TEN SSA AND SSAA PIECES TO GIVE A WHIRL
Lynn R. Ryan, R&R Coordinator, Youth Choirs
Here are some of my favorite pieces for treble choir. I have taught nearly all of these compositions, and their inclusion on this list means that not only were they rewarding to teach, but the choirs who sang them loved them as well! Some of these pieces, such as Telfer’s Missa Brevis are not new works, but younger directors may not be aware of them, and more experienced directors may want to reacquaint themselves.
1. And Miriam Sang (Shiru L’Adonai) by Zebulon M. Highben, SSAA published by Boosey & Hawkes
Highben’s work is inspired by the Exodus story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. The melodies are original, but constructed around melodic scales common in Hasidic and Middle-Eastern music. And Miriam Sang is meant to express the celebration that would have taken place by Miriam and women of Israel. The piece is a cappella, incorporating tambourine and drums, and is brought to life with some choralography.
2. Silver Creek Lullaby by Drew Collins, SSA published by Walton Music
Beautiful! I’m on my third go-around with this piece. Silver Creek Lullaby starts with a unison melody and what follows are gorgeous harmonies and arching phrases. The writing is very idiomatic for treble voices and musically rewarding to perform. A great piece to help develop beautiful tone and line.
3. Paper Crane by J. Reese Norris SSA (SSAA) published by MusicSpoke.com
I didn't attend the National ACDA conference, but I heard that this piece appeared frequently. My choir is currently working on this for our next concert and it has quickly became that piece. You know the one…the piece where everyone feels a deeper connection to their peers, and more vulnerable. The story is about a young Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima, only to develop leukemia at the age of eleven. Legend says that if a person folds a thousand paper cranes, then their wishes will come true. Sadako spent her time in the hospital folding paper cranes. She died at the age of twelve and there is a statue in her honor at Hiroshima Peace Park that reads, “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace for the world.” Paper Crane provides your choir an opportunity to create a unified message of their own, and to share it with others.
4. Missa Brevis by Nancy Telfer - SSA published by Lenel Music Publishing
Missa Brevis was composed in the 80’s, and I remember hearing it often as a young student and was fortunate enough to perform the work in its entirety. Missa Brevis includes four movements of the mass, Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Each movement stands alone, but as one work, Telfer captures the Latin text with dignity and beauty. Two of my favorite movements to excerpt are the Kyrie and Agnus Dei.
5. Pallaanda by Ethan Sperry - SSAA published by Earthsongs
This is an excellent piece to introduce treble choirs to Indian music. This particular song is a raga, referring to the scale in which it based upon. Voices are used to simulate the instruments used in an Indian musical ensemble, while other voices perform melodic material. The rhythms and melodies are passed throughout the choir and the overall performance is electrifying. The text is a Tamil prayer of protection. Sperry includes a pronunciation guide and helpful links to learn Pallaanda. It took a while for my choir to get the feel of the rhythms and intricate passing of musical material, but in the end, this was probably their favorite piece of the year.
6. Juntos by Jim Papoulis - SSA published by Boosey & Hawkes
Unity and inclusiveness are the heart of this text. “There is more than the eye can see. There is more than the heart can know….so much more, than we can see.” Papoulis’ text is set mostly in Spanish and the music is exhilarating. The rhythms are energetic and full of syncopation and encourage as much articulation as you can provide. You may watch a performance HERE
7. Sih’r Khalaq by Jim Papoulis - SSAA published by Boosey & Hawkes
Where I come from, we call pieces like this “barn-burners.” Sih’r Khalaq is an Arabic phrase that describes magic in art that is transformative and lives within us. Papoulis notes in the score that the performance should “truly create a feeling evocative of an unknown marginal universe that percolates under the surface of each of us.” Musically, singers are exploring Arabic rhythms and style, and variations in tonality. You may watch a performance HERE.
8. Ave Maris Stella by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) - SSSAA (SSSA) published on cpdl.org
Edvard Grieg is one of the most celebrated composers from Norway. Grieg’s SATB setting of Ave Maris Stella is one of his most performed choral works. This is an absolutely stunning edition by Roar Kvam on CPDL (#12404) for SSAAA, transposed up a second from Grieg’s original composition.
9. Njoktje by Frode Fjellheim (b. 1959) - SSAA published by Boosey & Hawkes
Njoktje is based on a South Sámi yoik describing a swan. Norwegian composer and yoiker, Fjellheim, specializes in Sámi folk music, and his music is inspired by Sámi traditions. People all over the world experienced Fjellheim’s music when they heard Cantus choir sing Eatnemen Vuelie in Disney’s Frozen. Although not noted in the score, overtone singing adds a haunting touch to this piece. There is a spectacular video on YouTube of Fjellheim and Cantus performing Njoktje with synthesizer and Fjellheim singing in traditional Sámi. See it HERE.
10. Poor Wayfaring Stranger arranged by Jonathan Rodgers - SSA published by Walton Music
Jonathan Rodgers has composed one of the most dramatic and emotionally intense arrangements that I have ever heard of this classic American folk hymn.The piece starts with a haunting piano solo and continues to be featured throughout with stunning accompaniment and intense emotion.Vocally, the piece builds from a solo line, to a two-part canon, and eventually into dense 4-part vocal textures.Both singers and listeners embark on a musically tense adventure, from beginning to the final breath.