Newly In Print
Unless otherwise noted, all pieces are a cappella, and published by Boosey & Hawkes in their CME series.
Sound Clips. Where this icon appears next to a piece, click on it to hear a short sound clip of that piece. Clips are MP3 format, and can be heard in many players, including Microsoft Media Player. If you don't have it, get it free here.
Getting ready for "Living In A Holy City" with over five hundred voices:
the combined Hopewell Valley H.S. and Timberlane Middle School choirs of New Jersey,
directed by Ken and Rebecca Elpus. See bottom of page for an action shot.
Photo by Mike Schwartz, www.mssphoto.com
|All For Me Grog|
(recording is of the SATB version)
Peterborough Children's Chorus
| Now available for TTBB, revoiced for the Orpheus Male Chorus of Phoenix. This is a sea shanty from Nova Scotia, first arranged for the Cantabile choirs of Kingston: a fun piece that lets the singers rant and roar. I've designed the SAB version so that if desired the whole piece can recycle the music from the first verse and chorus, both of which are easy enough to teach by rote if you wish. Additional verses can be sung to the music for the first verse, or they can be sung as written, creating as many variations on the first verse as the choir can handle. The baritone line has been written with young singers in mind - lots of melody within the range of a fifth - while the performance notes give further suggestions how the voicings can be shuffled and modified to give maximum comfort to changing voices and young tenors. Young singers seem to get a particular kick out of singing a choir piece that has a refrain like "All for me grog and tabacca!" Somebody in the SAB soundfile has a solar plexus grunt of which I stand in awe.|
SSA and piano, optional bass and drums, optional string quartet
| "A" is for the Amniotic womb of the sea.
"B" is for the Baby the whole planet used to be.
Since the Savridi Singers of Calgary, Alberta, had asked me for a piece on the theme of children and hope, it seemed appropriate to write an alphabet whose key words included Children, Hope and Voices, although there are many other thematic diversions that arise as the letters progress:
"E" is for the Elements to which we return.
"F" is the Fossils that we resurrect and burn.
The piece is both gentle and driving, a perpetual motion chant with a steady-ticking piano part, and a style somewhere between a folk-blues, a nursery rhyme, and the Dixie Cups. "Beginner's Alphabet" can work with just piano, or you can add bass and drums to the piano, or add a string quartet to all three. The vocal parts are not technically demanding, although to keep that crisp, buoyant, rhythmic style going for the whole piece carries its own demands on a singer's stamina and musical intelligence. I hope to have a recording to post before long.
The soundfile is an excellent model for the diction, which is crystal clear without sounding formal, and for the overall styling and phrasing. In this live performance the drums are a little too forward in the mix; for all that the drums are obviously summoning up the spirit of an old-time rock beat, I still want them to float and glide under the voices like a hovercraft.
|Bonny Wood Green|
(SA) (Alliance) AP 0326
(TBB) (Alliance) AMP 0882
Cantilon Chamber Choir
|For the Calgary Girls' Choir, Alberta. For the Calgary Girls' Choir, Alberta, with a new TBB voicing for men, commissioned by the Seattle Catholic High School Choir Festival, 2012. A slow, sad, lilting Irish ballad of W.W.I, still sung in pubs today. The TBB voicing is in a different key than the treble score, and some of the pronouns have switched gender, so there would be some advance planning required if one wished the two versions to be sung together. A deliberately stark arrangement, with much unison. Haunting and tender. References to Flanders may tie in well with Remembrance Day. Medium difficulty. From m. 45-47 have the two lower voices sing every note to the syllable "roo", with a crisply rolled "r" like a snare drum, instead of the "loo" printed in the score."|
|Bring It Home|
(SA - some simple divisi - and piano: optional steel drum or melody instrument)
| "Bring It Home" was commissioned by Melanie Michael as a 25th anniversary present to her husband Andre, and to daughters Melinda and Aleisha, who both sang in the Amabile Youth Singers of London, Ontario. "Bring It Home" retells the story that Melanie told me: having daughters in the choir brought to their home an awareness and an appreciation of music that wouldn't have happened otherwise. My piece, sung from the child's point of view, also paid tribute to Andre's Caribbean side with a steel pan solo played by Aleisha. The soundfile is from the Amabile Youth Singers' 25th Anniversary Concert, and though the tempo is a touch slow, it did facilitate clean diction in a wet acoustic - something that needs to be taken into consideration with this piece. The steel pan solo can be played on marimba, or keyboard, or even left out as the piano part can still carry the piece. For them what gots it though, the steel pan sure does sound right. And it's amazing how good steel pan sounds on some electric keyboards . . . Or a steel pan/marimba mix. . .|
|Canary In A Coal Mine|
| Written for the 20th Anniversary of the Young Singers, led by Anna Lynn Murphy, this piece makes it possible to bring together three ensembles: SATB, SSA and Unison. It can also be sung by a single SATB divisi ensemble, especially if the SA voices outnumber the TB voices, as is often the case. The Unison vocal line, which first enters at the pick-up to m. 57, can be sung by any mix of voices. Although it might require amplification, the SSA and/or Unison parts can be taken by soloists.
