I used to be snobby about arrangements of classic choral works. I have always been taught to seek out the most authentic editions, voicings, and keys of pieces, and I still believe in that notion. However, when I got out into the real world and began teaching middle school and beginning high school choir—usually with far fewer numbers of tenors, baritones, and basses than sopranos and altos—I realized there were not many choices of literature written before modern times for SAB or three-part mixed, which my situations often demanded. Here, decisions must be made. Are you accountable to true authenticity or do you owe it to your singers to introduce to them all styles and historical periods? I believe firmly in the latter, and this post will discuss a few good arrangements of pieces for SAB and three-part mixed choirs.
The first is “Bless the Lord, O My Soul”—Joyce Eilers’ arrangement of the great movement from Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov’s setting of the All-Night Vigil. A cappella and in English, this piece will reinforce many concepts to your choir—syncopation, dynamic contrasts, breath control, and phrase shaping. It is almost entirely diatonic, so the piece is great for use of solfege to learn parts, especially since it is completely homorhythmic. There are a few optional notes to fill in some harmonic gaps, but the ranges are extremely appropriate for developing voices. I programmed this piece last year with my beginning high school choir students—many of whom had never been in choir before. They worked hard to learn this piece and loved the musicality they were able to express with it. “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” is published by Hal Leonard and is available here.
The next piece is “Laudate Dominum” by Tomás Luis de Victoria and arranged by Audrey Snyder. Snyder gives detailed notes about alterations she has made to the original music on the inside cover, making it a very informed arrangement. This work is a great introduction to polyphony and Renaissance styles for developing singers. It is a short piece and contains some repeated material, but it might work as a solemn opener to a concert or a set. If teaching it in solfege (as I do), the director will need to make some decisions about the tonal center, as no key signature is indicated. It seems to be in D dorian, with some touches of harmonic minor (lowered sixths and raised sevenths), so I would have students call D “la” and so forth. This piece features so many opportunities to teach students about dissonance and consonance, independence of part and line shape, as well as elements of both music theory and history. “Laudate Dominum” is published by Alfred and is available here.
If you are looking for something a bit more difficult, Russell Robinson’s arrangement of the “Gloria” movement from Haydn’s Paukenmesse might be the way to go. Set for SAB choir and piano, this arrangement features soprano and alto parts that stretch the range and a baritone part that does the same but still sits very comfortably in most developing male voices, hovering around the top of the bass clef most of the time. An excellent example of Classical style, this work also offers the chance for teachers to introduce the concept of modulation, reinforce long phrases and breath control, talk about chromaticism for expressivity, and practice moving back and forth between homorhythm and polyphony. There is a terrific accompaniment that underlies the voices, providing rhythmic stability to the singers. This arrangement is published by Walton and is available here.
What arrangements of classic choral music have worked for your choirs? Please consider sharing in the comments, and as always, feel free to email me ideas for songs you would like to see featured in “Music Within Reach” 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.