All Join In: A HyperHistory of American Choral Music

As a musician who has invested a lifetime of study in choral music, I still marvel at the large number and strong popularity of choral composers who work in this genre by choice yet who are relatively unknown in the larger compositional sphere of predominantly instrumental composers. Why? Consider the bandwidth of variety within choral music—from ensemble vocal jazz to traditional choral anthems, from gospel or Cuban son to children’s, men’s, or women’s works. The stylistic breadth is as enormously varied as is the size and stylistic bent of a given ensemble.

If one were to list well-known American composers who, while predominantly instrumental composers, have also written music for chorus, the following names would be mentioned:

  • Ives, Charles: Psalm settings
  • Copland, Aaron: Four Motets, Old American Songs (Irving Fine, arr.), In the Beginning, The Promise of Living
  • Pinkham, Daniel: Wedding Cantata, Christmas Cantata, Cantata Domino, A Curse A Lament and a Vision, The Passion of Judas, Psalm motets
  • Barber, Samuel: Prayers of Kierkegaard, Reincarnations, Adagio for Strings, Sure on this Shining Night
  • Bernstein, Leonard: Chichester Psalms, The Lark, Missa Brevis
  • Argento, Dominick: I Hate and I Love, choruses from The Masque of Angels
  • Larsen, Libby: Fanfare and Alleluia, I Will Sing, I Arise Today

In the sphere of choral conductors, the following composers’ repertoire lists are well known for their predominance of choral music compositions:

  • Thompson, Randall: Alleluia, Last Words of David, The Peaceable Kingdom, Testament of Freedom, Frostiana, Pueri Hebraeorum
  • Parker, Alice: folksong, spiritual, and hymn arrangements
  • Lauridsen, Morten: Lux Aeterna, O magnum mysterium, Les chansons des roses
  • Whitacre, Eric: Waternight, When David Heard, Cloudburst
  • Clausen, René: Set Me as a Seal, Gloria, O vos omnes, A Jubilant Song, Hosanna
  • Diemer, Emma Lou: How Lovely, Mass, Psalm 150
  • Gawthrop, Daniel: Sing me to Heaven, Sing a Mighty Song, Behold this Mystery
  • Jennings, Carolyn: A New Magnificat, church anthems
  • Burkhardt, Michael: church anthems
  • Carter, John: church anthems
  • Scott, K. Lee: church anthems
  • Hal Hopson: church anthems
  • John Ferguson: church anthems

American ethnic choral compositions are loved and sung by choruses from Rio to Oslo. The following is a list of African-American composers whose work in contemporary and traditional gospel and spiritual formats is widely recognized.

Spirituals / Gospel

Harry T. Burleigh
Uzee Brown, Jr.
William Dawson
Rollo Dilworth
Larry Farrow
Jester Hairston
Keith Hampton
Moses Hogan
Hall Johnson
Albert McNeil
Rosephanye Powell
Leon Roberts
Byron J. Smith

Other ethnic choral composers in the U.S. whose choral music is both highly regarded and regularly performed include:

From All Join In: A HyperHistory of American Choral Music
By Marian Dolan
© 2003 NewMusicBox

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