In olden times the men would go to the mines.
And to be sure that the air was there in the lines
They’d take a canary, and as long as it sang
They knew they were fine.
Sometimes you feel you sing alone in the dark.
Sometimes you feel you’re the only soul on the ark.
The dove carries the olive branch, canary carries the song,
And we all work the mines.
|Change My Name|
(SSA and piano)
(SSA and piano) 979-0-051-48111-8
| For Robin Norman and the Nove Voce Choral Society of Prince George, British Columbia: a choir that did such a good job with my "dreamy meltdown" pieces that when they commissioned me I knew I wanted to give them another slow, hypnotic spell to cast. "Change My Name" is a series of melodic variations on the opening line of a spiritual more usually known as "If He Changed My Name". The piano and vocal lines intertwine, drift, float and moan in a landscape of emotional suspension, suspension, release. Against this dreamy vocal presence the words are bare and simple and honest about the emotional cost of a spiritual search.|
|Cheetah Song, The|
Unison or SA and piano
St. Mary's Children's Choir
| When I asked Jacklin Falconer what the St. Mary's Children's Choir wanted to sing about, "Animals, animals, animals!" with the greyhound, hedgehog and cheetah mentioned by name. The piece was written with an eye for helping the choristers learn the music: measures 19-65 are repeated, almost note for note, at measures 69-115. For a unison version of the piece, follow the Soprano line except in those places where the score indicates the melody is in the Alto. A choir can add as much or as little of the harmony as suits them; the recording gives an example of a performance that customizes the score in this way.|
|Down Low With Finesse|
SSA divisi, a cappella
Porfiri & Harváth
PHP 312 052
| The title refers to handling a mood swing with style, but also pays tribute to the choir's name: Finesse is a girls' chamber ensemble from Mt. Whitney H.S. in Visalia, California, directed by Brad Hayashi. My text deals with the anxieties of young adulthood that are exorcised, chant-style, in a cyclone swirl of ostinati, funky riffs and "chacka chacka" vocal effects that turn the choir into a beat box or an air guitar. I've often said that I think of a choir as a tribe, in Down Low With Finesse the tribal experience of putting the piece together becomes the best therapy for overcoming despair, described in this piece as "that down-low creepin' song". The accompanying soundfile was made during a classroom rehearsal with Finesse – a wonderful workshop with a very hip, intelligent ensemble with a lot of personality.|
At the Sborové slavnosti (Czech Choir Festival) in Hradec Králové, 2011. Rehearsing 'Dubula' with the children at the festival...
| Originally written for Mark Sirett and the Cantabile Youth Singers of Kingston, Ontario, there is now a treble voicing written for the 2012 Windy City Youth Choral Festival, hosted by Elena Sharkova and her choir, also named Cantabile, although this Cantabile is from Silicon Valley. A Xhosa song well known in South Africa, "Dubula" has all the rhythmic drive and open-chord vocal gorgeousness you'd expect from a South African song, along with two other characteristics less common in the South African songs usually championed by the global choral movement. It opens with a half-chanted section in free time, which makes an excellent contrast when the driving rhythm suddenly kicks in. And unlike the "freedom song", "Dubula" has nothing to do with themes of religious and political struggle: it's just flat-out party. Optional dance steps, very easy to do and manageable on risers, are provided with the score. Although not hard to learn, "Dubula" makes for a barn-burning concert closer. I have had conflicting advice as to whether the syllable in the third measure be "ngom" or "ngem", but at the moment the "ngems" out-number the "ngoms" two to one, so I will go with "ngem". Oh yes, and in the chorus the syllable hayl should rhyme with "smile", not "whale".
