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Tips on how to look for repertoire?

I'm currently a music education student in college.  I have some questions about how to get started picking out chorale repetoir.  Any tips from picking elementary school repertoire all the way up to high school repertoire would be helpful. So, here are my questions:
-Where are some good places to look for repertoire?
-What are some things to look for or avoid when picking repertoire? 
-What is some repertoire that you have found student really connect to and enjoy? 
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on April 16, 2014 8:52pm
First rule; pick music that is honest!  Look for music that accomplishes what it sets out to do.  Look for music that compliments the text.  Avoid melody that is nothing more than an imitation of something popular.  Avoid funk and flash for it’s own sake.  Avoid rhythm that has nothing to do with the message.  Avoid silky smooth for no apparent reason.  Avoid progressions that take you nowhere.  Look for music that comes from the head but never ignores the heart.
Secondly, be the first!  Pick music that no one knows but that everyone should!  Never do what is popular because you will never be better than just a “good remake.”  Dig deep for great music.  Go through dusty libraries like the University.  Browse old collections like Davison & Apel’s Historical Anthology of Music.  Treasure old school anthologies like the “Five Centuries of Choral Music.”  Visit J. W. Pepper & Hal Leonard (I mean actually go to their warehouses and beg to get in – avoid the “recommend shelf”).  Hit the “random page” button on several times a day.  Strive through knowing that they like choir music, too.  Spend afternoons in second-hand bookstores. Talk to old-timers or anyone who is passionate about music.
Thirdly, favor the classic composers!  Many of them had your job and some even wrote for your choir’s specs (no matter how strange)!  You'll be surprised just how fast kids connect to Bach!  Monteverdi!  Barber!  Machaut!  Find that music and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble re-inventing the wheel.  Know that only 1 in 10 will be good for you but that the popular field is more like 1 in 100.
Fourthly, be ready to reject much!  Be ruthless but never thoughtless; you will have lots of time to practice your 3-point shots but, every now and again, you’ll find a real gem in all that trash. 
Lastly, have a blast!  The Search is a great game but it becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience when your choir recreates a story that hasn’t been heard in decades!  ...sometimes centuries….
Applauded by an audience of 8
on April 17, 2014 4:06am
Hi there Sharon
This is such a brilliant age group to be working with musically. As Michael says above children connect so well to anything, in any style, that is presented to them in an enthusiastic and honest way. I've been working for over 20 years with elementary-school-aged classes and choirs, selecting repertoire and composing new pieces for them. Many of these pieces I've composed have been taken up by other teachers and musicians working with children.
Have a look and a listen to some of my work for children here:
If you need something a bit more challenging in terms of part-singing (rounds, repeating patterns, simple harmonies, partner songs etc), I have those as well! Here's a selection:
I hope you find something useful there. I'm also happy to adapt or compose something new for your requirements. Just drop me a line!
best wishes
on April 17, 2014 5:45am
Hello David,
These are all excellent suggestions. They certainly ask you to search. Here’s a ‘searching’ suggestion that addresses “Where are some good places to look for repertoire?”
Answer: Choral music readings and conferences!
Both conferences and readings will present music for you to hear, to experience, to assess, and quite possibly to perform. You will also get audience/participant reaction. These are reasons why choral readings and conferences exist! The music is likely to be well performed, honest and classic­– not only by composers from long ago, but by those alive and flourishing today. This music will be ‘filtered’ to the extent that experienced and competent conductors and presenters will have gone through a pile of music to bring to the fore what they consider the very best, appropriate and listenable. To boot, you will run into a lot of people with whom you can network. You will have a blast!
I’ll add one other source, which comes directly out of TheC7Prize 2014, in which I had a hand. This was the first C7 competition, and was for both new and previously performed SATB choral music. Its main purposes was to replicate, in a sense, what goes on generally at choral readings, specifically with respect to music written in the USA and Canada in the last half-decade. The results will shortly be announced officially, and the music will be on the C7 website ( by the end of the month. TheC7prize is a very ‘different’ sort of competition in that, while there will be one to three non-premiered works chosen for performance by three renowned North American choral conductors, there will also be approximately thirty ‘Recommended Works’ which have been vetted (i.e. ‘filtered’) by US and Canadian conductors/composers. This is the real value of TheC7prize to conductors in that, like readings and conferences, it will present excellent new works from living composers, both as scores and sound clips. Hope you will find both these suggestions useful!
Co-founder, with Elise Letourneau, of TheC7Prize
Applauded by an audience of 3
on April 17, 2014 8:11am
I'll add a caveat to Donald's answer: Reading sessions at conferences are hit-or-miss.  It really depends who's running/sponsoring them.  Sometimes you wind up with a packet full of dreck that the publishers have pushed because they think it will sell well.  Reading sessions can be valuable to see what's new, but they don't always show you what's good.  On the other hand, a seasoned conductor or composer running the session could very well come up with a thoughtful and high-quality bundle of music.  It all depends.
Joseph Gregorio
Applauded by an audience of 3
on April 29, 2014 7:43pm
I'll add to this:
Go to concerts, and make notes on programs of pieces you liked and might want to check out later. This can also sometimes lead you to discover more of a certain composer, or even more from a certain publisher that you really like and works well for you.
Buy recordings. Or borrow them from someone who has already bought them. The only problem with the whole one-track-at-a-time download is that you can just get what you know and what you like, and you may not discover the rest of the album that has some great gems on it. Don't be afraid to dive in if it's a choir/label/conductor you trust! Chances are there will be something good there.
Ask people! Contact other teachers, colleagues, whoever---ask them what they're doing! If they're close to you, ask if you can come dig through their library. I think a good half of my current library came from digging through someone else's.
If you have a good local sheet music store, go browse, and try some stuff out on the piano (if they've got one there). Don't be afraid to buy if it looks/sounds good, even if you don't know it. One piece won't break your bank and might be just what you're looking for down the road. (This has happened to me more than once!)
Surf YouTube and/or ChoirPlace. Just because it's been recorded on video and put online doesn't mean it's not worth performing again. I mean, avoid overdoing things, but you never know when that one related video might lead you to the perfect song you've never heard of, either classic or new.
Check out old ACDA or other conference programs and repertoire lists. There's tons of material there, so it can be daunting to look at, but worthwhile. Just take it in small chunks.
Finally, come to terms with the fact that you'll never know it all. As a current DMA student, I freak out about this on a pretty much daily level. Take a deep breath, and don't worry! :)
Applauded by an audience of 4
on April 30, 2014 4:24am
A music store with in-print music to browse is an invaluable resource, as Ms. Honaker mentioned. Even if you have to travel, having music in your hands to see and or play is so much better than pdf partial scores or recordings. If such a place isn't available to you, it's worth the money to buy single copies of things that look interesting on state contest lists, that you hear in concerts, or that you see discussed on internet forums such as this. And as Mr. Gray said, prepare to sift through lots of rejects.
Dominic Spera, the great jazz educator, said at a workshop that once you pick your music, 3/5 of your job is done. Picking the right music for your students is certainly worth the effort.
It's a great world of music out there to explore. Enjoy the journey!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 30, 2014 7:06am
There are a lot of independent music publishers out there that don't distribute through the traditional model of brick and mortar stores. A handful of us got together and created the Independent Music Publishers Cooperative, an online resource where you can browse 8 different catalogs of music at once. You can search by keyoword, which could be anything from "treble" to "whitman." We have recordings and full perusal pdfs there as well. Each piece links to the composer/publisher's website for purchasing. Here's a link:
You could also try, another site of independent composer/publishers.

