Experience has taught me that people often hear “high school” and assume that you are working with SATB choirs (or SATB divisi). Several factors contribute to the ability levels at which students arrive in high school, not the least of which are quality of feeder programs and whether or not prerequisites or auditions are required. I have a non-auditioned choir of high school students that, for a variety of reasons, usually performs SAB music. It is always my biggest challenge to find the best SAB music for their often inexperienced voices. Here are a few that work well for this type of choir.
First, a bit of a classic: Eugene Butler’s “Song of the Open Road”. This robust setting of Walt Whitman’s text has been a staple for over 30 years. The thick chords of the piano underlying the largely homorhythmic and melodic choral parts encourage young singers to project. Each voice part’s range stretches singers but does not ask them for anything unhealthful or unreasonable at their ability levels. Mostly diatonic, the moments of chromaticism fit logically with the accompaniment and will be easy for singers to hear. This is a great piece to start the year! Published by Hinshaw, it can be found here.
The next piece, a ballad by Philip E. Silvey, is “It Sings in Me”, published by Santa Barbara. With a beautiful text by Sara Teasdale, this setting is sensitive and provides opportunities for teaching rhythmic and melodic independence, syncopation, long phrases, and dynamics. Written in D-flat, “It Sings in Me” is a great way to teach students how solfege can help singers read in any key, as it is almost completely diatonic. With a text celebrating spring, Silvey’s setting works as a great end-of-year piece to challenge and reward your SAB singers for a year of hard work and learning. It is available here, complete with both visual and audio previews.
Finally, “The Cuckoo” is a little-known American folk song which has been arranged for SAB choir by Robert I. Hugh. This groovy rendition will quickly become students’ favorite piece, easily teaching complex rhythms, minor tonality, and soulful singing style. Early in the piece the baritone part doubles the soprano, with the alto singing the countermelody. Later, the baritones split during a fun scat section that features all parts singing ostinati, but the second part could be a solo. The ease of the melodic section is such that you could begin with the harder middle section so that it gets stuck in the students’ heads first, freeing up energy for teaching the rest of the piece. The icing on the cake is the funky piano accompaniment and percussion part. “The Cuckoo”, published by Hal Leonard, may be found here.
I always prefer finding pieces that were originally written for SAB and not arranged from a more complex voicing. These songs are great examples of this. What other original SAB pieces have worked for you? Feel free to share in the comments! And, as always, if you have ideas for pieces you would like to see included in a post, send me an e-mail at .
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.