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Bluegrass for Choir

I'm doing an all folk music program in the fall, we'll have a guest Bluegrass ensemble.  I'm looking for one or two choral pieces intended to be accompanied by a group like this, and ideas for an audience sing-along number as well. Large, SATB adult group, difficulty level doesn't matter. 
Peter Hopkins
Reading Choral Society
Replies (20): Threaded | Chronological
on June 17, 2014 9:00am
I went to the j.w. pepper choral site and googled "bluegrass".  Listed are some SATB chorals from you to pick from.  There are also some SATB choral scores available from Carol Barnett's "A Bluegrass Mass"...Gloria, World Beloved, Sanctus, Agnus Dei.  I also found this information on "A Bluegrass Mass" ...
There's also another bluegrass mass, "Away to the Skies:  a High Lonesome (Bluegrass Mass)"   Additional information:
You might have Deke Sharon, of Total Vocal a cappella arranging, arrange a piece or two for you.  I think "Blue Moon of Kentucky" would be a great tune to combine the musicians and singers.  He can arrange any tune for your group.  
on June 17, 2014 1:41pm
"The World Beloved: a Bluegrass Mass" is a terrific piece, from beginning to end.  I have performed it twice, with a pick-up group of bluegrass players.  Here are some performing notes you might find useful.  The vocal parts are of medium difficulty.  The rhythms are a little tricky for an amateur group.   There is one  difficult transition from one movement to another:  the group has to find their pitch a capella.  You need a big group to be really successful.  There are some gorgeous, massive chords in the Agnus Dei.
Instruments:  watch out for the banjo part.  The written part you get is very inadequate and the player will probably have to learn it by ear anyway.  Some of the movements are in clawhammer and some are not.  Banjo players would understand this!  My player had to actually call the guy in the original band to get it all figured out.  The mandolin part is not hard.  The fiddle player should be comfortable with singing.  The recording of Vocalessence is beautifu and very helpful. 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 18, 2014 3:37am
Thanks for these responses. I should have been clear that I'm looking for actual folk music arrangements. I know of these bluegrass masses, but want secular for this concert. 
on June 18, 2014 4:44am
I've done a number of bluegrass services at my church, with wonderful results.   For most of the songs, I went to the Cokesbury hymnal and arranged these for the instruments I had; mostly this involved providing the fiddle & guitar players with lead sheets (melody + chords), and a part for the bass.   One anthem that goes over hugely is "Running down to Bethlehem" by Pepper Choplin.    Otherwise, I tended to avoid the published pieces - they're not very good "bluegrass" (including the Mass by Barnett, mentioned below).
on June 18, 2014 6:08am
Hi Peter!
Not specifically bluegrass, but you might check out the music of Malcom Dalglish. Much of it requires hammered dulcimer (on which he is an absolute virtuoso). He is also a superb guest artist. If you have the funding, he might write something and come out for the premier.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 18, 2014 6:35am
Just three weeks ago my choir sang "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me" - SATB, arr. Keith Christopher.  This is based on the old hymn-tune, SOJOURNER, found in many hymnals.  With the arrangement you can also purchase the parts(they come on disk) for mandolin, guitar, violin, and bass, along with a full score. I gave them some latitude when playing, so long as they played within the harmonic frame of the arr.   We did not use a keyboard...these instruments sounded so fine all by themselves!  I repeated a chorus of the song for the band to do an improvisation, also just by themselves.  I do remember that, strangely, the bass part came notated in the treble clef -- I made a bass clef part for him.  Of all the anthems sung this year, this one, by far, garnered the most wonderful responses.  In other words, the crowd loved it!  To hear it go to the JW Pepper website, type in this title, then make sure you're listening to the arr. by Keith Christopher..
Good luck in your search...
on June 18, 2014 6:48am
Hello Peter
