Submitted by Matthew Klenk
ACDA-PA High School R&R Chair
Most of the conversations that I’ve had with fellow high school choral directors in recent weeks have had a common theme - we’re all trying to find the proper way to reset our programs now that most of us are once again able to sing in our classrooms. After an unbelievably difficult year, many of us are facing similar challenges: smaller numbers, inexperienced choristers, uncertainty about upcoming concerts, and a high level of anxiety amongst our students.
In light of these challenges, quite a few of my colleagues have indicated that they’re looking for repertoire that can build confidence among their students, even if their numbers are low or their sections are unbalanced. For that reason, I’d like to highlight a very simple, but effective piece co-written by Jocelyn Hagen and Timothy Takach in 2019 titled “A Path to Each Other”.
The work is essentially a 10-measure canon with a short coda. The canon can be performed in 3-parts, and provides an opportunity for a soloist (or soloists) to introduce the melody before the ensemble enters. The canon format provides flexibility for voicings - directors can group their singers however they’d like to create the sound that best suits their ensemble, and it can be repeated as many times as deemed appropriate. In addition, the text is incredibly appropriate for our current times, especially for teenagers who are returning to school for the first time in months and trying to remember how to interact with one another: “Each word a stone, we can build a wall or a path to each other”.
The highlight of the piece comes at the point where the director decides to end the canon and proceed to the ending. There’s a single measure with a 2-note melody that can be sung as an ostinato using the text “we can build a path”. The performance direction encourages the singers to progressively add new harmonies with every repetition of this measure, and the composers even recommend asking the audience to sing along before finally proceeding to the ending. A performance would last about 3 minutes, and copies can be purchased for just $1.00 each. A perusal score, sample recording, and purchase link can all be found through Graphite Publishing.
For those of us who are trying to rekindle confidence in our students, this piece provides a wonderful opportunity to do something both new and unique, no matter what our ensemble may look like this year. I highly recommend that high school directors give it a try!
submitted by Kyle Zeuch
Life-Long Choral Music R&R Committee Chair
Community Choirs R&R Representative
Jen Wagner, Pennsylvania choral composer and teacher, and I had the opportunity to meet up for the first time just a few weeks ago. I was delighted to learn about this wonderful human being and her music right in my own back yard! In addition to writing music, Jen serves as Middle Division General Music Teacher and Choral Director at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. Jennifer received a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from Messiah College and a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from Bloomsburg University. She is passionate about writing choral music with beauty that challenges singers. The piece I would like to highlight is Jen’s In the Bleak Midwinter.
The well-known Christina Rossetti Text and Gustav Holst song is given new life with Wagner’s SATB setting. This accompanied work incorporates baritone and cello solos, both of which give the piece a unique take. Additionally, she includes beautiful original music paired with the familiar melody and text. Divisi is reserved for soprano and a limited amount for basses, with all voice parts given interesting but accessible material. I am particularly struck by her treatment of the words “He reigns,” “A Kiss” (which catapults into a wonderful “Ah section”), and “My heart,” tenderly set at the end. Wagner prides herself in treating all of her texts with particular care with word painting being a priority to her compositional process—a sentiment that is not lost in this piece.
I would highly recommend this piece for community choirs as it appeals as both accessible for most, with challenges to bring out the full musical potential for more advanced groups. This piece will be available through GIA publishing this fall—just in time to purchase for your December concert! Please visit http://jenwagnermusic.com/ to learn more about this piece, hear a recording, and get more information about Jen and her works. Let’s support living composers right here in Pennsylvania—especially those as wonderful as Jen Wagner!