Repertoire for ‘Real’ Choirs

Posted: December 31, 2022 in choral, Conducting
Tags: , ,


The dreaded SATTBB. Letters guaranteed to make a choral conductor’s heart sink. What a beautiful song, I think to myself upon hearing it. I wonder if there’s an arrangement available for Community Choir? There is, hurrah! And the difficulty level is Intermediate, you say? Perfect. And then, that string of letters. In my mind it’s an acronym for Sorry the Arrangement requires Twenty Tenors + a Battalion of Basses. 

Perhaps non-professional choirs in larger countries really are coming down with Tenors & Basses, apparently to the degree that they outnumber Sopranos & Altos. But in Ireland, forget it. I rarely encounter a community choir in this country that is not oversubscribed in terms of altos and, less commonly, sopranos – but so many Tenors and Basses that we have scope to subdivide the section? Not even if we physically dragged them in off the street. 

It took me a while, but after a period of time on the job I learned to let go of programming sublime choral music for the fantasy choir in my head, and to select repertoire appropriate for the choir I actually have, with all its strengths and weaknesses. The one where you have 3 Tenors, one of whom has another commitment on Tuesday nights, and one is on loan from the Alto section. Where you have 5 Basses, one of whom has never been heard to sing a note, while his immediate neighbour likes to sing a bar ahead, loudly, to show off his music reading skills. 

However, I didn’t write this post just to get this off my chest – though I’m feeling much better already, thank you – but rather with the goal of sharing some recommendations for (ahem!) SATB music I’ve conducted recently that is beautiful, singable and well arranged for non-professional singers. If you’re a choral person then you probably don’t need me to steer your attention towards the ‘rock stars’ of contemporary choral music, such as Eric Whitacre and Karl Jenkins. But you might like to give these your consideration…..

Sing to Me – Andrea Ramsey

Not often do you come across a choral piece so accessible and yet so beautiful. Not only are the choral lines intuitive and well written, the piano part is also rather lovely.

Scarborough Fair arr. Craig McLeish

The traditional melody plus Paul Simon’s Canticle, as recorded by Simon & Garfunkel. There are splits in this arrangement – but in the Soprano & Alto lines, a far more sensible proposition. 

Requiem by Eliza Gilkyson, choral arr. Craig Hella Johnson. Some breathing challenges for non-professional singers, but a very fine arrangement.

Calme des Nuits – Camile Saints-Saëns. A delight to sing, and surprisingly accessible.

Northern Lights Ola Gjeilo 

Caveat: You will need a strong Tenor section leader for this! There are some splits, and a tritone downwards shift at the ‘Pulcra Es..’ section that may challenge your Tenors’ ear as well as their vocal folds….but if they can handle it, it’s well worth it. Sublime. 

She Moved Through the Fair arr. Paul Sartin

It’s very hard to find decent choral arrangements of folk songs, but Paul Sartin appears to have created an entire volume of them! I can’t claim to have conducted all 50 of the songs in this collection, but can certainly recommend his setting of She Moved Through the Fair. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s