I'd suggest doing some simple sing-alongs that any self-respecting bluegrass band would know.   "Will the circle be unbroken" would be a good start but also "I'll Fly Away," and "You are my sunshine."  Invite people to make up their own harmonies.   They will.
Boosey & Hawkes publishes my bluegrass arr. of Life Is Like a Mountain Railway - great fun.  SATB with solos.
Boosey & Hawkes also publishes an SA arr. of mine called "Bowling Green" that is for bluegrass musicans and chorus.
I'll mount them on the music section of my website so you can listen to them.
Nick Page
ps: For a wild ride, you can adapt just about anything for a bluegrass band - Beatles songs, Broadway showtunes.   There's a group in Boston (Foggy Mountain Consort) that does John Dowland a a bluegrass style.   I have always wanted to do Vivaldi's famous Gloria in a breakneck bluegrass style, but I worry about rotting in **** for eternity.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 18, 2014 9:00am
I agree with Kevin, that "published pieces are not very good bluegrass," and this causes the problems mentioned by Elizabeth.  For example, bluegrass rhythms are straight forward, not tricky (other elements of blegrass style certainly are), and bluegrass banjo players play with three fingers, not clawhammer, which is an older style (still very popular and valid).  In general, the whole idea of "fusion" or "crossover" arrangements is positive but fraught with opportunities to ruin the music.  I recommend Kevin's approach of making your own arrangement.  And why not use the opportunity to expose your singers to the authentic and very different aspects of bluegrass singing style?   That would include lead-tenor-bass harmony (and "tenor" has a different meaning than in choral music) or 4-part gospel harmony, sung WITHOUT vibrato in order to "lock in" the harmonies, a technique also used by barbershop singers. 
on June 18, 2014 5:19pm
I'm one of the choral directors at East Tennessee State University and we have one of the only bluegrass music degree programs in the country at the university. The choirs have done several collaborations with the bluegrass department, including the above mentioned Bluegrass Mass. Just this spring we did a full concert with three choirs and the top bluegrass ensemble. For the most part, we arranged the pieces ourselves. I'd be happy to share these with you. Highlights included Bowling Green (for women's choir), Red River Valley (men's choir), Down to the River to Pray, Tennessee Waltz, Rocky Top, Go Down Moses (men's choir) and a few others. The "arrangements" are for the voicing in the choral ensembles - with chord charts for the bluegrass band. Most bluegrass bands don't use (or actually even read) printed parts. Like Nick said, most bluegrass ensembles can take any piece and develop an accompaniment based on a chord chart - it's usually just about finding a decent choral arrangement and then working with the band to come up with something that works for both groups.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 28, 2014 8:01pm
How accessible/adaptable would these arrqngments be for a middle school level choir? I've been wanting to expose my students to some different American folk styles, and these pieces sound wonderful! 
Thank you,
on June 19, 2014 10:14am
Hi, Peter -
Kirby Shaw here, with a bluegrass piece suggestion for you. Some years ago I arranged I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow...a tune composed by legendary bluegrass pioneer Carter Stanley. It's published hy Hal Leonard for SATB and TBB voices. While recording the rehearsal/performance trax in Chatsworth, CA, I and the other singers found this piece to be an exhilarating experience. Capturing the minimal vibrato and ascending smears at the beginnings of many a phrase which is so much a part of Bluegrass singing style was a revelatory/spiritual experience for all of us. You can find a full recording of this at
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 19, 2014 7:32pm
Last year I sang in the premier of John Purifoy's "Chronicles of Blue and Grey", a work that tells the story of the Civil War, which uses a bluegrass band in addition to an orchestra. If you'd like me to put you in contact with John I'd be happy to.
on June 23, 2014 10:15am
Country Dances arr. Ward Swingle
on June 23, 2014 11:49am

