By Jonathan Miller, Director of Choral Catalog
Remember, you can preview full scores before purchasing any of the terrific sacred choral pieces highlighted in this article on the Musicnotes website. Or, choose from a huge selection of secular Christmas choral scores from Pentatonix, Straight No Chaser and many more of today’s leading arrangers.
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Musicnotes is pleased to have recently added a set of Advent and Christmas titles – 15 in all – from World Library Publications (WLP). WLP focuses on meeting the needs of Catholic and other liturgical churches, where they have a strong presence and an excellent catalog. These works can enhance seasonal programming for a wide variety of churches and community choirs; I encourage you to look and listen, because there are some real gems here.
I also am having a bit of an “old-home-week” feeling as I write this blog. I began my singing career in Chicago, where I still live. I’ve had the good fortune to work with many of the Chicago-based composers and arrangers listed here. My (intense!) introduction to the beauty of the Catholic liturgy came through the four years I spent singing under the direction of the late Richard Proulx at Holy Name Cathedral, who contributed the two Christmas carols with string quartet featured in this update. Below you’ll find short descriptions and a demo recording of each piece. Click the song title to visit the product page at Musicnotes.com, where you can see a preview of the entire publication.
“Awake to the Day” – Ed Bolduc and John Barker
2-Part Choir, Cantor, Assembly, Guitar, Keyboard
With driving rhythms in a 6/8 meter, this joyous and jubilant anthem will energize your worship. There is especially nice 2-part harmony in the refrain. This lively work is useful not only in Advent but in the Sundays just before, when the liturgical readings have an “end-time” bent. It works as a choral anthem or as a congregational piece (with verses sung by soloists or the choir), and it can precede a service to set the tone of the season.
“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” – Kenneth Louis, tr. Thomas W. Jefferson
SATB Choir, Cantor, Assembly, Guitar, and Piano
A rousing, gospel-style Advent piece if ever there were one, this is Thomas Jefferson’s transcription of the hit that rocked the 2007 NPM convention in Indianapolis. The piano part sets the energetic tone right away, and the call-and-response verses allow for congregational singing if desired. A clear chord structure facilitates improvisation. Not to be missed.
“Long Is Our Winter” – arr. William Ferris
SATB Choir a cappella
An excellent choir for a Lessons and Carols service, this elegant setting takes a traditional German carol and presents it as a slow, simple round. The texture expands to three parts before becoming more declamatory. There are solo sections for both upper and lower voices. This is great for those times when you need a more contemplative selection in your seasonal programming.
“Rorate Caeli (Drop Dew, You Heavens)” – plainchant, arr. Paul M. French
SATB Choir, optional keyboard
Paul French has created a new edition of an a cappella SATB anthem by English Renaissance composer Christopher Tye (famous for his Western Wind Mass). Both Latin and English texts are provided.
“Rorate Caeli (O Heavens, Open)” – plainchant, arr. J. Michael Thompson
SSATB Choir, Cantor, Assembly
This work is dedicated to Evelyn Wagner, the longtime precentrix (cantor) for the Scholar Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle, which J. Michael Thompson has directed for more than 20 years. The plainchant melody is given gentle harmonic dress in both verses and refrain. English and Latin texts are provided. If your choir can handle 4-part a cappella harmony (with some 3-part treble singing in one of the verses), it’s worth learning this beautiful, simply conceived piece by one of the masters at arranging chant for liturgical or concert use.
“Emmanuel, Come to Set Us Free”– by Jalonda Robertson
SATB Choir, Soloist, Assembly, Guitar, and Piano
Combine a slow-groove gospel ballad with an Advent text full of anticipation, and you have this splendid choral work by Jalonda Robertson, who has significant experience serving Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as well as with the Moses Hogan Chorale and Singers. The piano part here is superb—idiomatic and energetic—and the gospel voicing in the upper three choral parts is first-rate; the solid bass line provides good support. The syncopated rhythms help to give a sense of pleading. This is a real winner.
“The Angel Gabriel” – arr. Lisa Stafford
SATB Choir + Keyboard
You may be familiar with the Basque carol on which Lisa Stafford’s setting is based. This work features a gently rocking piano accompaniment, which almost feels like a guitar part. There is a verse for lower voices that provides textural contrast from the opening. Verse 3 is set in unison for upper voices, and the final verse is in unison for all voices, allowing for clarity in texture to deliver the well-beloved translation by Sabine Baring-Gould.
“Come, Lord, and Tarry Not” – by William Ferris
Unison Choir, optional C or Bb instrument, Organ
For those seeking a unison anthem to usher in Advent, this piece is a good choice. The five verses all carry the same melody; variety comes from the organ interludes between verses and the accompaniment under the choir, along with the evocative obbligato instrument. This is an angular melody with strong character, illustrating the urgency with which God is asked to come among us.
“The Coventry Carol” – arr. Leonard Bobrowski
SAB Choir, 2 C instruments, Guitar, Keyboard
The two C instruments give this setting gentle added upper harmony and enhance the texture nicely. The first two verses are in unison; in verse 3, the piano provides intense, rolled chords to underscore the words “Herod the king….,” before the final verse gives a gentler close.
“Away in a Manger” – arr. Richard Proulx
2-pt. Choir, opt. Sop. Descant, Assembly, String Quartet, Organ
Proulx enhances the beloved melody with flowing counterpoint in the string parts. The harmonizing lower voice part is very singable. The harmonies are heartfelt, creating a setting of great tenderness that is easy to sing. The string parts are not difficult, and the overall texture of the work is a special treat that your choir and congregation are sure to enjoy.
“What Child is This” – arr. Richard Proulx
SATB Choir, Assembly, String Quartet, Organ
The familiar carol is given a lush, warm setting in Proulx’s masterful treatment. The harmonies are almost always what one would expect, giving freshness at the few tasteful surprises. It’s worth finding a string quartet to help you perform this one.
“Mary, the Maiden” – arr. J. Michael Thompson
SATTBB Choir a cappella
This is a beautiful, simple setting of the famous Polish carol “Sliczna Panienka.” which your singers can master quickly. The sweet melody is in a rocking triple meter. It’s a good selection for choirs where the tenors and basses can split into a four-part texture. Thompson’s translation is sensitive, and the overall effect is exquisite and memorable.
“Come, Shepherds, Joyfully” – arr. Bart Bradfield
SSA Choir, Flute, Cello, Keyboard or Harp
This sweet Hungarian carol has been arranged for treble choir by Chicago arranger and composer Bart Bradfield, who writes well for the voice. Bradfield provides inventive 3-part writing around the simple, appealing melody. The lively instrumental parts add energy. Another treat is the English translation by J. Michael Thompson, known for his skillful, emotionally warm translations of Eastern European poetry into English.
“Night of Joy” – Philip Bradshaw arr. Dolores Hruby
2-Part (Treble) Choir and Piano
This piece may remind you a bit of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” thanks to the rhythm of the poetry and the resultant phrase structure. The gently flowing melody and easy piano part make this a good choice for children’s or adult high voices.
“You Are the Light of the World” – by Paul A. Tate
3-Part Choir, Cantor, Assembly, Guitar, Keyboard
This jubilant anthem, with lyrics based on Matthew and Isaiah, is from Paul Tate’s CD, Gathered as One. His joyful, upbeat setting includes a chorus of encouragement that breaks into three-part harmony for a rousing close.
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We hope you enjoy this selection of sacred choral selections from WLP’s impressive catalogue. If you have any questions regarding our choral catalogue, please feel free to contact me.
Happy browsing, and happy holidays in advance!