One of greatest challenges for directors of small church choirs is finding quality literature for ensembles that are imbalanced, missing vocal parts, or not technically proficient. Often a director in that situation centers his/her search for repertoire on the latest catalogs produced by today's choral music publishers, perhaps assuming that the music of past composers will be too complex. That kind of approach, however, ignores the vast bulk of choral music history - hundreds of years of choral music composed for a plethora of ensemble types. In fact, virtually every major composer penned works that are suitable for small choral ensembles or are more accessible than the large-scale works students learn about in music history courses.
The following annotated list is not comprehensive, but should rather be considered an introduction to the programming possibilities that await the persistent choral detective. It is a representative sample of the repertoire the author discovered during twelve years of church ministry work in Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches. Each of the works below is arranged according to its place in the liturgical year, and alphabetically by composer within each season. Each annotation includes vocal and instrumental forces, approximate duration, publisher information, and a brief description.
On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry
SAB, 2 high strings/woodwinds, organ. 2 min. GIA Ars Antiqua Choralis, G-2834. This is a charming work particularly appropriate for the Second Sunday of Advent, but could be performed throughout Advent. The choral and instrumental parts are not difficult. The author used two flutes in performance to good effect.
Rejoice in the Lord Alway
SATB, ATB soli, organ or strings. 10 min. Concordia 97-6344, Novello NOV290150. This work is famously known as the "Bell Anthem" because of the descending scalar ostinato that occurs in the organ pedals of the opening Symphony, said to be reminiscent of pealing bells. Although for four-part mixed chorus, the choral parts are homophonic and not difficult. The chorus only sings for about a quarter of the piece, repeating the soloists' music twice. The solo parts likewise are not difficult, although particular effort should be made to find voices that blend well together. A decision regarding the use or avoidance of uneven eighth notes [notes inégales) will also need to be made. This is an impressive work with minimal choral effort, particularly appropriate for the Third Sunday of Advent.
In dulci jubilo
SAB, 2 violins, cello, continuo. 6 min. Bärenreiter BA 620, Concordia 98-1500, Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL; www.cpdl.org). This is an effective setting of the well-known Christmas carol. Two flutes and bassoon make an excellent alternative to the strings. The Concordia edition provides an English translation.
An Earthly Tree, a Heavenly Fruit.
SS, keyboard. 2 min. Mark Foster MF 804, CPDL. The parts have very limited ranges, and could be easily sung by altos as well. They could also conceivably be sung by ST or AB. The CPDL edition provides the second part of the work, "Cast off all doubtful care," and accompaniment by viols.
In nativitatem Domini/Canticum
SATB, SATB soli, 2 flutes and 2 violins or 2 recorders, continuo. 8 min. E.C. Schirmer 3023. A charming, slightly longer work by a master of the French Baroque on an antiphon from the office of Lauds on Christmas Day, Quem vidistis pastores ("Shepherds, whom did you see there?"). The chorus sings for only the final two or three minutes, while the remainder of the work features the bass soloist and SAT trio. An English singing translation is available if the original Latin is too difficult for the singers. The flutes and violins …