The phrase at m. 4-6 and 15-16 suggests a child whining that the bird has stolen all the food, and when I conduct this piece I get the singers to use a whining tone and rub their eyes like fretful children. In the SATB voicing the basses have accented, low-pitched figures on the word "Dubula" at m. 72, 74 and 76. Unless a choir has a bass section big and strong enough to pump out those low notes, I get the basses to jump up the octave for the three "Dubula" figures. To see this option notated, click here.
|En El Principio|
SATB divisi, percussion and string bass
| Commissioned in California by the Bakersfield High School Chorale and their director Christopher Borges, the bilingual text (English and Spanish) was written in collaboration with choir accompanist Alicia Ellsworth. En el principio somos diferentes – diferentes nombres, diferentes caras, historias, razas. “In the beginning we were all different – different names, faces, stories, races.” The choir becomes the image of e pluribus unum, and the yin/yang themes of unity within diversity and diversity within unity are musically underscored by the use of counterpoint, interconnected ostinati, and the trading of vocal lines between the sections. Percussion and string bass help create the Latin beat, and although the piece can be performed without the bass, it is much richer and harmonically more grounded with it. While workshopping the piece with the choir we found that different tempi created interesting variations in mood and groove. The accompanying soundfile has the crackling energy of the premiere, but we also liked the suave feel when the tempo was a little slower.|
... and then two very different performances at the same event.
|Fair Time Ago, A|
SSA with solos/soli
Cypress: CP 1183(Canada)
(US) Musical Resources of Toledo
Table for Six (and friends)
| I was asked to write a piece for Lady Cove, a women's choir from St. John's led by Kellie Walsh, that would honour the role of women in traditional Newfoundland culture. The result, in a gently dancing slow 6/8, is an interweaving of narratives through an interweaving of solos or soli around the tutti texture. There are many ways these solos/soli could be distributed, depending on the vocal balance of the individual choir; during these antiphonal sections the tutti choir stays in two parts, which gives extra wiggle room when it comes to distributing solos without fatally weakening the ensemble sound. This piece looks backward in time, which makes it especially suitable for adult voices, but as many of the narratives come from young women peering into the future, the piece is also especially suitable for young voices.|
At rehearsal for Chamber Music with pianist Hannah Parks and percussionist Kate MacLean (who also played accordion at the
premiere of 'Best To Be Singing In Difficult Times'). Commissioned by Jackie Chambers and the Aeolian Singers.
Also in the picture is Jackie's daughter, Cecelia White.
|Heaven Bound Train|
(double SSAA choir) Colla Voce 21-20226
(SSAA and SATB choir) Colla Voce 21-20112
|For the Amabile Youth Singers of London, Ontario. A slow cooker that builds to meltdown, this setting of an obscure spiritual takes the old gospel train image (plus the image of the underground railway to freedom) further than ever before, complete with long, scalding steam whistle blasts at the end. Packs a huge wallop that seems to really grip singers - of all my charts, this is the one that choirs have most repeatedly told me they are dying to try. Advanced. Both voicings are for a double choir, and in each case Choir 1 is SSAA. (Depending on the voicing, Choir 2 will be SSAA or SATB.) In both voicings Choir 1 is the more technically demanding, and is suitable for a double or triple quartet as well as a chorus.|
|Holly and The Ivy, The|
Porfiri & Harváth
PHP 112 055
| My arrangement of this famous English carol uses a little known alternate melody in lilting 2/4 time, so that my version would strike audiences as both familiar and new, which is a handy combination when you're putting a concert together. The folk-song atmosphere is matched by lots of Hatfield-style counterpoint, so that all four voices have lots of melodic material, and every voice has a chance to be in the foreground of the vocal texture. The arrangement is designed to be a quick learn for a "reading choir", while still giving ample opportunity for polish and nuance. The soundfile features the Victoria chamber choir "Soundings", led by Denis Donnelly.|
|Les draveurs de la Gatineau (Raftsmen of the Gatineau)|
SATB and piano
Cypress CP 1204 (Canada)
(US) Musical Resources of Toledo
Les Choeur classique
| Commissioned for Robert Fillion and Le Choeur classique de l'Outaouais as part of a project that explored the French-Canadian folk songs of the Gatineau region, I learned this song from a lady singing a cappella in her kitchen. Arranged as the sort of old-fashioned waltz the raftsmen might dance to at the end of the drive, the SATB voicing is straight-ahead and uncomplicated, but with lots of variety and opportunities for every part to get some spotlight. The French text is a marvelous piece of time-travel, taking us into the logging camps, down the rapids, through the trading post and finally into the party that celebrates the end of the dealings and the close of the working year. While I encourage choirs to sing the French, the score also comes with an English version that is faithful to the meaning, if not to the panache, of the original. The French is much more standard and easily learned than the colloquial texts of many French-Canadian songs, and this piece would be useful to the many choirs in Canadian festivals and competitions who need to sing in both of our national languages.|
Andrew Dunsmore sings and plays 'Metal and Wood', a piece for solo voice and percussion
he commissioned as part of his research into the value of choral training for instrumentalists.
