Lightening the Load – A SAB Story

The following post was written as helpful connection between the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians and Prelude. Choral Reading Sessions are a staple feature of ALCM conferences. Adam Hughes offers a helpful review of pieces he encountered this summer with suggestions on how they could be beneficial in your context.

If you make plans the same way I do, we both know how easy it is to stretch our choirs to the limit. Between psalm settings, choral stanzas, descants, anthems, and any other liturgical pieces, programming a well-balanced season of music can be quite the task.

Enter: the SAB or two-part anthem. By including some lighter fare for your choir, whether in the form of fewer parts, or more accessible arrangements, you may be granting yourself time to work on fundamentals and build their sound. Perhaps equally as important, planning these accessible pieces frees up rehearsal time to work on some of those more complicated pieces.

One of the choral reading sessions at the recent biennial conference of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians in Minneapolis called this “Music for Smaller Choirs.” However, many of these pieces would be well received by the larger choir looking for quickly learned, yet highly satisfying, music.

First is Anne Krentz Organ’s setting of a beloved text from John, The Truth Will Make You Free, published by Augsburg Fortress. Perfect for Reformation Sunday, this gentle piece will provide a foil for much of the bombast that you may already have planned. As another benefit, the tuneful melodies presented are recombined in interesting ways, almost teaching the choir as the piece unfolds. Use this as a way to develop a core sound among your men and women’s sections.

Next, John 3:16 is set in Kevin Hildebrand’s God So Loved the World, published by Concordia Publishing House. Another light-hearted setting, this two-part piece would be easily adapted for use by adult or children’s choirs, an added benefit for the budget-conscious. Use this to encourage legato singing and to teach breath control.

GIA Publications’ Hope is a Seed, with music by Jane Best and text by Mary Louise Bringle, begins simply and grows to a satisfying three-part SAB setting. With choral techniques such as echoing in the second verse and a cappella singing in the third, this is a chance to build confidence among your singers, particularly with unaccompanied singing.

Finally, William C. Weatherup’s There is a Balm in Gilead offers a contemplative and lightly accompanied setting of this spiritual. In addition to providing opportunities to teach light, beautiful singing, this piece would also allow for a soloist or two to shine. Humming and a melody passed between different sections of the choir all sit on top of a minimal accompaniment that never obstructs the text. Your choir will love this beautiful arrangement.

As you make your choral plans, consider these hidden gems of the choral music landscape. Sometimes less really is more, and in the case of creating a balanced workload for your choir, it’s hard to go wrong with many of these options.

Adam Lefever Hughes has served as the Director of Music at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania since 2015. There he leads worship and directs vocal and handbell choirs. Adam holds a Bachelor of Arts (Music) from Valparaiso University, a Master of Music (Piano Performance) from the Longy School of Music, and a Doctor of Musical Arts (Piano Performance) from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.