STUCK IN THE MIDDLE:  Finding multi-cultural repertoire for middle school choirs

by Kurt McKee, Multicultural R&S Chair for NW ACDA

mckeeIn recent weeks, I have been contacted by a few middle level choir teacher colleagues that all wanted to know if there was a list of multicultural pieces that would be appropriate for their groups.  If you have ever taught at that level, you know that there are no absolutes when it comes to literature.  Songs that were sure-fire winners four years ago may not work this year because none of the 'basses' can sing below a D below middle C, or every girl is truly a soprano and the alto part is too low for them, etc.  As frustrating as this can be, (trying to reuse music that, at one time, was sure to teach them and be a success) it is far more frustrating to put money down on a new piece of music and find out it is totally wrong for your group.  Our budgets are limited at best.  Where do we go to find literature that is age-appropriate, represents a variety of cultures, and actually TEACHES our singers musicianship?  Here are some ideas.

1)  Talk to colleagues you trust.  Mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes.  Sometimwillamette-ades we just need someone else that we appreciate to tell us to try a piece.  This is helpful.  However, we often become regionally insulated--we only hear the pieces that our colleagues around us sing with their choirs and we miss out on what may be happening elsewhere.

2)  Do your homework.  Between publisher websites and Youtube, there is a vast sea of literature out there in either mp3 or video format for us to discover.  We can even use these recordings or videos in class to develop student critical thinking and musical opinions.  However, it is easy to spend five hours on Youtube researching pieces and still not have any ideas for your group.  It can become overwhelming.

3)  Investigate Choral Net.  ACDA has been highly involved in creating a web presence that is interactive and supports our needs--anything from programming ideas to what kind of fabrics to avoid when purchasing dresses for your women's choirs (wow, I wish I had read that!).  This is a world-wide resource that is also being supported by ACDA.  One unique thing here is that we can solicit and receive input from choral professionals that are experts on virtually any subject.  For example, if you would like to try to perform a piece in Latvian, there will be someone who can help you or direct you to find a good translation or pronunciation guide.  The drawbacks can be that you need to be patient and you may never find what fits YOUR need for middle-level literature.

The list goes on, but since I have a pile of music that I have read through and enjoyed, I decided to provide a non-exhaustive list to anyone who may be looking for some middle-level Multicultural literature.  I include many different voicings and cultures.  So you can find the pieces if you need them, I have included title, voicings, accompaniments, composer/arrangers, publishers, and a culture that the song is connected to.  I intend this list to be appropriate for 6th, 7th or 8th grade choirs of varying ability levels.  I have either played through each piece, performed it with a middle-level choir I have worked with, or I have a colleague that has used it and appreciated it.  If you find something you like, would you please email me and let me know? 

Here's my list---in no particular order:

The Drover's Dream (Australian)
TB, piano, opt. Guitar
arr. Vijay Singh
National Music Publishers

Rothsay-O (Scottish Folk)
SSA, guitar (or piano), treble recorder, hand drum
arr. Ken Berg
Hal Leonard

Bonse Aba (Zambian)
SATB, a cappella, drum
arr. Andrew Fischer


Bonse Aba (Same as above)
2-part, 3-part, SSA, with Piano (and optional drum)
arr. Victor Johnson
Heritage Music Press

Songs of Africa for Upper Voices - Set 1 (Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana)
SA, (includes lead voice) a cappella and percussion
arr. Fred Onovwerosuoke
Oxford University Press

Dormi, Dormi, O Bel Bambin (Italian Carol)
SSAA, acappella (a little more challenging because of 4-parts, but lines are easy to sing)
arr. Robert DeCormier

Yo Le Canto Todo El Dia (Venezuelan-style in Spanish)
2-pt or SSA, piano
David Brunner
Boosey & Hawkes

Winds of Peace (Ruach, Ruach) (Traditional Hebrew Round)
4-pt treble, Piano and Flute
arr. Nancy Grundahl
Colla Voce