CPDL is a great resource, but I'd be careful. There's no one cultivating or editing that catalog, so you can end up with a score that's poorly edited, badly formatted, or has mistakes in the score. If you decide on a piece from that catalog, I'd check it against the original source before giving it to your students.

Good luck, and have fun!

on April 30, 2014 2:34pm
Sharon,  first, congratulations!  You have already found this forum and it is an excellent place to get ideas and even ask questions.  If you haven't already, check out ChoralNet's Resources page.  Click on "Repertoire" and have fun exploring!  To follow up on Timothy's comment, unlike CPDL, ChoralNet is moderated and seems to have a high degree of self-policing, so I think you'll find many excellent suggestions on it.  
In addition to the many great suggestions above, I'd add this.  Another signficiant resource is the Musica International database.  It takes a little time to figure out how to search effectively, but it opens up a world of music, literally, indexed, searchable in many ways, constantly growing and often linked to sound and score files.  
Good luck, chris
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 1, 2014 2:36am
May I add to Christopher' message that in Musica International Database (, in addition to the database of 167,000 titles, there are features that do not need to search, like the "favorite piece of the month", which highlights every month "THE" piece that a choral music conductor should take on a lonesome island, if he had to take only one. The archives of this feature active since February 1998 are therefore a "florilegium" of excellent choral pieces.
... and the "AUDITORIUM" is a compilation of the thousands of titles having a link to an audio file or to a video. Just listen, and if you want to know more, click on the button "Search for scores" and you get all the information about the piece...
Jean Sturm
on May 1, 2014 7:13am
Go to the websites of any publishers you can find and listen to their audio files. Look for authors and poets that you're drawn to, whose language touches you. If you love a piece, your students will know that. Be prepared to reject most of what you hear, but don't despair, follow your instincts.
on May 2, 2014 5:37am

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on May 2, 2014 9:50am
Hi Sharon,
Keep in mind the fresh voices of contemporary American composers (myself included) who write strong melodic songs with lyrics that are meaningful and inspirng to students, elementary through high school. Please check out my website to hear complete vocal/instrumental performances of my patriotic and inspirational songs.
These songs have been performed all across America to great acclaim by both the students and their audiences. Excellent sheet music and SATB arrangements are available for all of my songs, and I often work with music educators who have little or no budget to purchase sheet music.
An added benefit of performing the music of rising American composers is that your students and audience may not be familiar with the song(s), and will have the pleasure of "discovering" exciting new choral works.
Hank Fellows 
on May 2, 2014 12:35pm
All the ideas on research are great.  Because of this website, I have chosen new songs by going to youtube for hearing sessions.  BUT, most importantly, pick music for the forces you have!  In other words, the choir must be able to perform it in the rehearsal time you are allowed.  Of course, you may pick things that push them a bit from time to time, but, for a new teacher, keeping it simple is best.
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