Directing church choirs means listening to Christmas music in July. That’s right, 5 months in advance if you want to have time to choose, order, and receive your music in time to rehearse. When choosing Christmas choral music you will need to do a lot of listening. Listening to quality recordings will not only help you decide on repertoire but will also help fine tune your ear to listen for a good choral sound. Here are some of my very favorite choral Christmas albums. This is the music that inspires me when it comes to choosing music for ward and especially stake Christmas programs.
O Holy Night, Mormon Choral Organizations
Sing Choirs of Angels, Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Spirit of the Season, Mormon Tabernacle Choir
A Robert Shaw Christmas: Angels on High, Robert Shaw Chamber Singers
This is Christmas, Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The John Rutter Christmas Album, Cambridge Singers
A Chanticleer Christmas, Chanticleer
O Come All Ye Faithful, King’s College Choir Cambridge
Handel: Messiah, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
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It’s embarrassing to write a post on this topic. By nature Latter-day Saints are people of integrity. The problem is, when it comes to obeying copyright laws, sometimes we’re not.
Someone moved the music in my ward building from a closet to the library. It was done carelessly and without order or organization so for the past few weeks a couple of us have been spending about 30 minutes each Sunday reorganizing the choir music. I came across some photocopied (illegal) music, the composer of which I’d heard through the grapevine had just lost his home to foreclosure. It made me sad to think how much had been taken from him in part due to LDS musicians who were too cheap or lazy to order legal copies of his music. Over the past several weeks I have destroyed hundreds of pages of photocopied music (illegal) in the meetinghouse library. I did the same a couple of years ago to an entire file box full of illegally copied music that was in my stake center library. The Church policy is “Church members should strictly observe all copyright laws”. The Church Handbook has specific instructions on following copyright procedures.
In the United States the following are expressly prohibited:
- Copying to avoid purchase
- Copying music for any kind of performance (but note the emergency exception below)
- Copying without including a copyright notice
- Copying to create anthologies or compilations
The fact that a work may be out of print does not mean that permission is given to copy and distribute that work. The music publishers’ trade associations have prepared a simple form for use in the procurement of out-of-print works. The form is available at www.menc.org
- Emergency copying to replace purchased copies which for any reason are not available for an imminent performance provided purchased replacement copies shall be substituted in due course
- Printed copies, which have been purchased, may be edited or simplified provided that the fundamental character of the work is not distorted or the lyrics altered or lyrics added if none exist
I happen to know several LDS composers and even the most talented are not getting rich off of their compositions. Composers get paid for each piece of music sold so photocopying their music is no different from stealing money right out of their paychecks. I believe as people of integrity it would be wise to avoid illegally photocopying music, especially for church use.
No need for a ward music budget…there’s free LDS music on the internet!
NOT SO FAST.
I have spent hours, days, weeks, months even, pouring over the free LDS music available on the internet. No doubt the composers of this music have the best intentions. They have made their compositions available to the LDS public for free out of the goodness of their hearts, as a service to the Saints. Or perhaps some of this music is free because it just isn’t good enough for a publishing company to pick it up?
I’m not saying that ALL free music is worthless, quite the contrary. There are a few “gems” out there. For example, check out this winning arrangement of “Rock of Ages” by Brett Stewart, in which he has composed a completely new melody with gorgeous lush harmonies. I also love this SSAA arrangement of “How Can I Keep From Singing” by Diane Tuiofu, the SATB arrangement of “Come Thou Fount” by Sally DeFord, an SATB arrangement of “Praise to the Man” by Craig Petrie (great for a stake choir), or one of my personal favorites, a simple primary song composed to absolute perfection “Jesus is My Shepherd” by Tammy Simister Robinson. Yes, there are some quality pieces available for free. But, there aren’t many.
Here’s what I’m finding…elementary writing by musically undereducated composers. Read their online biographies and you’ll see right away that many lack formal training and music degrees. The first sign I look for is in the piano accompaniments. As an professional pianist myself, I can tell in an instant if the composer even knows how to really play the piano. As soon as I see the same old arpeggiated left hand I know they have no idea what they’re doing and I dismiss the song immediately. Next I look at the melody. Is it beautiful and memorable, or will I forget it right after I’ve heard it? I listen to the harmonies. Do they make sense, are they following correct music writing rules, are they singable and interesting? I look at the text to see if it matches with the melody. A pet peeve of mine is when there are too many words crammed into one measure. Elementary composers assign a word to every note, sometimes with more than 6 syllables, or worse, words per measure. Educated composers often have many notes assigned to one word which enhances the text.
The old saying “the best things in life are free” doesn’t really apply to LDS music. Perhaps the most well-known, and I dare say the very best choral music arranger in the LDS church today is Mormon Tabernacle Choir director, Mack Wilberg. None of his music is free. He doesn’t have to give it out for free. His arrangements are so good choir directors all over the world are buying them.
Every ward and stake should have a music budget. Use it. Do your research and find the very best, highest quality hymn arrangements and original choral music for your choirs.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 16 so far )
Where to begin…
Choosing choir music can be a daunting task. I’ve put together a list of my FAVORITE choir music for ward and stake choirs. All the music on this list is appropriate for a performance in a sacrament meeting or stake conference.
Check out my CHOIR LIST.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
In the spirit and tradition of the great oratorios of Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, and others, LDS musicians have composed oratorios based on gospel subjects. Rick’s College/BYU Idaho is responsible for commissioning several of these oratorios. A few of these oratorios are in print and available for performance by stake or regional choirs. To get ahold of most of these works you would need to contact the composer, BYU-I, or for Robertson’s oratorio, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Some of these oratorios are not in the traditional style of the Classical oratorios but are rather composed in a pop/classical crossover style. Below is a list of some of the most notable LDS oratorios of the 20th and 21st centuries.
- Leroy Robertson’s Oratorio from the Book of Mormon (1947)
- Crawford Gates’ Salvation for the Dead
- Merrill Bradshaw’s The Restoration (1974)*
- Robert Cundick’s The Redeemer (1977)*
- David Zabriskie’s Israel (1979)
- Darwin Wolford’s Behold He Cometh (1986)**
- Crawford Gates’ Visions of Eternity (1993)**
- Robert M. Cundick’s Song of Nephi (1995)**
- Michael McLean’s The Garden (1995)*
- K. Newell Dayley’s Immanuel (1997)**
- Merrill Jenson’s Come Unto Christ (1999)**
- Rob Gardner’s He is Jesus Christ (1999)*
- Lex de Azevedo’s Hosanna (2000)
- Daniel E. Gawthrop’s The Passion and the Promise (2001)**
- Rob Gardner’s Joseph Smith the Prophet (2001)*
- A. Laurence Lyon’s Visions of Light and Truth (2003)**
- Peter Covino Jr.’s The Messiah, Another Testament (2003)
- Rob Gardner’s Saints and Pioneers (2004)*
- David Zabriskie’s Testament of Paul, His Witness of Christ to the World (2005)**
- Eda Ashby’s The Tree of Life: Redemption (2007)**
- Robert Cundick’s God’s Everlasting Love, with text by David A. Bednar (2009)**
- Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God (2010)*
- Brett Stewart’s Messiah in America (2010)*
*available for online purchase through iTunes, Amazon, or other sources
**available only through the BYU-Idaho BookstoreRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 11 so far )