Sometimes we need a last minute holiday piece to fill out or balance our program.
We may have chosen a piece that was too difficult and need a last minute holiday replacement or we realize a little more cheer could enhance our program.
You can teaches these 8 pieces in just 1 rehearsal! In the rare event you are still fully remote, these parts can still be learned quickly.
This blog post is aligned with 8 Reasons I Repeat the Same Holiday Concert Music Every Year, in the sense that I’ve chosen to wait until just before Thanksgiving to introduce any holiday music for more than a decade; this, in turn, provided my students with three full months of non-holiday repertoire before diving into the holiday repertoire as the season begins.
Every piece I list below is easily attainable by a self-selected high school choir, community choir, and many middle school programs as well. Additionally, most of these pieces can be downloaded instantly, so you can have your music in time for today’s rehearsal!
One more thing: besides mentioning why I think these pieces are great choices, I provide a suggested way to introduce and teach each piece in one rehearsal.
Here are 8 LAST MINUTE Holidays Repertoire Ideas that WILL work – even remotely!
1. Night of Silence (many voicings available) – Daniel Kanter (Christmas – Instantly Downloadable)
This original piece contains a beautiful melody with three verses. In the third verse, Silent Night is sung as a counter-melody. There are so many different unique ways to frame this piece and several arrangements that Daniel Kanter has written. My choir performs the unison arrangement of this piece. I believe this piece can work with any amount of singers from elementary school all the way through college.
At my annual winter choir concert, we sing the 3rd verse twice: the first time the female alumni sing Silent Night against the melody. The second time, all women sing the melody and the men stand up quietly from the back of the auditorium and sing silent night. There are orchestral parts for sale, or it can be accompanied on the piano. I’ve included two different performances that demonstrate the flexibility on the piece.
Nothing beats St. Olaf
But it works just fine in UNISON!!
How to teach the unison version:
Sing through the entire song, which is just 3 verses of the exact same melody. Afterwards, teach the ensemble Silent Night. Then choose students to sing Silent Night against the melody.
Oh Hanukkah (SATB) – this 45 second arrangement fits well within a caroling packet
2. Deck the Nutcracker Hall – arr. Greg Gilpin (Christmas – Instantly Downloadable)
This piece sets the lyrics of Deck the Halls to Tchaikovsky’s Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy. It is clever and easy to learn. This piece is instantly downloadable for SAB and SATB, and I believe there is also a two part version available. The singers and audience will appreciate it’s creativity.
I’ve included a humorous take on this arrangement! Movement is not required for this piece to be successful, but you can see how this piece can be performed creatively!
How to teach this:
All students should sing the melody all the way through; both will be familiar to many, and fun to learn, putting them together. Next I would separate the lyrical parts from the Fa, La, La sections. This will allow students to see how few lyrics there really are. I would then isolate the mysterious Fa, La, La section at the end and build upon the entry parts. Once that is learned, I would teach the ending. Lastly, I would have the students read through the harmonies to the lyrical parts of the song, as they are repetitive and not complex. This piece can be learned in a 30 minute rehearsal.
3. Carol of the Bells – arr. Peter Wilhousky (Christmas)
This piece is definitely an audience favorite and is easy to learn and memorize. While this piece is lyrically connected to Christmas, there is a backstory that preceded it’s famous lyrics and it’s affiliation to the Winter season. Here is a link to an article I found that explains the original intent of Carol of the Bells. While I cannot validate it’s accuracy, it does explore a deeper meaning.
How to teach this:
Have the entire choir sing the sopranos’s opening 4 measure theme (which is essentially one measure repeated 4 times) and then move from part to part to find where the theme moves; this will engage all students and get them to process the piece from beginning to end. Focus on the articulation of the four note pattern from the onset (long, short, short, short) so it will be transferred throughout the song.
Next, focus on the initial entrance of each part; the altos can find their note from the soprano pattern, just as the tenors can find their entrance from the alto’s third pitch. The basses may have a trickier time finding their entering note, and that is something that could be focused on later; the rest of the bass part is super easy as they mainly have repeated or step-wise pitches when they aren’t singing the main 4 measure theme.
Finally, have everyone learn the tenor part “O How Happy Are Those Tones. Gaily they ring……” all the way until the tenors have the 4 measure theme. If tenors struggle to sing this melody, add some altos to reinforce. This piece can be learned in a 30 minute period.
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4. Siyahamba (Kwanzaa – SATB or SSA – Instantly downloadable for Free)
This piece has such emotional depth and while it was not written for Kwanzaa, it’s sentiment embodies the very spirit of the holiday. From the way we teach it, to the way we discuss it’s meaning, it is truly a piece that brings tremendous value, and yet it takes 10 minutes to teach.
This piece is a winner because it can (and should) be taught by rote and also keep singers engaged in the learning process by singing each other’s parts.
Since this piece is in public domain, and I have been teaching it by rote for many, many years. I have an arrangement available on my website for free in SATB or SSA. Along with free download, I’ve included teaching/programming notes that I believe will help to bring your performance to life.
How to teach this:
This piece should be taught by rote, in keeping with the tradition of the piece. The entire choir should learn the melody and lyrics. I would recommend putting the Zulu lyrics on the board, along with the English Translation. After everyone learns the soprano melody, I would teach everyone the alto harmony, followed by the tenor part, and then the basses. While we want the notes and rhythms to be correct, it’s equally important that we understand the meaning behind the song. The same concept applies with the SSA arrangement.
