If your choir is integral to your school and local community, there is a good chance it will be asked to perform at a Memorial Day parade or event. I believe our choirs can have the most impact when we keep our approach simple: less is more.
What does “Keep It Simple” Mean?
Simple means we pick songs that are easy to learn, easily digestible for an audience, and easily malleable to varied circumstances that are out of our control.
A community event, ceremony, or parade presents many uncertainties; have any of these things happened to you and your choir?
- it rained while you were singing
- low choir member turn-out
- total imbalance between sections
- singing outside without any amplification
- singing in a large room (like a gymnasium) without any amplification
- being in a space where your singers can’t fit or see the conductor
- performing for an audience that is doing something else while you are singing
These types of situations are bound to occur when events are not intended specifically for our choirs. We are merely guest performers at community events. As a result, we should be prepared with repertoire and arrangements that can adapt to varying circumstances.
What do I recommend for a typical Memorial Day performance?
Memorial Day is right around the corner. You may have a few rehearsals, or just one to pull it together.
Here is my simple approach: pick simple and patriotic arrangements AND always end with a bang. I want my singers to learn these arrangements quickly and be able to perform them at any point in time throughout the year.
There are wonderful, concert-stopping arrangements of the Star-Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and America The Beautiful. The place for these elaborate arrangements is during a well-planned concert with an ideal set-up: all singers in attendance, plenty of time to plan, lots of time to rehearse, and a reason to perform a complex arrangement.
Events like Memorial Day (9/11, Pearl Harbor Day, etc) call for the beauty of simplicity. If I were performing a short set at a Memorial Day event, this is the programming I would do:
1. Star-Spangled Banner (SAB) or (SSA)
I wrote the SAB arrangement in order to allow for an imbalance between upper and lower voices. This version is patriotic, true to form, and locks really well. The SSA arrangement has the same feel and locks really well for treble voices.
2. American Memorial Round – round the can be sung in any formation (all listed)
This round works for all voicings. (SATB, SSA, SAB, SSAA, TTBB, TTB, etc). I’ve written out the order of part entrances based on the chosen voices. The round ends with a beautiful amen section. The round has a meaningful text:
Those who made the sacrifice,
For our freedom, their lives they’d lay.
We won’t forget how they paid that price
We will honor them each day (today)
God Bless America works extremely well when sung in unison. The arrangement I use, one that I wrote on the fly, is one that harmonizes the last 5 measures. Both SATB and SSA arrangements give the same patriotic feel. There is something so beautiful about this song, when it is sung in unison. This arrangement certainly keeps it simple but ends with a bang!
3 Songs and We’re Out
My philosophy for ceremonies and events is to keep our performance to 3 songs. If we are guests, we want to leave the audience wanting more. We want to affect and impact our audience and make the ceremony or event better as a result of our presence. Two other pieces that I use in similar-type events (9/11, Pearl Harbor) are Dona Nobis Pacem Round and Siyahamba. You can download both of these for free by clicking the links.
There is a distinction between a choir concert and performing as part of a community event. When we are performing at an event, we are serving someone else’s purpose and vision. With that in mind, the three Memorial Day songs along with those two additional pieces serve many purposes throughout the year. Our choir’s traditional pieces have become traditions within the community. We repeat these songs/arrangements whenever they appropriately serve our community. Keeping it simple allows us to perform more frequently, adapt to less-than-acceptable environments, and requires less rehearsal time.