Tuuti, Tuuti Tummaistani (Finnish)
2-pt, piano
arr. Charles Collins
Boosey & Hawkes

Three Yoruba Native Songs of Nigeria
Unison with Percussion
arr. Henry Leck and Prince Julius Adeniyi
Colla Voce

Three Dominican Folk Songs (in Spanish)
Unison with Piano
arr. Francisco Nunez
Boosey & Hawkes

Song of the Sea (the Song of Moses, Miriam & the Israelites) (Yiddish)
SAB, Oboe and Piano
arr. Valerie Shields
Mark Foster

Dodi Li (Israeli Folk Song)
2-pt treble & Piano
arr. Doreen Rao
Boosey & Hawkes

Cielito Lindo (Mexican)
SSA or TTB, Piano; opt. 3 trumpets, 3 guitars, bass
arr. Barbara Harlow
Santa Barbara Music Publishing

Ahe Lau Makani (Hawaiian)
2-pt, piano
Lili'uokalani, Likelike, & Kapoli, arr. Jerry Depuit
Shawnee Press

O Mary, Don't You Weep (Traditional Spiritual)
SSA or TTB, Piano
arr. Rollo Dilworth
Hal Leonard

Hiney Ma Tov (Hebrew)
Available in 3-pt mixed, SSA, TTB; with opt. solo and violin
arr. Lon Beery
Shawnee Press

Al Tambor (Panamanian)
2-pt or 3-pt mixed, piano & opt. percussion
arr. Victor C. Johnson
Heritage Music Press

Two Brazilian Folk Songs (Brazilian Portugese)
3-part mixed, Kbd & Optional 2 flutes, percussion
arr. Lon Beery & Elisa Dekaney
Carl Fischer

J'entend le Moulin (French Canadian Folk)
2-pt, piano
arr. Ruth Dwyer & Martin Ellis
Colla Voce

Al Shlosha D'Varim (Hebrew)
2-pt. treble, Piano
Allan E. Naplan
Boosey & Hawkes

Lamma Badaa Yatathanna (Andalusian/Arabic from Spain)
2-pt, piano with opt. violin, cello, and dumbek
arr. Joy Ondra Hirokawa
Hal Leonard

Hala Lala Layya (Lebanese Folk)
3-pt. mixed or 2-pt., piano, percussion and optional melody instrument
arr. Audrey Snyder
Hal Leonard

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning (Traditional Spiritual)
2-pt, piano
arr. Glenda Franklin
BriLee Music

Remember Your Story (Yapi Kapi) (Lakota Sioux)
TBB, piano and opt. Soprano Recorder and Percussion
arr. Vicki Tucker Courtney
Carl Fischer

Salaam Aleikum (African)
Unison, TB, TT, TTB, a cappella, opt keyboard & percussion
arr. Laura Farnell
Carl Fischer

Arirang (Korean)
3-pt mixed, TB or SA, piano and optional flute
arr. Jonathan Lim and Sonja Poorman

City Called Heaven (Spiritual)
SATB (attainable parts for middle level) or SSA, piano
arr. Josephine Poelenitz
Colla Voce

Minoi, Minoi (Samoan)
SATB & SSAA (a little challenging for MS, but attainable), a cappella
arr. Christopher Marshall
Alliance Music Publications

I understand that the voicing needs for the middle level are the most challenging.  That is why I tried to include as many voicing options as I could.  I also attempted to include titles that reflected a wide diversity of cultures.  For each culture, there are dozens of other fine options.  I encourage you to look deeper than this list.  Those who teach middle level groups may recognize names of arrangers or publishers that they have appreciated in the past.  With the internet helping us, it is fairly easy to investigate a particular arranger or publisher to find out if there is a song that is right for your group.  Many of these songs have recordings available on the publisher's websites or on youtube.  

I wish you many happy rehearsals!

Kurt McKee, Multicultural R&S Chair
NW Division ACDA