcourse, if you go to Estonia - you could take one of Veljo Tormis
there, - but be sure you are VERY exact with your accents! - to Finland
you can se in Sulasol Publ. they have everything, and almost every
Finnish music is so brilliant!
Russia - is Russia..bring your Music - this will be better!
Hope it helps in something - ,
I have arranged dozens of concerts for American choirs in Estonia
and by my experience I'll recommend to your choir to perform
mostly American music - 20th century composers, spirituals, gospel
etc. This is music local audience cannot hear too much but they like
it. Don't hesitate to take to your program also some local music, but
1-2 will be enough to "swallow" the audience. Please note, that all
these countries are different- for example Russian music is not
popular in the other countries, Latvian language is totally different
from Estonian/Finnish, which are rather simillar, etc, so there is no
universal solutions by local repertoire. Don't afraid pronounciation -
it's rather easy. You can read Estonian, Finnish and Latvian like
Latin by German pronounciation rules, some vocals may sound
strange though. Russian is a little bit harder as they have cyrillic
letters. There is no problems to find language experts on East
Coast, I know.
Regards, Ülo Krigul, singer of Estonian National Male Choir
Consono Concert Agency
+372 52 09 876
We made this recommendation to one choir that was touring Russia a few
years ago, and they said it was a big hit. TWO RUSSIAN FOLK SONGS arr.
John Biggs. See it listed at: http://consortpress.com
Foreign audiences love it when a foreign groups make the effort to sing
something in that country's language, even if the pronunciation isn't
perfect. Just as we would love that same effort by a foreign group doing
something like Nelly Blye, or Turkey in the Straw. It's a real
handshake. The TWO RUSSIAN FOLK SONGS has three text lines: English,
Russian, and phonetic Russian.
When I have toured with my choir, Italy; Austria and Czech Republic, I have
relied heavily on American repertoire, utilizing great arrangements of
American folk songs and newly composed pieces by American composers. I
always also include a piece or 2 from the country (s) that we are touring.
I believe it is important for the choir to have a sense of the rich musical
heritage from that country and it does allow for your choir to "pay
respect" to that country's choral tradition. Ask around or advertise for
people in your area who speak the languages you are seeking. You will be
surprised who may be available to help with the various pronunciations.
My choir did a similar tour in 1999. We programmed mostly American
music, but we included one familiar song from each host country-well,
almost. It's really difficult to deal with so many languages, but-if
you're being hosted by a choir, it's wonderful to join together in an
American piece and a "local" piece.
Because we were spending much of our time in Transylvania, a region of
Romania with a large ethnic Hungarian population and because our hosts for
part of the trip were ethnic Hungarians, we had four pieces in our
repertoire that were either in Hungarian or by Hungarian composers. Our
experience, both in Transylvania and even in Budapest, was that audiences
were moved and delighted to hear us sing in Hungarian - imperfect though it
was. In fact, in once church, there was no applause until we sang Kodaly's
"Esti Dal" and then the Minister began the ovation!
This said, they also loved the American music - especially gospel pieces and
spirituals. Ours audiences on the whole, were not urban audiences, except
in Vienna and Budapest, and were not musically that sophisticated. But they
were extremely receptive!
You might consider learning some well-known, simple folksongs you could
sing WITH the audience.
My 2-cents. Have a great trip.
Elizabeth Norton, Music Director
First Parish in Concord, MA
I can't give you a formula, since I haven't yet planned a European tour.
However, I can relate an experience here: we had a choir from Kiev,
Ukraine sing here this Spring, and a good portion of their concert was
American music (done with an accent, often). The crowd in general
seemed to like it, but I was terribly disappointed - I would much rather
hear their music, I can get ours anytime. I would have loved to hear
more Ukrainian music done right, so I can try some and attempt an
informed performance. When being ambassadors for the US, do music from
the US, so they can get that sound in their ear.
My 2 cents,
Speaking from Europe ...
we like to hear people sing music. Sing what you like, and it will be
appreciated. The American vs European choice is a minor refinement.
