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Repertoire that Inspires: Three Favorites

I am happy to have been invited back to the Michigan Music Educator as the new choral columnist. My previous association with the MME found me serving as editor during the early 2000s—great times of growth for our state journal, growth that has continued into the pres- ent.

It’s that time of year—when the GVSU Book- store is sending reminders to those faculty who have not yet submitted book orders for the fall semester and yes, I am one of the “lucky” re- cipients. Since choral students at GVSU pur- chase their music each semester, our friendly bookstore reasonably requests that music lists be generated by late spring so that music can be ordered and compiled into packets… and each year, I am the last faculty member who submits! I suppose that my repeated tardiness may be attributed to some degree of pure pro- crastination but upon honest reflection I think that indecisiveness is the culprit.

I certainly

have programming ideas early in the year (and suggestions from my students) but for me, com- mitting to music for an entire semester or year requires a great deal of thought and contempla- tion.

The greatest and most time consuming factor for selection of music centers around what might appeal to and stretch the musicianship of my singers; but what does that mean in the process of choosing repertoire? Because I am still a pro- ponent of music education as aesthetic educa- tion (an absolute expressionist to the end!) I best serve my students’ musical learning by consider- ing what musical content (elements) in a choral composition stirs my insides. I enjoy listening to new and familiar music without access to a score. With my entire focus on sound my musi- cal mind can focus on the how the music speaks to me. I gravitate toward those compositions that have one or two very strong characteristics, such as an unusual harmonic structure or a com- plex metric organization of rhythm. In the end, I choose pieces that have musical foci so varied that I can exercise both my and my students’ musical thinking, repertoire that hopefully will

Chuck Norris

grow and expand our musical thinking through- out the semester. Beyond this aforementioned growth, I am especially concerned that the pro- cess of rehearsing and performing the music has somehow enhanced and enriched feeling in not only my life but also their lives.

While my explanation of decisiveness is some- what simple, it remains complicated in practice. So here I remain still wading through numerous choral compositions for the upcoming year. In the meantime, I would like to share some of my favorite choral compositions of all time and how they musically tug on the musical “me”. (Please note that I revisited each of the following three pieces without a score so I could focus on the inherent musical sounds and beauty in each).

Choose Something Like a Star (from Frostiana), Randall Thompson (SATB)

Because the message in the text is brilliantly written (Robert Frost) and the music to which it was set is of equal stature this remains a beloved chestnut. There is security and reassurance in the gentle but stalwart marking of the quarter notes in both the accompaniment and vocal parts— I’m not sure I know of any other composition that employs such a simple rhythmic figure in such a masterful manner. The soaring, unrelent- ing soprano line above parallel moving dimin- ished chords in the lower three voices is quite haunting and of course perfectly matched to the rhythm. Towards the middle and into the end of this piece there are amazing harmonic shifts and sequences, all in lush 7th and 9th chords. The harmonic language enhances the meaning of the text in an indescribable manner. There are sev- eral renderings online but that of the New York Choral Society offers an understated version that seems to capture what must have been the original intent of Thompson: .

Dance (from Invocation and Dance), David Conte (SATB or TTBB)

Dance is one of the most exciting and stimulat- 20


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