There are numerous arrangements out there, in various parts. I will firmly state that teaching any arrangement by rote, with the group standing and fully engaged, will create the most meaningful performance.
5. December Holidays Round – Adam Paltrowitz (Instant Download)
This brand new round encompasses Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve! The December Holidays Rounds looks to recognize all December holidays and bring balance to any December concert program. This unique round offers a balance between the sentiment and the joy that varied between the different holidays. You can easily teach this four-line round in less than one class period.
How to teach this:
Teach the round in unison. It can be sight-read or taught by rote with the lyrics on the board. Break up into two parts, then three, and finally four. It will be learned and memorized quickly!
6. Dreidel (SATB) – arr. Adam Paltrowitz (Hanukkah – Instantly Downloadable)
I improvised this arrangement about 10 years ago after my choir and I were discussing the lack of “festive” Hanukkah pieces. “Dreidel”, a child’s Hanukkah song, seemed like the perfect “spin” for an audience surprise. We improvised the bass and tenor part to sound like a fun “bounce” and created a harmony and countermelody with the altos. Next, we created some creative staging and a “serious” ending. We have been performing this piece every year since. At the concert, we perform this immediately after Carol of the Bells, and when we go caroling, we sing a caroling version of Dreidel that is mixed in with traditional Christmas Carols.
Dreidel: available for SATB, SATB – caroling, SSA, SA
How to teach this:
The soprano melody and alto melody is quite simple. I would recommend teaching verse one and the chorus first. Then teach the bass and tenor ostinato, which will be learned instantly. Once the two are put together, I’d add verse two. I’d teach the ending separately from the rest of the song, after the 2 verses and choruses have been learned. Incidentally, the 2 verses and the chorus make up the caroling version that we take on the road. This entire piece can be learned easily within one 30 minute rehearsal period. The treble versions are equally simple to teach and substitute the more complex ending with a shortened and simplified and exciting conclusion!
Alternative Concert Assignment – what to do when they miss the concert
7. Oh Hanukkah (SSA or SAB) – arr. Adam Paltrowitz (Hanukkah – Instantly Downloadable)
I wrote this arrangement originally for my middle school mixed choir but it has become a traditional piece performed by my 9th-10th grade Treble Choir for the past 15 years. This easy-to-learn piece is impressive, exciting, and full of festivity on the stage. You can easily teach this piece within one 30 minute rehearsal period.
How to teach this:
Everyone should learn the entire melody in unison, which they will all be singing together. There are essentially three 8 measure sections to this piece.
To begin the piece, all singers sing section 1,2,3 and return to section 1, in unison. From there, the parts split, but everyone is always singing one of those three melodic sections. There are no harmonies, only melodies. This melody-only piece will be fun to learn, and easy to bring to life.
Post Concert Self-Assessment/Alternative Concert Assignment Bundle – helps all students!
8. Traditional Holiday Caroling Packet (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa – Instantly Downloadable)
Carols are a great way to engage and excite the audience. Whether we invite our audience to join, circle our audience, or just sing a bunch of short holiday pieces, we are sure to spread joy.
If we can travel from place to place and carol, why not spend 5 minutes at the end of our concert doing the same thing? I created a simple packet that mixes several standing Christmas/Holiday carols, Joy to the World, Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Happy Hanukkah & Joyous Kwanzaa) with two short Hanukkah “carols” (not really carols since they aren’t for Christmas): Dreidel, and Oh Hanukkah. Also included is the December Holidays Round, which recognizes Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve!
While this piece is not technically for Christmas or Hanukkah, I have always incorporated a version of Simple Gifts into my concert program. For more than 15 years, my treble choir has sung The Gift to be Simple by Bob Chilcott (SSAA). There is also an SATB arrangement that works equally well. These arrangements are great because they can be sung accompanied or a-cappella. The meaning of this text embodies the holiday season. This arrangement may actually require two rehearsals to learn, due to the two 7/8 measures thrown in and the two exposed melodies at the end.
How to teach this:
Teach everyone the melody first. Next, teach the ostinato part. Thirdly, teach the “love and delight” section. Finally, focus on the two melodies at the end.
I love this text so much that I decided to write my own Simple Gift arrangement (SAB) for my Mixed Choir last year. They premiered it at our community’s Thanksgiving Interfaith Service land it is now an annual tradition to kick off our holiday season.
How to teach this:
For my Simple Gifts arrangement, I suggest teaching everyone the melody first from beginning to end. Next fill in the “oos” and finally add the harmonies. This arrangement can easily be taught in one rehearsal.
Final Last Minute Holiday Rep. Words
The idea of last minute programming/teaching is subjective. The purpose of this blog post is to offer successful holiday music that is well-written, easy-to-learn, will excite our singers and our audience. I love all of these pieces and only need to teach them in-season. I’m sure there are many other great pieces that fit this same bill; these are my go-to pieces!
Holiday Caroling Packet – for Christmas and Hanukkah!Product on sale
Oh Hanukkah (SATB) for carolingProduct on sale
Dreidel (SATB) – Caroling VersionProduct on sale
Post Concert Self-Assessment/Alternative Assignment BundleProduct on sale
Dreidel (SATB) – Concert VersionProduct on sale
Alternative Concert AssignmentProduct on sale