Home Cookin' For 2-part choir.

Country Western; humor; GALA; cabaret; folk; Americana; Pythonesque. Lead sheet. Composed 2007. 4 pages. Duration 2:30. Published by De Stijl Music (D1.SM-07-0004).

A fun, cheerful, upbeat country two-step barnyard song, innocent enough with potential for innuendo. Sing about chickens, dogs, bears, and piggies (who also can be understood as representational of various character types!) Two-part harmony lead sheet with chord chart. Originally performed by the Winsome Griffles.


Your New Stupid Boyfriend (TTBB + Optional SA)

For TTBB choir and optional SA choir. Choral. Country Western; humor; cabaret; folk; Americana; Pythonesque. Octavo. Composed 2006. 16 pages. Duration 3:10. Published by De Stijl Music (D1.SM-06-0006A).

I heard all about your new stupid boyfriend. Yeah yeah yeah. An energetic, country western two-step. (Also recorded by The Winsome Griffles on Meet The Griffles; see videos on YouTube.)

Parental advsory: this piece contains explicit lyrics. May not be suitable for young audiences.


Boll Weevil (2-part Piano/Vocal)

For Piano/Vocal. Choral. Traditional; folk; Americana. Sheet music. Composed 2006. 4 pages. Duration 3:15. Published by De Stijl Music (D1.SM-06-0007).

An upbeat arrangement of the American folksong transcribed by Alan Lomax. (Also recorded by The Winsome Griffles on Meet The Griffles.).

on June 26, 2014 10:00pm
I have a fun SATB arrangement of Will the Circle be Unbroken. You can view the score and listen to a recording at
on June 29, 2014 11:10am
I wrote a piece for our retiring minister entitled "Keep On Keepin' On" for TTBB, piano, guitar, bass, drums and violin. The ensemble playing here improvised off of the chord chart and added an instrumental solo section (without consulting me, hence the shaky transition). I could easly revoice it for SATB, if desired.  Here's a video of the performance.  Steve Milloy
on February 9, 2015 4:08pm
I'm a banjo player who is proficient in the piece "The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass".  I am a classically trained musician and composer who is also a banjo player, therefore I am comfortable with lots of musical concepts that most banjo players have a hard time with, specifically the time signature shifts in this piece. I agree that the tablature supplied in the music is inadequate, I had to work out my own fingerings. I performed "A World Beloved" with the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Choir in Olympia, WA in December of 2014 and I fell in love with the piece. If you need a banjo player to perform this piece (or any piece), please get in touch with me.  I live in the state of Washington. Thank you!


on February 10, 2015 5:07am
Hi Peter,
I know you are looking for secular, so forgive a repeat about secular. I played mandolin on Tim Sharp's Bluegrass Mass last fall, and I loved it. I'm taking the piece to Ireland next year for a series of performances and he's conducting the Kyrie with the Ga All State Choir in a couple of weeks. So with that preface in place....I'm also planning on arranging a triptych of Appalacian Songs for the same ensemble with bluegrass instruments to be used on the tour. I'm currently in the process of lining up commissioning ensembles. Any interest in being a part of the commission? Send me your email, and I can send you a link to the MP3's of the songs, so you can take an early listen.
Tim Powell
on February 10, 2015 7:03am
Soon to be released, Brilee Music's FIDDLER'S BEND is a 2 part arrangement designed for either treble voices or mixed voices with the soprano and tenors on Part I, and the altos and basses on Part II.  It's based on an original composition by bluegrass artists BETTMAN & HALPIN (Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpin,  
on February 10, 2015 4:19pm
   Kirby Shaw's reference to "Man of Constant Sorrow" made me think of a great Kentucky musician whose singing might be unknown but of incidental interest to people in the singing professions.  Roscoe Holcomb (1912 - 1981) was a legendary amateur banjo player and singer who was discovered, filmed and recorded by John Cohen beginning in 1959.  His recordings and videos are available on Smithsonian Folkways and Youtube.  He was influenced by the Old Baptist and Holiness Church traditions, as well as other mountain styles.  Cohen described his singing as "the high lonesome sound," the first use of this term.  When Holcomb sang his unaccompanied version of "Man of Constant Sorrow" for the Stanley Brothers during an early 1960s tour of Germany, Ralph Stanley remarked, "That's the way it should be sung."  This style of singing breaks most rules of good vocal technique--it's tight throated, tense, close mouthed, and belted out--but Roscoe Holcomb was one of the foremost practitioners of the style.   
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