One of the biggest challenges I face is finding attainable music for my high school men’s choirs. I imagine I am not alone in this struggle. There is quite a bit of TTBB music out there, but I suspect many of us do not have men’s choirs large enough or advanced enough to sing much of it. Also, while arrangements of pieces originally written for mixed choirs can be nice, sometimes they do not work as well or fit as nicely into a men’s chorus format. (There are many notable exceptions to this, of course.) In this post, I will share two selections that I think work well for a smaller or less advanced men’s choir.
The first is John Rutter’s “Two Folk-Songs for Male Voices” from his choral cycle The Sprig of Thyme. Though marked for TTBB, there are maybe only three measures across the whole work actually in four parts. Large portions of both movements, “Down by the sally gardens” and “The miller of Dee”, are in unison, boasting a pretty comfortable range for most changed male singers. The higher moments provide opportunities to work on transitioning between registers, and the long phrases in both movements allow for significant work on breath control. The first movement breaks into two parts at the second verse, with a high tenor part that can either be sung by higher voices or by lower voices largely in falsetto. The second movement features the thickest texture, moving into three and four parts only in the last verse and not even consistently, so if you are only able to put a couple of singers on each part, it is just for a few bars. Throughout both movements, the piano accompaniment provides harmonic and rhythmic stability but never gets in the way of the choral focus. The contrasting texts are an added plus! “Two Folk-Songs for Male Voices” is published by Oxford and can be found here.
The second piece is “Si iniquitates observaveris” by Classical-era composer Samuel Wesley, sometimes dubbed “the English Mozart”. Wesley converted to Roman Catholicism at a young age, and, as such, wrote many sacred works in Latin. This piece, using text from Psalm 130, is scored for three unaccompanied voices (TBB). Largely homorhythmic, the straightforward chord structure combined with Latin vowels offer ample opportunities to focus on intonation. The ranges are mostly comfortable, with a couple of exceptions in each part toward the end of the piece that could likely be modified if necessary. The nature of the work itself provides numerous chances for the singers to be extremely sensitive to musical style, expression, and nuance. An excellent edition with rehearsal accompaniment can be found on CPDL here, and many recorded examples are available on YouTube. Here is one.
As always, feel free to share some great men’s choir pieces that have worked well for your choir in the comments. You are also invited to e-mail me at with suggested pieces for future blog posts.
Brandon Moss is a choir director, teacher, and composer/arranger living and working in Central Ohio. He teaches at Central Crossing High School, directs the Chalice Choir at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, and serves in leadership roles with the Ohio Choral Directors Association and the Ohio Music Education Association. He is currently working on the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting at The Ohio State University.