The audio clip gives five minutes from the piece, starting when Andrew moves from chant to song
by means of the 'A' from a silver tuning fork. ('Make the metal give its note away.')
SSAA and piano
| "Dip your fingers in the water and the rings will spread.|
And they spread to who knows how far away?
To beyond what you see, beyond what you hear,
Like the voice of the candle when you pray."
"Ripple Effect" was written in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Amabile Youth Singers, the choir with whom I’ve collaborated on so many pieces. This is one of my dreamy, creamy pieces, where the text's theme of ripples sent through water and air is reinforced by musical allusions to the chord progression of Donovan's water song "Atlantis" and the D flat tonality and rising thirds of Debussy's airy "Clair de Lune". The goal is a gentle luminosity, a pearly fog or a cool river full of blue and silver sparkles. (A very helpful comment, I'm sure.) "Ripple Effect" refers to the spreading influence of trailblazers like Amabile, as well as the importance of choral music in the search for a transcendence beyond words. Fairly advanced, but well within the reach of a good high school ensemble.
|Son de Camaguey|
(SATB with flexible number of percussion - three at least)
| Now available for TTBB voices. For those choirs who went to town on Jabula Jesu, this chart is the likeliest follow-up: a bit harder, and a different rhythmic style, but the same approach of interlocking ostinati, in this case built around the chorus of a Cuban folk song. High-spirited and uptempo, with every section getting lots of spotlight, this chart only has a few phrases of easy Spanish to learn. (I've been told that the local pronunciation of "Camaguey" turns "quey" into "way". ) The percussion parts, which are sketched in but rely on the players' ability to comp, are ideal if you have, as many schools do, a tribe of percussionists, often non-reading, whom you'd love to motivate, but can't think of anything to do with. The Cuban style gives them a chance to bring out all the toys, and the score gives them the chance to solo, as well as accompany.|
|Torch Song (The Dark Ages)|
Porfiri & Harváth
PHP 312 044
| Written for Les Ms. Of St. John's Newfoundland (great name for a women's choir, no?), founder and director Dr. Valerie Long. “Torch Song” is a late-night ode to lost love, and to the refusal to be pulled under by it, a piece that combines the choral tradition with that of the cabaret song, full of musical allusions and a world-weary wit. The song’s narrator is up late, taking stock of her heart while watching graveyard TV, and the style of her narration reflects in music the staples of the late-late movie: the cocktail jazz of the spy thriller; the happy trails of the singing cowboy, the beatnik touches of a teen movie coffee-house. Our heroine triumphs, and though the triumph is bitter-sweet, the sweetness is all the sweeter for having known what bitterness is. The history documentary she watches reminds her that she is going through her own "Dark Ages", and that means the Renaissance could be right around the corner.|
|Vive La Rose|
SA(T)B and piano
SSA and piano
Table for Six (and friends)
| A French folk song beloved on both sides of the Atlantic, this bittersweet arrangement was commissioned by Dr. Claire Wilkshire and La Rose des Vents, the choir of the Francophone Community Association of St. John's, Newfoundland. The story of a damsel's broken heart is told with the mixture of simplicity and subtlety in which French songs often excel – what a depth of contradictory feeling there is in her final lines: "Mardi reviendra me voir, / Mais je n'en voudrai pas." "Tuesday he'll come back to see me, But I wouldn't want him anymore." This is one of those songs where the choir tells a sad, sweet, simple tale that also showcases their phrases and vocal warmth. Lots of counter-melodies, lots of counterpoint amid the sad, sweet, simple harmonies. The arrangement is intended to work for trained choirs as well as community choirs where one cannot always count on wide vocal ranges or experienced readers, where the tenor line may be doubled by the contraltos and the baritones may not always be able to divide into tenor and bass. "Vive La Rose" has been recorded by many famous French musicians, and the version of the text that I have used is a tribute to the father of French Newfoundland fiddle music, Emile Benoit. Both soundfiles are from choirs in St. John's, Newfoundland, which is something I had very much hoped for. If you are following Cantus Vocum with a score, note the changes in the baritone at m.28-34 and 84. Thanks to Dr. Claire Wilkshire for making sure the French was accurate.|
"Living In A Holy City" with over five hundred voices: the combined Hopewell Valley H.S. and Timberlane Middle School choirs of New Jersey, directed by Ken and Rebecca Elpus. Accompanist Elizabeth Hartnett can be seen sitting at the piano, singing along in her head.
Photo by Matt Schwartz, www.mssphoto.com