Much of this week’s post is excerpted from the first installment of Music Within Reach, but I feel compelled from time to time to remind myself of why I am on a crusade for accessibility in choral music. The following, for me, sums it up.
There is no shortage of stellar choral programs in this country.
Like many of you, I was privileged to attend this year’s National Conference in Minneapolis, where we witnessed at least a couple dozen of the country’s most gifted ensembles from K-12 schools, universities, and churches. Think of how many other fine ensembles must have submitted recordings and were not accepted. Then imagine the number of excellent choirs that perform at divisional and state conferences and other invitational festivals. The wealth of talent we have is thrilling!
I know many people who go to conferences just to watch the concerts, specifically looking for great repertoire. Indeed, I heard and collected so much music at this year’s conference that I would love to be able to program. But much of it will sit on my shelf for a long time. Why? Because much of it is completely inaccessible to the choirs I direct.
Amid all of the truly outstanding choirs out there, I believe there exists a majority of choral programs where great things are happening but which, for one reason or another and often due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, will probably never be featured at a state or divisional or national conference. Perhaps balance is inconsistent, maybe voices are aging, maybe recruitment is always an issue. Please do not misunderstand me—it is not my wish to label these choirs as if something was wrong with them. Any time people come together to sing in a choir, it is a great thing! But for the purposes of finding repertoire, it can often be a challenge to find high-quality music for your average choir.
Much of the music published today has been commissioned by one of the aforementioned fine choral programs, and, as such, often showcases that ensemble’s talents. Therefore, we see a lot of divisi, wide vocal ranges, and tricky intervals, harmonies, and rhythms that produce highly satisfying effects but which might seem out-of-reach for average singers. It is great music, to be sure, but is often difficult for many of us to program. By the same token, much of the so-called canon of excellent choral music can also be inaccessible to many of our choirs. Much of it requires a large chorus—possibly even increased instrumentation, and improved recordings and higher performance practice standards may intimidate conductors who do not feel their performances of this music can live up to today’s expectations.
On the other side of the coin, sometimes music published specifically with access in mind can be too simple or not challenge our singers to the extent we would like.
So what is the answer?
Being the conductor of what I feel are lovely and very average choirs (and that is NOT a pejorative!), I have made it my life’s work to identify as much music as I can that is both accessible and musically satisfying. And I am attempting to share some of what I have found with you in these posts. Some of it you may already know, but I also get great satisfaction in finding rarities, so I hope I am able to offer some new ideas as well. I try to highlight music both old and new and in a variety of voicings, languages, and styles. I am always welcome to ideas, so I hope if you have or know a piece that fits the bill you will e-mail it to me at .
Next week, I will feature a couple of newer pieces for single-gender choirs. Stay tuned!
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.