One of my wife’s best Christian friends at our homeschool group is the wife of the talented music director at a large area church. This couple has become respected friends of ours, and recently they asked us to house two singers from a choir that was visiting their church. These two had themselves been in the choir in their undergrad days: The Master’s University Chorale. We agreed to keep two singers and provide them a sack lunch the next morning, and we packed up the whole family to go hear their concert. The night was enjoyable; they were good.
(The TMU Chorale was not quite as good as the BJU Chorale, I must say out of loyalty to my alma mater and the truth… But I still greatly enjoyed the concert. They did well.)
The two singers who stayed at our home made a very positive impression on us. One of them had already stood out as one of the best soloists in the group; they both seemed like earnest Christians who wanted to serve the Lord with their gifts—and they brought my wife and me instantly back to our energetic young days in Christian college. (About two years ago, I think it was.) We all sat at our table till past parents’ bedtime and laughed about collegey stuff. The public relations purpose of the choir’s visit was well-served.
One piece in particular they performed quite well in their concert—Jack Halloran’s “I’ll Be a Witness.” That was my favorite of the night. I love my church choir, but I really miss getting to hear good live choirs who sing challenging stuff. (I absolutely went over the moon and out of my gourd at the same time when I got to sit on the front row of a King’s Singers concert a few months ago in Vancouver. Stunning.)
So the next day I was working at a coffee shop in my home town, which I do once a week, and I was winding up a video call talking about the new Bible Study Magazine podcast (stay tuned). Suddenly, I heard a choir. Live. I looked over to the lobby area, and there were a bunch of singers singing a little piece called “I’ll Be a Witness.” I quickly ended my meeting and jumped up. I did what you have to do in 2019; I whipped out my phone to take a video.
And—I couldn’t help myself—I started singing with the TMU Chorale. As they ended, the director looked at me funny. Here was a new choir member he didn’t recognize and most certainly hadn’t auditioned!
He asked me, “How do you know this song?”
I said, “I was at your concert last night.”
I got greedy. I asked him if I could borrow three of his male singers, and I’d teach them a little barbershop. He said yes, I taught them, we sang, and then the director and I got to talking about choral music. He said that if he does the stuff the publishers send him, he misses the best pieces. It’s enthusiasts who, in all their internet music hoarding, find the best stuff.
Enthusiasts. That’s me. He gave me his card and asked me for my top ten recommended pieces.
I worked at my assignment. There was just no way I could stop at ten. And I felt guilty stopping where I did. No Bach. No Fauré. No Poulenc. But I decided to go stream of consciousness and trust what initially came to mind. Here we go. Here’s what I sent him:
Thank you so much for ministering to us with your wonderful, energetic choir in our little town, and for letting me borrow three of your singers to do some barbershop. It was heaven for me, and I kept them too long! I just never get to do this sort of thing anymore.
You asked me for ten recommended choral pieces. I doubt I’ll give you anything new, but I’ll still oblige. It was a fun exercise. A few of the following “ten” pieces just can’t be sung by good Protestants like us, so please ask the Master’s Seminary Latin department to translate them so people don’t have to know that a given song is a prayer to the Mother of God… =) These are all pieces I’ve fed on, in most cases for years. They have rewarded repeated listening. I toyed with ranking them, but it can’t be done outside the first few. I linked to recordings of varying quality, the best I could find on YouTube for each piece. I cannot find a recording of anywhere of some pieces I remember loving when I sang them, the “Three Lenten Hymn Meditations” by Dwight Gustafson.
- “Hear My Prayer, O Lord,” Purcell.
- “Song for Athene,” Tavener.
- “In the Bleak Midwinter,” arr. ? [this far up the list because the performance by Chanticleer is perfect].
- “Bogoróditse Djévo,” Pärt.
- “Mother of God Here I Stand,” Tavener.
- “Hymn to the Mother of God,” Tavener.
- “I Was Glad,” Parry.
- “Miserere Mei,” Allegri.
- “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” arr. Jennings.
- “Glory to the Newborn King,” arr. Jennings.
- “In Time of,” Sametz.
- “Slava v vïshnih Bogu,” Rachmaninoff.
- “Words from Paradise,” five movements [I’ve linked only to the Hosanna movement], Forrest.
- “Three Lenten Hymn Meditations,” Gustafson.
- “Three Sacred Hymns,” Schnittke.
- “…which was the son of…”, Pärt.
- “Her Sacred Spirit Soars,” Whitacre.
- “Joshua Fit D’ Battle of Jericho,” arr. Hogan.
- “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?,” arr. ?.