Besides, lots of American and lots of European music is known as part of
the "international repertoire", and audiences in both continents enjoy
the music without thinking of where it comes from.
So I guess you're asking about "national music" - folk songs and local
culture and so forth. If you include a bit of this in your program(me),
it is definitely appreciated as a compliment. If you include a lot,
then you miss the opportunity to perform stuff that we haven't heard,
and the stuff that (probably) you sing best.
I would advise strongly against filling a program with your hosts'
national music unless you have a LOT of background knowledge. You might
bring it off and have a huge success, but there are lots of risks, and
lots potential misunderstandings. Nevertheless, the mere fact of
singing with joy and goodwill is always going to get you a good
At the risk of sounding self-serving, may I direct your to the Library
of Congress Series of Choral Music published by Walton Music
Corporation? Here you'll find some of the gems of American choral
music, mostly unknown in Europe and, for that matter, in this country as
John W. Kluge Center
Library of Congress
101 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20540-4860
My choir toured Bulgaria last year. While I programed a thorough
variety of music, the music that was most appreciated by our audiences
consisted of American spirituals and Chinese folk songs, In other
words, they liked the music that was most different to them.
Upper Iowa University
My college-based community chorus did its first European tour two
summers ago, to England and Hungary. The audiences--especially in
Hungary--responded best to American music. We took a variety of
styles--everything from sacred art music to Keith Hampton's "Praise His
Holy Name" (composed gospel). We also took several new pieces that I
consider art music on famous poems, like "Under the Wide and Starry
Sky". We also took several VERY English pieces, like the Byrd "Ave
Verum Corpus" and one simple piece that we learned in
Hungarian--aparently our pronunciation was OK--they loved it. But the
lion's share was American--and the Hungarians REALLY liked the gospel
and spirituals--anything "jazzy". We were advised by several
people--including the tour company we used--to do this. Good luck with
your tour! Karen Biscay, Lourdes College, Sylvania, Ohio
When touring internationally, I have always programmed about 15%-20%
of the host country so that my students have the experience of singing
"Palestrina in St. Peter's-Rome", but the rest is about 35% from standard
choral repertoire and 45%-50% American. The American repertoire is
largely what the audiences wish to hear. If a Russian choir comes here I
would prefer to hear them sing Russian folk-songs and repertoire by their
composers, not an all-American program.
Good luck on your tour,
I believe all audiences for choral music wish to hear great repertoire,
no matter the language or origins. When I travel overseas, I try to
create a program that incorporates a wide variety of tonal colors and
textures, since language is probably going to be a problem no matter
which pieces you are performing. It is "expected" to sing at least one
clearly definably American piece, such as a "Shenandoah" or "Amazing
Grace" setting, along with a few African-American spirituals. Your
audiences will definitely appreciate a song or two in the native
language of your host country, even if your pronounciation is less than
perfect! Or perhaps you can find some Latin works written by composers
from your host countries?
You mentioned that the balance, etc. of the group must be considered.
That is always true. I have found that singers work harder and sound
better for special events such as overseas tours than they ever do at
home! On the other hand, travel can cause some of your best singers to
be tired or sick by the time they get to the best concerts, so don't
rely too heavily on one or two people if you can help it!
I was once interviewed on a radio station in the Czech republic, in
which the interviewer asked me why we Americans always go to European
countries and sing their music, when they were the composers. I told
him that it was a privelege for my singers to have an opportunity to
learn their culture and that our music was offered to them not in
arrogance but in gratitude. I think he appreciated it. And his
challenge caused me to re-think my approach to programming music for
tours. You can't really expect that your audience will have never heard
a choir as fine as yours. But you can present a lovely program, offered
with respect, that will help create important bridges between our
nations. We need to be ambassadors of love and of art, and you and your
singers will have a wonderful experience if you approach your tour
with that in mind.
Good luck, and have a wonderful tour.
As one who has sat in audiences of concerts by foreign
groups coming to America, I don't enjoy groups who wend their way
through piece after piece of American music (that I already know)
with questionable English diction and half-baked style. Rather, the
foreign choir concerts I have enjoyed the most are those in which
they perform a variety of their national music, and then perhaps
finish with ONE American piece sung really well. So my vote would be
for a predominance of American music and a minimum of native music.
