Choral Repertoire is Plentiful and also Impossible to Find
Between the brick and mortar publishing companies, the online publishing companies, and the online self-publishers, there is more music to search through than time in the day. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of music that we search through doesn’t fit the bill of what we need.
As I mentioned in another post, brick and mortar publishing companies have a limited amount of music each year that they can afford to publish while online publishers have way too much music; that’s not to say the quality level of online publishers is of a lesser level. Some of these online publishing companies work hard to only allow skilled composers on their site; the issue isn’t about quality, it’s about skill accessibility for our ensembles and how to find the right pieces.
High School choral repertoire, itself, is a unique art form. Many select high schools choose to perform college repertoire while self-selected choirs are torn between this same challenging repertoire or going down the hokey road of show tunes and taped accompaniment.
My PROBLEM with the Online Choral Publishing Industry
In conjunction with my strong belief that all high school singers should primarily sing in a self-selected choir, I also believe more composers should be writing highly artistic, well-constructed music that specifically suits high school singers.
Fine high school writing is rooted in the basics of understanding proper vocal ranges of high school singers, limiting divisi (especially with bass/tenor parts), utilizing proper voice-leading, writing leaps that are easily singable, and inserting tonal and rhythm patterns that minimize petty errors.
Sifting though endless websites, I’ve come forth with a plan that I believe can be helpful in finding great repertoire that your high school will sing well.
Here are 10 ways to FIND High School Choral Repertoire:
1. Compile a potential choral repertoire ordering list throughout the year
Every time you hear a piece of music that you MAY like or consider, put it on a preliminary list. We tend to forget the pieces we hear and like randomly, especially on social media. After compiling a year-long list, take a closer look at each piece to ensure the piece properly meets the parameters of a high school choir.
Self-Assessment Rehearsal Participation Rubric(s)
2. Join Facebook choral groups
There are several popular choral groups where colleagues freely and openly answer questions. If you ask a question such as, “I’m looking for a great SSAA a-cappella opener that connects with the theme of peace,” you will most likely find dozens of choral directors offering suggestions, links to the sheet music, and recordings on YouTube.
Three groups I would recommend joining are: Choral music, I’m a Choir Director, and Choral Repertoire Hub.
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3. Find High School Choir YouTube Channels
Don’t reinvent the wheel. When you find like-minded directors with similar programs, you can find choral repertoire quite easily. Here is the Arvada West High School YouTube channel along my high school choir’s YouTube channel (Plainview-Old Bethapage John F. Kennedy High School.)
The Road Not Taken (SATB) – setting of Robert Frost poem
4. Follow the YouTube Lead
Most pieces that you initially find in a publisher’s catalog can be searched on YouTube. If you can find a decent recording of the piece that is sung by an age-appropriate ensemble, you will most likely find related selections to hear as well; related selections could be from the same composer, or same performing ensemble.
Peace (SATB) – setting of Sara Teasdale poem
5. Bookmark great composers and go directly to their personal sites
If you’ve performed a piece by a composer whose composition really fit your ensemble, consider going straight to the composer’s site first. They may have self-published pieces as well as published pieces that span multiple sites. I am a huge fan of these 7 composers who write great music self-selected high school ensembles:
Michael John Trotta, Kim Andre Arnesen, Jake Runestad, Ola Gjeilo, Elaine Hagenberg. Jacob Narverud, Andrea Ramsey, and Chris Maunu. Just note that not every piece they compose suits high school, but their fine skills and intent on general accessibility frequently lends their works to fine self-selected ensembles. I would like to add that their websites are easy to use as well!
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening (SSAA) – setting of Robert Frost Poem
6. Visit Santa Barbara Music Publishing Company’s website
This company deserves immense credit for the quality of their music and the total website experience. I could not in good conscience lump this company together with any other site because they are head and shoulders above all other traditional publishing company.
Not only is sorting within the “high school” parameter easy (voicing, style, etc), the quality of the recordings and visibility of the sheet music along with the ease of quickly moving from piece to piece make this website a total joy to use. I do not have any affiliation with this company.
Perfect Star-Spangled Banner Arrangement for SAB (SATB) – easy to learn
7. Visit Graphite Publishing’s website
Graphite Publishing is an online vocal music publisher of digital scores. They are the one online-only publishing company that I believe does a fantastic job by providing a well-crafted search engine. But on top of their great search engine that allows you to search quite easily (ensemble-type, length of song, level of difficulty, and instrumentation). I have found their compositions to be well-crafted and accessible for my self-selected choral program.
According to their founders, Jocelyn Hagen and Timothy C. Takach., “Graphite publishes quality compositions where excellence and accessibility meet: unique yet emotional; challenging yet appealing; innovative and enjoyable to experience.”
Here is a recording of “Spark (To Music)”, composed by Eric William Barnum, a piece I ordered while searching Graphite Publishing in the middle of the night and performed with my choir two months later at a concert.
My Treble Choir also performed A Path to Each Other by Jocelyn Hagen and Tim Takach last year.
This piece is a winner in every sense of the word: it can be sung by any group voicing at any age level and has a beautiful, meaningful text. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen!
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8. Visit Choral Clarity’s Collection – aimed at High School & Self-Selected Ensembles
This is my way of contributing to the solution of finding choral music aimed at high school singers. Every piece I write has been tested and/or performed by my high school self-selected ensembles. As a result, I can attest to the sing-ability of my pieces. There are recordings and/or videos of real high school choirs singing just about every piece for sale. I have revamped my home page so it is really easy to find music. Just click and search from the menu.
Another thing I have done to simplify the ordering process by charging one price for unlimited usage for your ensemble.
My Treble Choir recently sang Beauty Shines (soon to be available in SATB) and Hiney Ma Tov (available in SATB, SSAA, SSA). My Mixed Choir just finished performing Simple Gifts (available in SAB, SSA, SA) and The Road Not Taken (SATB). I truly believe these pieces work, as every piece I write has been sung and performed by a self-selected choir first!
9. Ask your singers to search
You may be surprised how many students listen to other choirs or search composers on their own time. As a result of their individual efforts, the choir can benefit. Create a google form where students can submit a piece of choral repertoire. On the form, first have them list the song and the composer/arranger. Next, have them provide link to the recording they enjoyed.
Finally, ask them why they think that selection would be a great fit for their choir. This can not only be a great resource for us, it can also be a great way to empower our choir members.
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10. J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice
J.W. Pepper has editor’s choice lists that sort by voicing and by year. Since they are an all-encompassing music distribution company that even offers self-published music, they have the opportunity to provide a diverse and comprehensive list of music.
I believe the choices their editors make, while not always on the mark, at least provide an interesting cross-section of music.
Start with this link and then re-sort by voicing and year!
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11. Endeavor Music Publishing
Ryan Main just launched his online publishing company this week. I find him to be a great composer of accessible secondary-level music. Now, with his new platform, he is bringing on like-minded composers to share his highly intuitive website. As of now, the songs titles are limited, which makes searching his site really easy.
I highly recommend you giving it a try, as he has solid recordings for all of the pieces. While I have not spoken with him (yet), I believe he has noticed the shortcoming of most of the other online platforms and is positioning his website to fill the obvious void in easily searchable and musically accessible choral music.