I think you'd regret the audience response if you did it the other
Good luck with your planning and tour.
We have toured extensively in Europe and Canada and have found that the
absolute favorite, winning music was Spirituals!!!!!! Those are such a
unique sound. They also LOVED Broadway selections.
Hope that helps.
LOS CANCIONEROS MASTER CHORALE
One of the best trips I EVER took was to Russia, Estonia, and Latvia in
1992. This, of course, was soon after the breakup of the USSR, and
tensions were still high between Russia and Estonia and Latvia. I will
try to dig up my program for you, but Iet me say that we were heavy on
the American and they loved it. Spirituals are immensely popular.
We did Memories from "Cats" and I marveled that people in Russia knew
it. Well, it turned out to be the theme for their weather on TV
and/or Radio. We sang the old Wilhousky arr. of Battle Hymn which they
loved. They almost all know "America" O beautiful for spacious
skies..... We did take at least one piece from each country sung in
their language and they loved the attempt. From Russia, we sang the
old pieces, "Salvation is created" and "Hospodi Pomiliu" I can't
remember the other pieces, but will look them up. Let me alert you to
an interesting phenomenon in Latvia. We took what we thought was their
anthem and is was, But, we discovered that they have a more favorite
piece that the used as their anthem when USSR banned them singing their
real one. It is a lovely, little folk-like tune that is an allegory of
their blight during those years. They will flip if you sing that for
them. We were hosted and shared the concert with a native choir at each
location which really gave us a connection to the people. If you are
interested in such a thing, tell me where you are going and I can try to
look up some contacts. I could prattle on and on, but I will save you
the time. If you are interested in more, I would be happy to talk to
you via phone or more e-mail. All the best. Carroll
Dr. Carroll J. Lehman
Director of Choral/Vocal Activities
Keene State College
Keene, NH 03435-2402
Music Director and Conductor
My experience has been that Europeans, like Americans, appreciate a balanced
program. However, they seem to love music like spirituals, because they
simply cannot perform them very well themselves.
Another consideration is performance venues. I would advise going heavy on a
cappella pieces, because many places you may want to perform in Europe
(cathedrals, churches, town squares, courtyards, etc.) may be devoid of a
East Hampton, NY
My chorus faced the same dilema. We didn't want to "take coals to
by doing all music of the country we were visiting. On the other hand,
doing all American music can be either boring or not representative of all
segments of the American people.
What we did was compromise. We did a few pieces from the country we were
visiting, a few pieces of Americana, and the rest music that was wonderful,
classical, and representative of neither country specifically. It was a
alternative, and it worked.
I just returned from tour last night! Czech Republic and Salzburg.
five or six European tours and my "rule of thumb," which doesn't REALLY
is that weshould consider what WE"D like to her when the Finnish COmmunity
Choir (or whoever) comes to our home town. We'd be honored, I think, to
them sing one or two American folk songs as a tribute to the country
visiting, but we'd mostly like to hear THEIR stuff.
So what I used to do was take a mostly American program, and now I take,
and more, a program that's about half American (folk, spiritual, serious,
etc) and half "world music," especially Latin and South American, since
farther from the European countries I usually visit, and then one or two
of the local country.
The rest of the reproty will include "typical" Euorpean classical pieces
might have to take because we know them, or beucase we need them for a
service, etc, but I agree that most European audiences do not need to hear
American choruses sing BAch or Brahms unless we are going to do it
better than one can hear that music all the time over there. Of course
Finland is very different from Paris or Salzburg.
The BEST response we receive are when we sing a typical song of theirs in
their language, and they are amused that we mispronounce words and grateful
that we have tried, much like when we hear "American the Beaufiul" sung
heavy accent. We performed "tancuj" in Czech/Slovakin PRague and the
loved it, clapped along, and the comments were things like "it must have
very hard for you," and not at all about how we mutilated the language.